On September 3, 2008, inmates at the Passaic County Jail (PCJ) filed a class-action lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey against Passaic County, Passaic County Jail and its various officers, and the Commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Corrections (DOC), under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The plaintiffs, represented by attorneys from ACLU - New Jersey, Seton Hall University School of Law's Center for Social Justice, and private counsel, sought declaratory and injunctive relief, alleging that Passaic County violated their constitutional rights due to the deplorable conditions of confinement at the PCJ.
Specifically, the complaint alleged constitutional violations as a result, among others, of overcrowding (the PCJ was designed to hold 896 inmates, but it routinely held more than 1,700 inmates), leading to a lack of privacy, loss of sleep and the threat of inmate violence; unsanitary living conditions; unsafe and inadequate food; inadequate fire detection and alarm systems; use of excessive force by Correction Officers, including the use of dogs for intimidation; restrictions on religious freedom; and (10) retaliation for airing grievances. They also alleged that the DOC was complicit in the violations, as they failed to enforce state regulations on the conditions of confinement against PCJ.
On May 27, 2009, the Court (Judge Dennis Cavanaugh) granted class certification to the plaintiffs and denied the DOC's motion to dismiss the claims. The certified class consists of all persons who were then or would afterwards become incarcerated at the PCJ.
Afterwards, the parties exchanged informal discovery and engaged in extensive settlement negotiations. On January 13, 2012, the Court (Judge Dennis Cavanaugh) entered an order directing notice of settlement between the plaintiffs and the defendants, not including the Commissioner of the DOC. The settlement agreement was to be provided to each inmate at the PCJ, or made otherwise available, to allow the Court scheduled a Fairness Hearing to evaluate the merits of the settlement agreement based. On February 23, 2012, the Court (Judge Dennis Cavanaugh) entered an order directing notice of settlement between the plaintiffs and the Commissioner of the DOC. The Court similarly ordered that each inmate have the copy or access to the copy of the settlement agreement and other relevant information, and schedule a fairness hearing.
On April 24, 2012, the Court (Judge Dennis Cavanaugh) approved the settlement agreement between the plaintiffs and the defendants Passaic County, PCJ and others, not including the Commissioner of the DOC. The Court retained jurisdiction over the case. Under the agreement, the defendants do not admit any liability and the plaintiffs reserved the right to litigate the issue of overcrowding further, if the agreement is not complied with. It has no preclusive effect except as between the parties. The defendants are to comply with various requirements to remedy the violations, including among others, annual use of force training, not putting beds closer than a certain distance from the toilets, conducting population management study if the monthly population exceeds 1022 inmates, install CCTV in most areas of the PCJ. The compliance will be monitored through an independent Monitor, who is entitled to conduct two site inspections annually, and is to submit a report after each site inspection. The parties are under an obligation to try dispute settlement before any judicial enforcement of the agreement, except in the cases of emergency. The agreement is in force for five years from the date of the agreement, which is April 24, 2012, unless compliance by PCJ is achieved before that date. The inmates at PCJ are to have access to the agreement. The defendants also agreed to pay $325,000 in attorney's fees under the agreement.
On May 7, 2012, the Court (Judge Dennis Cavanaugh) approved the settlement agreement between the plaintiffs and the defendant Commissioner of the DOC, dismissing all claims against the latter with prejudice. The term of the agreement is five years from the date of judicial approval. The agreement does not signify admission of liability by the defendant. The DOC is under an obligation to remove from PCJ all state inmates who received sentences or inmates who received parole revocation, and conduct inspections of the PCJ. The defendant also agreed to pay $25,000 in expert fees. The agreement is to be made available to all the inmates at the PCJ.
The case is closed, subject to the reporting by the Monitor. Zhandos Kuderin - 04/23/2014