University of Michigan Law School
Civil Rights Litigation Clearinghouse
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Case Name Johnson v. Wetzel PC-PA-0040
Docket / Court 1:16-cv-00863-CCC-MCC ( M.D. Pa. )
State/Territory Pennsylvania
Case Type(s) Prison Conditions
Special Collection Solitary confinement
Case Summary
On May 12, 2016, an inmate who had been in solitary confinement since 1979 filed this lawsuit in the District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania. The plaintiff, represented by the Abolitionist Law Center and private counsel, sued under [cause of action] for violations of the Eighth ... read more >
On May 12, 2016, an inmate who had been in solitary confinement since 1979 filed this lawsuit in the District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania. The plaintiff, represented by the Abolitionist Law Center and private counsel, sued under [cause of action] for violations of the Eighth Amendment and the procedural and substantive components of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

The complaint alleged that “confinement in small cells for approximately 23 hours a day for more than three decades has harmed his mental and physical health, resulting in permanent damage,” including “increasing feelings of anxiety, frustration, loneliness, difficulty concentrating, memory loss, and depression.”

The plaintiff also submitted an expert report with his lawsuit from psychologist Dr. Craig Haney, one of the leading psychologists and scholars of the harms of solitary confinement. Dr. Haney’s report states that the plainitff has been subjected to a “social death” due to his having “been kept in solitary confinement for an extraordinary amount of time—an amount that greatly exceed any of the limits recommended or countenanced by any legal, mental health, or human rights organization of which I am aware.”

The plaintiff sought a preliminary injunction in the form of a court order mandating a “step-down” process to end his long-term solitary confinement On May 12, 2016.

The plaintiff moved to compel discovery on July 13, 2016. On August 5, 2016, Chief Judge Christopher C. Conner granted, but deferred portions of the plaintiff’s motion to compel discovery. On August 10, 2016, the court denied the plaintiff’s motion to compel discovery on the portions that were deferred.

On September 20, 2016, Judge Conner granted the plaintiff’s motion for preliminary injunction and directed the parties to develop a “step-down” program for the plaintiff’s reintegration into the general population. On September 30, 2016, the parties provided a joint step-down program for the plaintiff. According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, the program includes time out of cell and social interactions, progressive increase in social interaction and mental health monitoring and treatment.

The case is ongoing.

Susie Choi - 02/02/2017


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Issues and Causes of Action
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Issues
Constitutional Clause
Cruel and Unusual Punishment
Due Process
Content of Injunction
Preliminary relief granted
General
Solitary confinement/Supermax (conditions or process)
Causes of Action None on record
Defendant(s) John Wetzel, Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (DOC); Shirley Moore-Smeal, Executive Deputy Secretary of the DOC; Michael Wenerowicz, Regional Deputy Secretary of the DOC; Brenda Tritt, Superintendent SCI Frackville; etc.
Plaintiff Description Abolitionist Law Center and Jones Day
Indexed Lawyer Organizations None on record
Class action status sought No
Class action status granted No
Prevailing Party Plaintiff
Public Int. Lawyer Yes
Nature of Relief Preliminary injunction / Temp. restraining order
Source of Relief Litigation
Form of Settlement None on record
Order Duration not on record
Case Closing Year n/a
Case Ongoing No
Additional Resources
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Case Studies Judicial Policy Making and the Modern State: How the Courts Reformed America's Prisons
By: Malcolm M. Feeley & Edward Rubin (UC Berkeley Boalt Hall School of Law & Vanderbilt School of Law Faculty)
Citation: (1998)
[ Detail ]

  Civil Rights Injunctions Over Time: A Case Study of Jail and Prison Court Orders
N.Y.U. Law Review
Written: May 2006
By: Margo Schlanger (Washington University)
Citation: 81 N.Y.U. L. Rev. 550 (2006)
[ Detail ] [ PDF ] [ External Link ]

Docket(s)
1:16-cv-863 (M.D. Pa.) 09/30/2016
PC-PA-0040-9000.pdf | Detail
PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
General Documents
Complaint 05/12/2016
PC-PA-0040-0001.pdf | Detail
Document Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Exhibit A – Declaration of Professor Craig Haney, Ph.D., J.D. 05/12/2016
PC-PA-0040-0006.pdf | Detail
Document Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Memorandum In Support of Plaintiff's Motion for Preliminary Injunction 05/12/2016
PC-PA-0040-0007.pdf | Detail
Document Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Order 08/05/2016 (2016 WL 4158801) (M.D. Pa.)
PC-PA-0040-0005.pdf | WESTLAW | Detail
Document Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Memorandum 08/05/2016 (2016 WL 4158800) (M.D. Pa.)
PC-PA-0040-0009.pdf | WESTLAW | Detail
Document Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Order 08/10/2016 (2016 WL 4211719) (M.D. Pa.)
PC-PA-0040-0004.pdf | WESTLAW | Detail
Document Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Order 09/20/2016 (2016 WL 5078114) (M.D. Pa.)
PC-PA-0040-0003.pdf | WESTLAW | Detail
Document Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Memorandum 09/20/2016 (2016 WL 5118149) (M.D. Pa.)
PC-PA-0040-0008.pdf | WESTLAW | Detail
Document Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Joint Step-Down Program for Arthur Johnson 09/30/2016 (M.D. Pa.)
PC-PA-0040-0002.pdf | Detail
Document Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Judges Conner, Christopher C. (M.D. Pa.)
PC-PA-0040-0002 | PC-PA-0040-0003 | PC-PA-0040-0004 | PC-PA-0040-0005 | PC-PA-0040-0008 | PC-PA-0040-0009 | PC-PA-0040-9000
Monitors/Masters None on record
Plaintiff's Lawyers Ackerman, Tarah E. (Pennsylvania)
PC-PA-0040-0001 | PC-PA-0040-0002 | PC-PA-0040-0007 | PC-PA-0040-9000
Grote, Bret D. (Pennsylvania)
PC-PA-0040-0001 | PC-PA-0040-0002 | PC-PA-0040-0007 | PC-PA-0040-9000
Jones, Thomas S. (Pennsylvania)
PC-PA-0040-0001 | PC-PA-0040-0002 | PC-PA-0040-0007 | PC-PA-0040-9000
Laun, Peter D. (Pennsylvania)
PC-PA-0040-0001 | PC-PA-0040-0002 | PC-PA-0040-0007 | PC-PA-0040-9000
Lobel, Jules L. (Pennsylvania)
PC-PA-0040-0001 | PC-PA-0040-0002 | PC-PA-0040-0007 | PC-PA-0040-9000
McDaniel, Dustin (Pennsylvania)
PC-PA-0040-0001 | PC-PA-0040-0002 | PC-PA-0040-0007 | PC-PA-0040-9000
Defendant's Lawyers Giunta, M. Abbegael (Pennsylvania)
PC-PA-0040-0002 | PC-PA-0040-9000
Holmes, Timothy A. (Pennsylvania)
PC-PA-0040-0002 | PC-PA-0040-9000
Perez, Theron (Pennsylvania)
PC-PA-0040-0002 | PC-PA-0040-9000
Romano, Karen Mascio (Pennsylvania)
PC-PA-0040-9000
Other Lawyers None on record

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