University of Michigan Law School
Civil Rights Litigation Clearinghouse
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Case Name Wayne County Jail Inmates v. Wayne County Sheriff JC-MI-0005
Docket / Court 173-217 ( State Court )
State/Territory Michigan
Case Type(s) Jail Conditions
Special Collection Court-ordered receiverships
COVID-19 (novel coronavirus)
Attorney Organization Legal Services/Legal Aid
Case Summary
COVID-19 Summary: This entry has two parts. First, it describes litigation dating from the 1970s in which Wayne County Jail detainees sought better living conditions. Second, it describes how that historical case became a vehicle to require the Jail to combat the spread of COVID-19 in the Jail. So ... read more >
COVID-19 Summary: This entry has two parts. First, it describes litigation dating from the 1970s in which Wayne County Jail detainees sought better living conditions. Second, it describes how that historical case became a vehicle to require the Jail to combat the spread of COVID-19 in the Jail. So far, the detainees have secured amendments to the longstanding consent decree that require the Jail to combat COVID-19, but the detainees' efforts to obtain a temporary restraining order as well have failed.



The Historical Case

This case arose amid a backdrop of increasing public opposition to poor conditions at the Wayne County Jail. In the 1960s, Detroit implemented tough-on-crime measures including a stop-and-frisk ordinance and aggressive enforcement of loitering and disorderly conduct laws. Around the same time, local judges began to set drastically higher bail rates. For example, the Detroit Traffic Court raised bail for speeding from $35 in March 1970 to $333 in November 1971. As a result, the Wayne County Jail's population skyrocketed from an average of 555 per day in 1955 to about 1,129 per day in 1967, most of whom were detained because they could not afford bail. Conditions deteriorated sharply. A 1968 report from the National Council on Crime and Delinquency documented inhumane conditions that harmed detainees' physical and mental health, and local newspapers began to organize opposition to poor conditions in the Jail. For example, the Inner-City Voice compared the Jail's cells to "tiger cages" used to hold prisoners in the Vietnam War. Eventually, detainees turned to the courts. For more information on the facts leading to and informing the litigation, see here.

In 1971, detainees in the Wayne County Jail filed this class action lawsuit in the Wayne County Circuit Court under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the Wayne County Sheriff. Represented by Legal Services of Michigan, the plaintiffs alleged violations of the U.S. Constitution and the Michigan Constitution, as well as state law. Specifically, the plaintiffs alleged overcrowded, unsanitary, and unsafe cell conditions, improper isolation cells, insufficient mental health wards, a lack of due process in jail discipline, especially when sending detainees to maximum security areas, a lack of recreational, educational, and training facilities, poor medical facilities and care, inadequate food services, and unconstitutional censorship. They also alleged that the Jail's failure to comply with Michigan building code, safety, and sanitation laws violated their substantive due process rights. The plaintiffs sought relief on behalf of a class of all those who had been, were, or would be detained in the Wayne County Jail.

The plaintiffs pointed to specific examples to illustrate the Jail's poor conditions. These included:
  • A pregnant detainee suffering from shotgun wounds was assigned a top bunk that she could not safely climb to, denied medical treatment when she fell, confined in a "hole" with no mattress, blanket, or water as punishment for setting a fire, and given only tranquilizers after she miscarried in the hole; and
  • A detainee with a prosthetic leg that broke was denied medical attention and forced to repair it herself.
After 13 months of lengthy hearings, a three-judge Wayne County Circuit Court panel found that the conditions at the jail were deplorable and violated the detainees' rights. The panel exclaimed that "the conscience of the court is not merely chocked, it is outraged" and entered detailed findings of fact along with an order that specified how to return the Jail to a suitable condition. The panel also appointed a monitor to oversee the execution of its order. But the court rejected the plaintiffs' argument that confining people because they could not afford bail deprived them of equal protection under the Fourteenth Amendment.

The defendants, while not disputing the trial court's findings, argued that the trial court had exceeded its authority because the order violated the principle of the separation of powers. In 1974, the Michigan Supreme Court (Justice Thomas G. Kavanagh) found that the trial court was authorized to enact such a specific order once it had been shown that the defendants had failed to meet their statutory duties. The court also held that the appointment of a monitor and the court's sua sponte joinder of additional defendants were appropriate. 216 N.W.2d 910.

