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Case Name Cunningham v. Federal Bureau of Prisons PC-CO-0019
Docket / Court 1:12-cv-01570 ( D. Colo. )
State/Territory Colorado
Case Type(s) Disability Rights-Pub. Accom.
Prison Conditions
Special Collection Solitary confinement
Attorney Organization Washington Lawyers' Committee
Case Summary
On June 18, 2012, prisoners at an Administrative Maximum Facility prison in Florence (ADX), filed this class action lawsuit in the United States District Court for the District of Colorado against the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) and certain BOP officials who were responsible for the operation ... read more >
On June 18, 2012, prisoners at an Administrative Maximum Facility prison in Florence (ADX), filed this class action lawsuit in the United States District Court for the District of Colorado against the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) and certain BOP officials who were responsible for the operation of ADX. Represented by private counsel and the Washington Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs, the plaintiffs claimed that the defendants had violated BOP policy and the Eighth Amendment by failing to properly diagnose and treat prisoners at ADX with serious mental illness. Under 28 U.S.C. § 2201, they sought injunctive and declaratory relief requiring reform of the mental health care system at ADX, among other relief. (At the request of the first named plaintiff, he was withdrawn from the lawsuit and the caption adjusted accordingly.) The case was assigned to Judge Richard P. Matsch.

On October 9, 2012, the defendants moved to dismiss the complaint, claiming that it failed to state a claim. On April 23, 2013, Judge Matsch denied the defendants' motion to dismiss but did dismiss two defendants who were being sued in their official capacities, finding their inclusion redundant.

Later in 2013, the parties began settlement discussions while undergoing discovery. Individual prisoners also filed motions for preliminary injunctions and temporary restraining orders, which were all denied by the court. On April 16, 2014, the proceedings were stayed for 60 days with the exception of written discovery, document production, and the continuing settlement conferences at the parties' request. The parties extended the stay until February 25, 2015.

On June 15, 2015, the plaintiffs filed an amended complaint and discovery continued. On November 3, 2015, Judge Matsch held that the plaintiffs had established standing to pursue claims for declaratory and injunctive relief for prisoners with mental illness housed at ADX. 2015 WL 13264094.

The parties participated in settlement negotiations. On November 16, 2016, the plaintiffs moved, unopposed, for preliminary approval of the settlement terms and the proposed notice to the class. On November 17, 2016, Judge Matsch issued an order granting the motion, and on December 29, 2016, he issued an order approving the settlement following a fairness hearing. 2016 WL 8786871.

The settlement agreement contained substantive provisions regarding screening and diagnosis of mental illness, provision of mental health care, suicide prevention, and conditions of confinement to reduce the risk of the development or exacerbation of mental illness. Additionally, it stated that units for mental health treatment would be developed in Atlanta, Georgia, Allenwood, Pennsylvania, and Florence, Colorado. It laid out an extensive list of initiatives ADX had to undertake, including using and enhancing an at-risk recreation program, creating group therapy facilities and private counseling areas, screening all inmates for mental illness, and taking steps to ensure access to treatment, among several other initiatives. It stated that the defendant had to pay attorneys’ fees and costs and the obligations under the settlement were to be effective for three years, unless the plaintiffs consented to termination between two and three years or the court grants a one-time one-year extension. The court also appointed a monitor to ensure compliance with the settlement agreement.

On January 17, 2017, Judge Matsch issued a stipulated order certifying the settlement class and subclass and dismissing the action with prejudice, subject to the court’s retention of jurisdiction for enforcement. The court certified a screening class consisting of all people confined at ADX between the date of the order and the end of the compliance period, and a subclass consisting of all people confined at ADX between the date of the order and the end of the compliance period who have been diagnosed by the Bureau or its representative personnel or contractors with a covered mental illness.

In the fairness hearing, some members of the class raised two objections: that the prisoners should receive money damages, and that someone should be held accountable for their conditions of confinement. On January 25, 2017, one plaintiff submitted a notice of appeal, but on February 7, 2017, he voluntarily withdrew his appeal. On February 13, 2017, another plaintiff submitted a notice of appeal, and on February 14, 2017, he filed an appeal in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit.

On September 21, 2017, the Tenth Circuit reviewed the objections to the settlement agreement, but affirmed the district court’s approval of the class action settlement. 709 Fed.Appx. 886. The Tenth Circuit also allowed the objecting plaintiff to proceed in forma pauperis, granting him counsel but still requiring him to pay all filing fees.

On December 22, 2017, a class co-plaintiff filed a letter with the court requesting to see the monitors for the purpose of providing information regarding ongoing policies and practices in the prison that the district court has already stated amounted to constitutional violations. The court did not formally reply to this letter.

Supplemental settlement proceeding occurred regularly throughout 2018 and 2019, but no additional orders have been issued by the court. The docket reflects members of the class receiving payment from the time of settlement through March, 2020.

This case is ongoing.

