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Case Name Duke v. Dunn PC-AL-0036
Docket / Court 4:14-cv-01952-VEH-HGD ( N.D. Ala. )
State/Territory Alabama
Case Type(s) Prison Conditions
Attorney Organization Equal Justice Initiative (EJI)
Case Summary
On August 28, 2015, eleven men imprisoned in the Alabama Department of Correction's St. Clair Correctional Facility brought this lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Alabama. Represented by The Equal Justice Initiative of Alabama, a non-profit public interest group, they ... read more >
On August 28, 2015, eleven men imprisoned in the Alabama Department of Correction's St. Clair Correctional Facility brought this lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Alabama. Represented by The Equal Justice Initiative of Alabama, a non-profit public interest group, they argued that the Alabama Department of Correction’s practices and policies resulted in a prison environment that amounted to cruel and unusual punishment, in violation of the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments. They cited 42 U.S.C. §1983 and 28 U.S.C. § 2201 as their causes of action, and they sought class action certification to represent all of the prisoners at St. Clair Correctional Facility. The plaintiffs asked the court both for a declaration that the prison’s policies are unconstitutional, and an injunction requiring the prison to change its policies and practices.

In arguing that the Alabama Department of Correction’s actions at St. Clair’s constituted cruel and unusual punishment, plaintiffs argued that the Alabama Department of Corrections had allowed a pervasive culture of violence to develop in the prison. Partly, this allegedly stemmed from chronic overcrowding, under-staffing, and design flaws at the prison. Plaintiffs claimed that there were many blind spots in the prison where prison officials are unable to monitor prisoners’ activities, allowing prisoners to carry out assaults with impunity. They also claimed that prison employees failed to perform proper maintenance on the locks of individual cells, allowing prisoners to leave their own cells and enter other cells to commit assaults.

Additionally, plaintiffs argued that prison officials didn't provide inmates with adequate therapeutic, educational, rehabilitative, and vocational services, and that this failure had further contributed to the violence. This was especially true with regard to the prison’s treatment of prisoners with drug addictions and mental illness. Plaintiffs argued that prison officials put those prisoners into punitive segregation rather than providing treatment. This served to exacerbate their conditions, resulting in even more violence when they were placed back into the general prison population.

Plaintiffs claimed that the prison consistently failed to properly respond to sexual assaults. They alleged that prisoners known to be at risk of committing sexual assaults, and prisoners known to be at risk of being sexually assaulted, were often housed together. Plaintiffs also claimed that prison officials often failed to provide counseling to victims, failed to properly investigate crimes, and either failed to protect victims from retaliation or placed those victims in isolation.

Plaintiffs further claimed that prison employees directly contributed to prison violence. They cited a number of incidents in which prison officials had used violence against inmates, often resulting in serious injuries requiring medical care. They also alleged that prison employees, in addition to failing to prevent inmates from smuggling in drugs, often sell drugs and other contraband themselves, exacerbating drug addiction problems and resulting in further violence.

On February 17, 2015, the judge assigned to the case, District Judge Virginia Emerson Hopkins, denied most of defendants’ motion to dismiss plaintiffs’ claims; though she did grant their request to terminate one of the named plaintiffs because that plaintiff had been transferred to a different correctional facility. Defendants sought review in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, by filing for a (discretionary) writ of mandamus, but on June 16, 2015, the Eleventh Circuit denied that petition without explanation.

For the next several months, the parties engaged in discovery. On October 20, 2016, the plaintiffs filed a motion for summary judgement, but on October 23, 2016, Judge Virginia Emerson Hopkins issued an order referring the case to mediation and therefore staying the matter for 180 days so the mediation could be conducted. The stay to allow for mediation was extended twice until August 30, 2017.

On December 1, 2017, the parties filed a joint motion for settlement and administrative closure of the case. The parties notified the court that they had reached a private settlement agreement, the terms of which were not disclosed, and requested that the administrative closure remained in effect for the term of agreement (2 years, until November 1, 2019) at which point the case would be dismissed unless, during this period, a motion for reinstatement was made and granted according to the procedures set forth in the settlement agreement.

On December 5, 2017, Judge Virginia Emerson Hopkins issued an order administratively closing the case as requested by the parties.

In 2018, plaintiffs initiated the settlement agreement's dispute resolution process and engaged in extensive mediation with the state. Plaintiffs alleged that the State had failed to comply with the promises included in the settlement agreement.