In 1988, after 15 years of monitoring and noncompliance, the Wayne County Circuit Court appointed the Wayne County Executive as the receiver of the jail, removing the Sheriff's control. The Sheriff moved for disqualification of the judge and the entire Wayne County Circuit Court bench, but that motion was denied. The Sheriff appealed.

On July 26, 1989, the Michigan Court of Appeals (Judge Walter Cynar) found that the Circuit Court had the authority to appoint a receiver, that such appointment was appropriate, and that the judges did not err by not disqualifying themselves. 444 N.W.2d 549.

Eventually, the County addressed some of the overcrowding problems by opening a new jail. By 1991, the jail population had risen to 1,800 even though Detroit's population had fallen by 500,000 since the lawsuit began. But conditions remained poor. In 2015, the Sheriff acknowledged that the County had stopped performing maintenance on the jail in 2011, and eight detainees committed suicide over a 13-month period between 2016 and 2017.

COVID Litigation

On May 4, 2020 six detainees in the Wayne County Jail filed a new class-action lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, found here in the Clearinghouse. They alleged that their continued confinement in the Jail exposed them to a serious risk of contracting COVID-19 in violation of their Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment rights. They sought a TRO, injunctive relief, and a writ of habeas corpus requiring the defendants to immediately release or transfer to home confinement all medically vulnerable detainees. The federal court suggested that the parties discuss whether relief could be sought in this state court litigation, since the defendants were already parties to the consent decree in this case. That led the parties to shift their litigation focus to this case; the federal case was stayed.

On May 28, 2020, the plaintiffs filed a motion for a temporary restraining order (TRO) and preliminary injunction. They alleged that, as of May 11, 25% of the detainees were either infected or had previously been infected with the virus, and that the Wayne County Jail continually failed to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. Specifically, they stated that conditions such as double-bunking, lack of quarantine for sick individuals, insufficient protective equipment, lack of access to medical care, and failure to facilitate social distancing led to high infection rates.

The defendants responded by stating that they had taken measures to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, including reducing the Jail's population from 1,411 to 779, a 44.79% reduction, between March and June 2020.

On May 15, 2020 the court entered a stipulated temporary (30-day) amendment to the July 20, 2018 consent order that required all detainees to be tested for COVID-19.

Then on May 18, 2020, the court entered a second stipulated amendment that required the defendants to:
  • Have the Jail inspected to evaluate its COVID-19 response;
  • Ensure that all detainees received soap, hand towels, and disinfectant free of charge;
  • Provide access to showers;
  • Ensure jail staff wear personal protective equipment and wash their hands or use hand sanitizer before touching any person or surface in the jail;
  • Make COVID-19 testing available to all detainees displaying symptoms or who are known to have been in proximity with someone who had COVID-19;
  • Provide adequate spacing to allow for social distancing; and
  • Quarantine those with COVID-19 symptoms.
On June 2, the court issued an order mandating that all new detainees be tested for COVID, both via nasal swab and antibodies at the time of booking. The defendants were required to provide the plaintiffs with data about the results of the detainees' COVID tests.

The court entered an order on June 17, 2020 that extended the stipulated temporary amendment provisions until September 30, 2020.

On June 19, 2020, the court denied the plaintiffs' motion for a TRO and preliminary injunction. The court (Chief Judge Timothy M. Kenny) found that the plaintiffs were unlikely to succeed on the merits of their constitutional claims because the jail had significantly reduced its population and its COVID policies were reasonable.

The plaintiffs sought an immediate appeal to the Michigan Supreme Court with the support of several amici (criminal justice organizations in Michigan and infectious disease and correctional health experts). But on July 15, 2020, the Supreme Court denied a "bypass" (an immediate appeal). The Michigan Court of Appeals then denied the plaintiffs' application for leave to appeal on July 24. The plaintiffs appealed yet again to the Michigan Supreme Court, which denied their application to appeal on August 28. Justice Megan K. Cavanagh (joined by Chief Justice Bridget M. McCormack) noted in a concurrence that the the trial court had already incorporated COVID-mitigation measures into the consent decree and explained that filing a show-cause motion in the circuit court was the proper way to remedy violations of a consent decree. 947 N.W.2d 431.

The case is ongoing as of October 2020.