Denise Heberle - 06/19/2012
Jessica Kincaid - 02/13/2016
Julie Singer - 03/05/2017
Jake Parker - 07/05/2018
Alex Moody - 04/10/2020

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Issues and Causes of Action
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Constitutional Clause
Cruel and Unusual Punishment
Content of Injunction
Reasonable Accommodation
Mental impairment
Medical Exam / Inquiry
Disability (inc. reasonable accommodations)
Administrative segregation
Conditions of confinement
Reasonable Accommodations
Solitary confinement/Supermax (conditions or process)
Medical/Mental Health
Medical care, general
Medication, administration of
Mental health care, general
Self-injurious behaviors
Suicide prevention
Untreated pain
Mental Disability
Mental Illness, Unspecified
Plaintiff Type
Private Plaintiff
Type of Facility
Causes of Action Declaratory Judgment Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2201
Defendant(s) Federal Bureau of Prisons
Plaintiff Description All persons who are now, or will be, incarcerated in the federal Administrative Maximum prison in Florence, Colorado. Also subclass: All class members diagnosed with serious mental illness.
Indexed Lawyer Organizations Washington Lawyers' Committee
Class action status sought Yes
Class action status granted Yes
Filed Pro Se No
Prevailing Party Plaintiff
Public Int. Lawyer Yes
Nature of Relief Attorneys fees
Injunction / Injunctive-like Settlement
Source of Relief Settlement
Form of Settlement Court Approved Settlement or Consent Decree
Order Duration 2016 - 2019
Filed 06/18/2012
Case Ongoing Yes
Case Listing PC-CO-0020 : Vega v. Davis (D. Colo.)
Additional Resources
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  See this case at (May provide additional documents and, for active cases, real-time alerts)
  SuperMaxLawsuit Website
Date: 2016
By: Thomas
[ Detail ] [ External Link ]

  An American Gulag: Descending into Madness at Supermax
Date: Jun. 18, 2012
By: Andrew Cohen (The Atlantic)
[ Detail ] [ External Link ]

Court Docket(s)
D. Colo.
PC-CO-0019-9000.pdf | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
General Documents
D. Colo.
Complaint [ECF# 1]
PC-CO-0019-0001.pdf | Detail
D. Colo.
Amended Complaint [ECF# 274]
PC-CO-0019-0002.pdf | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
D. Colo.
Order on CLA Standing [ECF# 324]
PC-CO-0019-0003.pdf | Detail
Source: Bloomberg Law
D. Colo.
Plaintiffs' Unopposed Motion for Preliminary Approval of Settlement Terms and Proposed Notice to the Class [ECF# 382]
PC-CO-0019-0005.pdf | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
not recorded
Case Study Resource: How America’s Most Famous Federal Prison Faced a Dirty Secret
PC-CO-0019-0004.pdf | External Link | Detail
D. Colo.
Order Approving Settlement [ECF# 391]
PC-CO-0019-0006.pdf | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
D. Colo.
Stipulated Order Certifying Settlement Class and Subclass and Dismissing This Action with Prejudice Subject to the Court's Retention of Jurisdiction Over the Parties and Subject Matter for Purposes of Enforcing the Parties' Settlement Agreement [ECF# 398]
PC-CO-0019-0007.pdf | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
show all people docs
Judges Hegarty, Michael E. (D. Colo.) [Magistrate] show/hide docs
Matsch, Richard Paul (D. Colo.) show/hide docs
PC-CO-0019-0003 | PC-CO-0019-0006 | PC-CO-0019-0007 | PC-CO-0019-9000
Plaintiff's Lawyers Anderson, Robert R. (California) show/hide docs
PC-CO-0019-0005 | PC-CO-0019-9000
Arnold, Keri L. (New York) show/hide docs
Aro, Edwin P. (Colorado) show/hide docs
PC-CO-0019-0001 | PC-CO-0019-0005 | PC-CO-0019-0007 | PC-CO-0019-9000
Falk, Jerome B. (California) show/hide docs
PC-CO-0019-0001 | PC-CO-0019-0005 | PC-CO-0019-9000
Fornaci, Phillip Jerome (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
PC-CO-0019-0001 | PC-CO-0019-9000
Garten, Danielle Marie (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
PC-CO-0019-0005 | PC-CO-0019-9000
Golden, Deborah Maxine (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
PC-CO-0019-0001 | PC-CO-0019-0005 | PC-CO-0019-9000
Kaiser, James Alexander (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
PC-CO-0019-0005 | PC-CO-0019-9000
Leiter, Maurice A. (California) show/hide docs
PC-CO-0019-0001 | PC-CO-0019-9000
Morrow, Christopher Scott (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
Mudge, Wilson DeLoss (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
PC-CO-0019-0005 | PC-CO-0019-9000
Perkins, Nancy L. (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
Rendon, Veronica E. (New York) show/hide docs
Taylor, Robert Paul (California) show/hide docs
PC-CO-0019-0001 | PC-CO-0019-9000
Welchans, Kelly Ann (California) show/hide docs
PC-CO-0019-0005 | PC-CO-0019-9000
Defendant's Lawyers Cohen, Nathalie Erin (Colorado) show/hide docs
Cook, Marcy Elizabeth (Colorado) show/hide docs
PC-CO-0019-0002 | PC-CO-0019-9000
Licht-Steenfat, Jacob (Colorado) show/hide docs
Padden, Amy L. (Colorado) show/hide docs
PC-CO-0019-0002 | PC-CO-0019-0007 | PC-CO-0019-9000
Schock, Karl L (Colorado) show/hide docs

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