University of Michigan Law School
Civil Rights Litigation Clearinghouse
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Case Name Porter v. Clarke PC-VA-0020
Docket / Court 1:14-cv-1588 ( E.D. Va. )
State/Territory Virginia
Case Type(s) Prison Conditions
Special Collection Solitary confinement
Case Summary
On November 20th, 2014, four persons convicted of capital murder, sentenced to death, and awaiting execution of that sentence while confined on death row at Virginia’s Sussex I State Prison (SISP) filed this lawsuit in the U.S. District Court of the Eastern District of Virginia. The plaintiffs ... read more >
On November 20th, 2014, four persons convicted of capital murder, sentenced to death, and awaiting execution of that sentence while confined on death row at Virginia’s Sussex I State Prison (SISP) filed this lawsuit in the U.S. District Court of the Eastern District of Virginia. The plaintiffs sued the Virginia Department of Corrections and SISP under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Represented by private counsel, the plaintiffs asked the court to extend the declaratory relief awarded to Mr. Prieto in Prieto v. Clarke to themselves, to enjoin defendants from failing to extend to the plaintiffs their rights and privileges afforded Mr. Prieto as a result of this court's order in his case, award them reasonable attorney's fees and costs pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §1988.

Specifically, the plaintiffs claimed two violations. First, that the conditions of their confinement on death row and the procedures for placing them there violated the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments. Second, that their permanent segregation subjects them to an inhumane existence unrelated to any legitimate penological goal, amounting to the
imposition of cruel and unusual punishment violating the Eighth Amendment.

On Feb 4, 2015, the defendants filed a motion to dismiss. This motion was denied on April 17, 2015. On December 21, 2015 both parties filed motions for summary judgment.

On July 8, 2016, Judge Leonie M. Brinkema granted defendants’ motion for summary judgment, denying plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment as moot. The court found that defendants made several significant changes to the conditions of SISP, resulting in new conditions of confinement that plaintiffs conceded do not violate the Eighth Amendment. The court also found that because the improvements voluntarily made by defendants have rendered plaintiffs' claims moot, it would be inappropriate under the specific facts of this action to reach the merits of plaintiffs' claims or to invoke the injunction authority of the court.

On August 4, 2016, the plaintiffs filed an appeal to U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, claiming that the improvements made to the conditions on death row did not moot their claims (16-07044). On January 25, 2017, the court (Judges Paul v. Niemeyer, William B. Traxler, Jr., and James A. Wynn, Jr.) heard oral arguments.

Judge Wynn delivered the opinion of the court on March 24, 2017, ruling that the improvements made did not render the plaintiffs’ claims moot. Due to the defendants' unilateral capacity to reinstitute the challenged policies, their refusal to promise not to reinstitute said policies, and because they explicitly outlined certain instances when those policies might be reinstituted the case was reversed and remanded to the district court.

Back in district court, the parties reopened discovery, and on August 25, 2017 both parties moved for summary judgment. On February 21, 2018, Judge Brinkema granted the plaintiffs' and denied the defendants' motions for summary judgment. Judge Brinkema declared that the pre-2015 conditions of the prison, including periods of isolation lasting up to 23 hours a day, were unconstitutional and in violation of the plaintiffs’ Eighth Amendment rights. It was further ordered that the defendants be enjoined from reinstituting the pre-2015 conditions. The injunction was to remain in place for two years, absent a finding that the prison reverted to pre-2015 conditions.

The defendants appealed the order to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit on March 13, 2018 and the case is ongoing.

Kristin D'Souza - 08/04/2016
Julie Singer - 03/05/2017
Nichollas Dawson - 03/07/2018

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Issues and Causes of Action
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Constitutional Clause
Cruel and Unusual Punishment
Due Process
Classification / placement
Conditions of confinement
Solitary confinement/Supermax (conditions or process)
Totality of conditions
Plaintiff Type
Private Plaintiff
Type of Facility
Causes of Action 42 U.S.C. § 1983
Defendant(s) Virginia
Plaintiff Description Five individuals currently on Virginia's Death Row located in Sussex I State Prison in Waverley, Virginia.
Class action status sought No
Class action status granted No
Filed Pro Se No
Prevailing Party Plaintiff
Public Int. Lawyer No
Nature of Relief Injunction / Injunctive-like Settlement
Source of Relief Litigation
Order Duration 2018 - 2020
Filing Year 2014
Case Ongoing Yes
Additional Resources
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  Civil Rights Injunctions Over Time: A Case Study of Jail and Prison Court Orders
N.Y.U. Law Review
Date: May 2006
By: Margo Schlanger (Washington University Faculty)
Citation: 81 N.Y.U. L. Rev. 550 (2006)
[ Detail ] [ PDF ] [ External Link ]

  Judicial Policy Making and the Modern State: How the Courts Reformed America's Prisons
Date: Jan. 1, 1998
By: Malcolm M. Feeley & Edward Rubin (UC Berkeley Boalt Hall School of Law & Vanderbilt School of Law Faculty Faculty)
Citation: (1998)
[ Detail ]

1:14-cv-1588 (E.D. Va.)
PC-VA-0020-9000.pdf | Detail
Date: 02/22/2018
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
General Documents
Complaint [ECF# 1]
PC-VA-0020-0001.pdf | Detail
Date: 11/20/2014
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Memorandum Opinion [ECF# 166] (2016 WL 3766301) (E.D. Va.)
PC-VA-0020-0002.pdf | WESTLAW | Detail
Date: 07/08/2016
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Opinion [Reversing and Remanding Decision]
PC-VA-0020-0003.pdf | Detail
Date: 01/25/2017
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Memorandum Opinion [ECF# 220] (E.D. Va.)
PC-VA-0020-0004.pdf | Detail
Date: 02/21/2018
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Judges Brinkema, Leonie M. (E.D. Va.)
PC-VA-0020-0002 | PC-VA-0020-0004 | PC-VA-0020-9000
Niemeyer, Paul Victor (D. Md., Fourth Circuit)
Traxler, William Byrd Jr. Court not on record
Wynn, James Andrew Jr. (Fourth Circuit)
Plaintiff's Lawyers Fogel, Jeffrey E. (Virginia)
PC-VA-0020-0001 | PC-VA-0020-9000
Glasberg, Victor Michael (Virginia)
PC-VA-0020-0001 | PC-VA-0020-9000
Rosenfield, Steven David (Virginia)
PC-VA-0020-0001 | PC-VA-0020-9000
Defendant's Lawyers Dwyre, Kate Elizabeth (Virginia)
O'Shea, Margaret Hoehl (Virginia)

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