Blase Kearney - 07/03/2012
Caitlin Kierum - 07/16/2020
Timothy Leake - 10/09/2020


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Issues and Causes of Action
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Issues
Constitutional Clause
Cruel and Unusual Punishment
Due Process
Due Process: Substantive Due Process
Equal Protection
Excessive bail/fines
Freedom of speech/association
Content of Injunction
Monitor/Master
Preliminary relief denied
Receivership
Crowding
Crowding / caseload
Pre-PLRA Population Cap
Defendant-type
Corrections
General
Assault/abuse by staff
Bathing and hygiene
Conditions of confinement
Confidentiality
Disciplinary procedures
Disciplinary segregation
Excessive force
Failure to supervise
Fines/Fees/Bail/Bond
Fire safety
Food service / nutrition / hydration
Law library access
Mail
Over/Unlawful Detention
Personal injury
Protective custody
Recreation / Exercise
Restraints : physical
Sanitation / living conditions
Solitary confinement/Supermax (conditions or process)
Staff (number, training, qualifications, wages)
Strip search policy
Suicide prevention
Totality of conditions
Medical/Mental Health
COVID-19 Mitigation Granted
COVID-19 Mitigation Requested
COVID-19 Release Denied
COVID-19 Release Requested
Medical care, general
Mental health care, general
Self-injurious behaviors
Suicide prevention
Untreated pain
Wound care
Plaintiff Type
Private Plaintiff
Type of Facility
Government-run
Causes of Action 42 U.S.C. § 1983
State law
Defendant(s) Wayne County Jail
Plaintiff Description Detainees in the Wayne County Jail on behalf of a class of all past, present, and future detainees.
Indexed Lawyer Organizations Legal Services/Legal Aid
Class action status sought Yes
Class action status granted Yes
Filed Pro Se No
Prevailing Party Plaintiff
Public Int. Lawyer Yes
Nature of Relief Injunction / Injunctive-like Settlement
Source of Relief Settlement
Form of Settlement Court Approved Settlement or Consent Decree
Order Duration 1972 - n/a
Filed 01/01/1971
Case Ongoing Yes
Additional Resources
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  "We Live 24/7 in Hell": Detroit's Wayne County Jail, 1968-76
https://sites.lsa.umich.edu/dcc-project/
Date: Jul. 1, 2020
By: Dominic Coschino (University of Michigan Student)
[ Detail ] [ External Link ]

  Jail Strip-Search Cases: Patterns and Participants
http://law.duke.edu/journals/lcp
Date: Spring 2008
By: Margo Schlanger (Washington University in St. Louis Faculty)
Citation: 71 Law & Contemp. Problems 65 (2008)
[ Detail ] [ External Link ]

  Wayne County Jail Inmates v. Wayne County Sheriff: The Anatomy of a Lawsuit
Date: Mar. 1, 1991
By: Marvin Zalman (Wayne State University Faculty)
Citation: 71 Prison J. 4 (1991)
[ Detail ]