In June 2019, Alabama entered into a mediation process with the Department of Justice on issues that overlap with the issues raised in this case. The parties submitted a joint request to stay and retain jurisdiction on October 29, 2019. Plaintiffs agreed to stay reinstatement of the case pursuant to an agreement that provided a nine-month period for the parties to reach a mutually acceptable resolution of the issues giving rise to the lawsuit. The agreement also provided for the case to be reinstated pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 3626(c)(2). In accordance with the request of the parties, Magistrate Judge John E. Ott entered the order and stayed the case until August 1, 2020.

Ryan Berry - 06/28/2016
Daniele de Oliveira Nunes - 11/02/2018
Claire Shimberg - 04/18/2020

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Issues and Causes of Action
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Affected Gender
Constitutional Clause
Cruel and Unusual Punishment
Administrative segregation
Assault/abuse by residents/inmates/students
Assault/abuse by staff
Classification / placement
Conditions of confinement
Disciplinary procedures
Disciplinary segregation
Excessive force
Failure to discipline
Failure to supervise
Failure to train
Grievance Procedures
Incident/accident reporting & investigations
Law library access
Pepper/OC spray
Personal injury
Recreation / Exercise
Religious programs / policies
Sexual abuse by residents/inmates
Solitary confinement/Supermax (conditions or process)
Staff (number, training, qualifications, wages)
Suicide prevention
Totality of conditions
Work release or work assignments
Medical/Mental Health
Intellectual disability/mental illness dual diagnosis
Mental health care, general
Mental health care, unspecified
Wound care
Plaintiff Type
Private Plaintiff
Type of Facility
Causes of Action 42 U.S.C. § 1983
Declaratory Judgment Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2201
Defendant(s) Alabama Department of Corrections
Plaintiff Description Prisoners at the St. Clair Correctional Facility of the Alabama Department of Corrections.
Indexed Lawyer Organizations Equal Justice Initiative (EJI)
Class action status sought Yes
Class action status outcome Denied
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 Private Settlement Agreement
Order Duration 2017 - n/a
Filed 10/13/2014
Case Ongoing Yes
Case Listing PC-AL-0035 : Braggs v. Dunn (M.D. Ala.)
Additional Resources
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Court Docket(s)
N.D. Ala.
PC-AL-0036-9000.pdf | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
General Documents
N.D. Ala.
Complaint [ECF# 1]
PC-AL-0036-0001.pdf | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
N.D. Ala.
Memorandum Opinion and Order [ECF# 20]
PC-AL-0036-0002.pdf | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
N.D. Ala.
Second Amended Complaint [ECF# 53]
PC-AL-0036-0003.pdf | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
N.D. Ala.
Notice of Settlement and Request for Administrative Closure [ECF# 180]
PC-AL-0036-0004.pdf | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
show all people docs
Judges Hopkins, Virginia Emerson (N.D. Ala.) show/hide docs
PC-AL-0036-0002 | PC-AL-0036-9000
Plaintiff's Lawyers Becker, Ryan Christopher (Alabama) show/hide docs
PC-AL-0036-0001 | PC-AL-0036-0003 | PC-AL-0036-9000
Crowder, Carla Camille (Alabama) show/hide docs
PC-AL-0036-0001 | PC-AL-0036-0003 | PC-AL-0036-9000
Morrison, Charlotte Randolph (Alabama) show/hide docs
PC-AL-0036-0001 | PC-AL-0036-0003 | PC-AL-0036-0004 | PC-AL-0036-9000
Stevenson , Bryan A. (Alabama) show/hide docs
PC-AL-0036-0001 | PC-AL-0036-0003 | PC-AL-0036-9000
Swiergula, Jennae Rose (Alabama) show/hide docs
PC-AL-0036-0001 | PC-AL-0036-0003 | PC-AL-0036-9000
Defendant's Lawyers Athanas, William C. (Alabama) show/hide docs
Butler, Albert Sims (Alabama) show/hide docs
Childs, Larry Brittain (Alabama) show/hide docs
Fant, Michael A. Jr. (Alabama) show/hide docs
Harmon, Bart Gregory (Alabama) show/hide docs
PC-AL-0036-0004 | PC-AL-0036-9000
Prueter, Charles Walton (Alabama) show/hide docs

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