On October 24, 2012, a prisoner on death row at Sussex I State Prison ("SISP") in Waverly, Virginia, filed a lawsuit in the Eastern District of Virginia under 42 U.S.C. §1983, against the director, deputy director and warden at SISP. The plaintiff, represented by private counsel, asked the court ...
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On October 24, 2012, a prisoner on death row at Sussex I State Prison ("SISP") in Waverly, Virginia, filed a lawsuit in the Eastern District of Virginia under 42 U.S.C. §1983, against the director, deputy director and warden at SISP. The plaintiff, represented by private counsel, asked the court for declaratory relief, claiming that the conditions of his confinement and the restrictive visitation policy of the prison violated the Eighth Amendment's Cruel and Unusual Punishment Clause, Due Process, and the VDOC rules and regulations.
On November 2, 2012, Judge Leonie M. Brinkema dismissed the claim on the prison's visitation policy for failure to state a claim. The plaintiff appealed this decision, but the 4th Circuit dismissed the appeal on February 6, 2013, for failure to prosecute pursuant to Local Rule 45.
On January 25, 2013, the defendants moved for summary judgment, which Judge Brinkema denied on February 20, 2013.
Subsequently, both parties moved for summary judgment. On November 12, 2013, Judge Brinkema granted the plaintiff's motion for summary judgment and denied the Defendant's motion for summary judgment. 2013 WL 6019215. In the opinion, Judge Brinkema gave the State two options going forward: (1) provide the plaintiff with an individualized classification determination using procedures that are the same or substantially similar to the procedures used for all non-capital offenders, or (2) vary the basic conditions of confinement on death row, if only slightly, such that confinement there would no longer impose an atypical and significant hardship on the plaintiff. The State appealed this decision and moved to stay the order pending appeal. Judge Brinkema denied this motion on January 10, 2014. On December 13, 2013, Judge Brinkema ordered the State to pay attorney's fees and costs totaling $165,395.99.
On March 10, 2015, the Fourth Circuit reversed both the injunctive order and the order granted fees. In an opinion by Judge Diana Motz, joined by Judge Shedd, the Court of Appeals held that the state procedure requiring all capital offenders to be housed on death row was constitutional. Although conditions were harsh, the Court said, the plaintiff had no entitlement to anything more -- and therefore no due-process-protected liberty interest in avoiding the harsh conditions. Judge Wynn dissented: Under Wilkinson v. Austin, 545 U.S. 209 (2005), he said, the plaintiff did indeed have a liberty interest and was therefore entitled to individualized process prior to confinement in the solitary conditions of Virginia's death row. Jessica Kincaid - 02/10/2014