Court Docket(s)
State Trial Court
09/09/2020
09-000978-AW
JC-MI-0005-9000.pdf | Detail
Source: State Court Website
General Documents
State Trial Court
01/01/1971
Complaint
JC-MI-0005-0003.pdf | Detail
Source: Plaintiffs' counsel
State Supreme Court
04/16/1974
Opinion and Order (216 N.W.2d 910)
JC-MI-0005-0002.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Source: Google Scholar
State Court of Appeals
07/26/1989
Opinion (Michigan Court of Appeals) (444 N.W.2d 549)
JC-MI-0005-0001.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
State Trial Court
07/20/2018
Consolidated Consent Order and Settlement Agreement
JC-MI-0005-0004.pdf | Detail
Source: State Court Website
State Trial Court
05/16/2020
Wayne County Jail Inspection Report by Fred Rottnek, MD, MAHCM
JC-MI-0005-0011.pdf | Detail
Source: State Court Website
State Trial Court
05/18/2020
Stipulated Temporary Amendment to the Consent Order
JC-MI-0005-0008.pdf | Detail
Source: State Court Website
State Trial Court
05/28/2020
Plaintiffs' Emergency Motion for Temporary Restraining Order and Preliminary Injunction
JC-MI-0005-0013.pdf | Detail
Source: State Court Website
State Trial Court
05/28/2020
Exhibits 1, 3 through 20 to Plaintiffs' Emergency Motion for Temporary Restraining Order and Preliminary Injunction
JC-MI-0005-0015.pdf | Detail
Source: State Court Website
State Trial Court
05/28/2020
Exhibit 2 to Plaintiffs' Emergency Motion for Temporary Restraining Order and Preliminary Injunction
JC-MI-0005-0019.pdf | Detail
Source: State Court Website
State Trial Court
06/04/2020
Brief in Support of Defendants' Motion to Strike the Report of Fred Rottnek, M.D., or, in the Alternative, to Redact
JC-MI-0005-0005.pdf | Detail
Source: State Court Website
State Trial Court
06/05/2020
Defendants' Response to Plaintiffs' Motion for a Temporary Restraining Order [and Exhibits in Support]
JC-MI-0005-0014.pdf | Detail
Source: State Court Website
State Trial Court
06/08/2020
Plaintiffs' Opposition to Defendants' Motion to Strike the Report of Fred Rottnek, M.D., MAHCM
JC-MI-0005-0007.pdf | Detail
Source: State Court Website
State Trial Court
06/11/2020
Plaintiffs' Reply in Support of Motion for Temporary Restraining Order and Preliminary Injunction
JC-MI-0005-0006.pdf | Detail
Source: State Court Website
State Trial Court
06/16/2020
Opinion and Order
JC-MI-0005-0009.pdf | Detail
Source: State Court Website
State Trial Court
06/19/2020
Opinion and Order
JC-MI-0005-0018.pdf | Detail
Source: State Court Website
State Supreme Court
07/06/2020
Plaintiffs-Appellants' Emergency Bypass Application for Leave to File Interlocutory Appeal
JC-MI-0005-0012.pdf | Detail
Source: State Court Website
State Supreme Court
07/06/2020
Part 1/2 (Appendices A through G) of Appendix to Plaintiffs-Appellants' Emergency Bypass Application for Leave to File Interlocutory Appeal
JC-MI-0005-0016.pdf | Detail
Source: State Court Website
State Supreme Court
07/06/2020
Part 2/2 (Appendices H through M) of Appendix to Plaintiffs-Appellants' Emergency Bypass Application for Leave to File Interlocutory Appeal
JC-MI-0005-0017.pdf | Detail
Source: State Court Website
State Supreme Court
07/13/2020
Amicus Curiae Brief of ACLU of Michigan, Criminal Defense Attorneys of Michigan, Neighborhood Defender Service of Detroit, State Appellate Defender Office, and American Friends Service Committee's Michigan Criminal Justice Program
JC-MI-0005-0010.pdf | Detail
Source: State Court Website
State Supreme Court
08/28/2020
Order (947 N.W.2d 431)
JC-MI-0005-0020.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Source: Westlaw
show all people docs
Judges Cavanagh, Megan K Court not on record [Magistrate] show/hide docs
JC-MI-0005-0020
Cynar, Walter P. (State Appellate Court) show/hide docs
JC-MI-0005-0001
Kavanaugh, Thomas G. (State Supreme Court) show/hide docs
JC-MI-0005-0002
Kenny, Timothy M. (State Appellate Court) show/hide docs
JC-MI-0005-0004 | JC-MI-0005-0008 | JC-MI-0005-0009 | JC-MI-0005-0018
McCormack, Bridget Court not on record show/hide docs
JC-MI-0005-0020
Plaintiff's Lawyers Anderson, Khary J. (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
JC-MI-0005-0006 | JC-MI-0005-0007 | JC-MI-0005-0012 | JC-MI-0005-0016 | JC-MI-0005-0017
Animashaun, Akeeb Dami (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
JC-MI-0005-0006 | JC-MI-0005-0007 | JC-MI-0005-0012 | JC-MI-0005-0016 | JC-MI-0005-0017
Bush, Neal (Michigan) show/hide docs
JC-MI-0005-0003
Carter, Ashley (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
JC-MI-0005-0012 | JC-MI-0005-0016 | JC-MI-0005-0017
Choly, Deborah A. (Michigan) show/hide docs
JC-MI-0005-0004 | JC-MI-0005-0006 | JC-MI-0005-0007 | JC-MI-0005-0008 | JC-MI-0005-0012 | JC-MI-0005-0013 | JC-MI-0005-0015 | JC-MI-0005-0016 | JC-MI-0005-0017 | JC-MI-0005-0019 | JC-MI-0005-9000
Cockrel, Kenneth V. (Michigan) show/hide docs
JC-MI-0005-0003
Ferguson, Desiree M. (Michigan) show/hide docs
JC-MI-0005-0006 | JC-MI-0005-0007 | JC-MI-0005-0012 | JC-MI-0005-0013 | JC-MI-0005-0015 | JC-MI-0005-0016 | JC-MI-0005-0017 | JC-MI-0005-0019
Fink, Nell (Michigan) show/hide docs
JC-MI-0005-0003
Goodman, William Harry (Michigan) show/hide docs
JC-MI-0005-0003 | JC-MI-0005-0004 | JC-MI-0005-0006 | JC-MI-0005-0007 | JC-MI-0005-0008 | JC-MI-0005-0012 | JC-MI-0005-0013 | JC-MI-0005-0015 | JC-MI-0005-0016 | JC-MI-0005-0017 | JC-MI-0005-0019
Harvey, Thomas B (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
JC-MI-0005-0012 | JC-MI-0005-0016 | JC-MI-0005-0017
Houseman, Alan W. (Michigan) show/hide docs
JC-MI-0005-0003
James, Dennis D. (Michigan) show/hide docs
JC-MI-0005-0003
Karakatsanis, Alec (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
JC-MI-0005-0012 | JC-MI-0005-0016 | JC-MI-0005-0017
Keith, Erin (Michigan) show/hide docs
JC-MI-0005-0006 | JC-MI-0005-0007 | JC-MI-0005-0012 | JC-MI-0005-0013 | JC-MI-0005-0015 | JC-MI-0005-0016 | JC-MI-0005-0017 | JC-MI-0005-0019
Kellman, Joel D. (Michigan) show/hide docs
JC-MI-0005-0003
Kriger, Allison (Michigan) show/hide docs
JC-MI-0005-0006 | JC-MI-0005-0007 | JC-MI-0005-0012 | JC-MI-0005-0013 | JC-MI-0005-0015 | JC-MI-0005-0016 | JC-MI-0005-0017 | JC-MI-0005-0019
Meyer, Thomas (Michigan) show/hide docs
JC-MI-0005-0003
Moran, Christopher N. (Maryland) show/hide docs
JC-MI-0005-0006 | JC-MI-0005-0012 | JC-MI-0005-0016 | JC-MI-0005-0017
Nemeth, Miriam R. (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
JC-MI-0005-0006 | JC-MI-0005-0007 | JC-MI-0005-0012 | JC-MI-0005-0013 | JC-MI-0005-0015 | JC-MI-0005-0016 | JC-MI-0005-0017 | JC-MI-0005-0019
Ravitz, Justin C. (Michigan) show/hide docs
JC-MI-0005-0003
Reed, Robert L. (Michigan) show/hide docs
JC-MI-0005-0003
Saad, Martin L. (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
JC-MI-0005-0006 | JC-MI-0005-0007 | JC-MI-0005-0012 | JC-MI-0005-0016 | JC-MI-0005-0017
Stickgold, Mark (Michigan) show/hide docs
JC-MI-0005-0003
Wilson, Emily J. (Maryland) show/hide docs
JC-MI-0005-0006 | JC-MI-0005-0007 | JC-MI-0005-0012 | JC-MI-0005-0016 | JC-MI-0005-0017
Defendant's Lawyers Applin, Amy S. (Michigan) show/hide docs
JC-MI-0005-0004
Bruetsch, Thomas (Michigan) show/hide docs
JC-MI-0005-0004
Chapman, Ronald W. (Michigan) show/hide docs
JC-MI-0005-0014
Elhasan, Zenna F. (Michigan) show/hide docs
JC-MI-0005-0004
Hammoud, Souriana (Sue) T. (Michigan) show/hide docs
JC-MI-0005-0005 | JC-MI-0005-0014
Heath, James W. (Michigan) show/hide docs
JC-MI-0005-0005 | JC-MI-0005-0008 | JC-MI-0005-0014 | JC-MI-0005-9000
Johnson, Felicia O. (Michigan) show/hide docs
JC-MI-0005-0004 | JC-MI-0005-0008 | JC-MI-0005-9000
Lanesky, Jonathan C. (Michigan) show/hide docs
JC-MI-0005-0014
Melton, David (Michigan) show/hide docs
JC-MI-0005-0008
O'Neill, Paul T. (Michigan) show/hide docs
JC-MI-0005-0014
Robinson, Kristina L. (Michigan) show/hide docs
JC-MI-0005-0004
Zausmer, Mark J. (Michigan) show/hide docs
JC-MI-0005-0004 | JC-MI-0005-9000
Other Lawyers Akhtar, Jamil (Michigan) show/hide docs
JC-MI-0005-9000
Korobkin, Daniel S. (Michigan) show/hide docs
JC-MI-0005-0010
Schlanger, Margo J. (Michigan) show/hide docs
JC-MI-0005-0010

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