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Case Name J.J. v. Litscher JI-WI-0004
Docket / Court 3:17-cv-00047 ( W.D. Wis. )
State/Territory Wisconsin
Case Type(s) Juvenile Institution
Special Collection Post-PLRA enforceable consent decrees
Solitary confinement
Strip Search Cases
Attorney Organization ACLU Chapters (any)
Juvenile Law Center
Case Summary
On January 23, 2017, four minor children confined to the state juvenile facilities Copper Lake School for Girls and the Lincoln Hills School for Boys filed this class action in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin. The plaintiffs sued various state officials responsible for ... read more >
On January 23, 2017, four minor children confined to the state juvenile facilities Copper Lake School for Girls and the Lincoln Hills School for Boys filed this class action in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin. The plaintiffs sued various state officials responsible for the facility under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The plaintiffs alleged that the defendants had violated their Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment rights by wrongfully and unlawfully imposing solitary confinement, mechanical constraints, chemical agents such as pepper spray, and strip searches on the minor prisoners. Represented by the ACLU and the Juvenile Law Center, the plaintiffs sought declaratory and injunctive relief. The case was assigned to District Judge James D. Peterson and Magistrate Judge Stephen L. Crocker.

The State of Wisconsin operated the Lincoln Hills School for Boys and the Copper Lake School for Girls, which incarcerated approximately 150–200 youth prisoners who were as young as 14 years old. According to the plaintiffs, the Schools routinely subjected these prisoners to unlawful mechanical restraints and pepper spraying, as well as to solitary confinement whereby the children were forced to remain in their cells for 22–23 hours a day. Many of these children were forced to spend their only free hour outside of a solitary confinement cell in handcuffs and chained to a table. The plaintiffs alleged that officers also repeatedly and excessively used bear mace and other pepper sprays against the children, causing them excruciating pain and impairing their breathing. The plaintiffs claimed that these practices constituted serious violations of the children’s constitutional rights, including their rights to substantive due process under the Fourteenth Amendment and their right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment.

On January 24, 2017, the plaintiffs moved for certification of a class defined as “[a]ll prisoners who are now, or in the future will be, confined at Lincoln Hills School for Boys and Copper Lake School for Girls.” On September 18, 2017, Judge Peterson granted class certification.

On April 17, 2017, the plaintiffs filed an amended complaint, adding five plaintiffs and additional factual allegations regarding those plaintiffs. The plaintiffs also requested attorneys’ fees and costs in their amended complaint.

On April 19, 2017, the plaintiffs sought a preliminary injunction ordering the defendants and their agents to eliminate the use of solitary confinement for disciplinary or punitive purposes, the routine use of mechanical restraints, and the use of pepper spray for punishment and behavior management or control. They also requested that the defendants limit any use of chemical agents to rare and temporary responses necessary to prevent imminent and serious physical harm to persons. In support of this motion, the plaintiffs argued that each of these practices violated the plaintiffs’ rights under the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments.

On June 21, 2017, the Wisconsin State Journal, the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the Wisconsin Newspaper Association, and the Associated Press moved to intervene for the limited purpose of objecting to any closure of any part of any proceedings in this lawsuit. Specifically, the intervenors objected to the plaintiff’s motion to close the courtroom for the display of videos to protect the identities of juveniles, urging the court to consider the public’s interest in transparency. That same day, the court entered an order granting the plaintiffs’ motion to close the courtroom but, in light of the intervenors’ objection, required the court to take a break before displaying the videos, and asked that those who remained in the courtroom sign a non-disclosure agreement.

Finding the plaintiffs’ arguments compelling, the court granted a preliminary injunction on July 10, 2017, barring defendants from using disciplinary or punitive restrictive housing or any other form of disciplinary or punitive solitary confinement in any manner other than in very limited and brief specific instances outlined by the court. The court also enjoined the defendants from using chemical agents in any manner other than where a prisoner engaged in physical harm to himself or others. Additionally, the court required the defendants and their agents to meet certain minimum standards with regard to their use of restrictive housing and their use of mechanical restraints.

The parties began settlement negotiations in September 2017. The parties continued their negotiations in mediation sessions before Magistrate Peter Oppeneer in April and May 2018. On June 1, 2018, after reaching a settlement, the parties jointly moved the court to grant preliminary approval of the proposed settlement agreement. On June 20, 2018, Judge Peterson granted preliminary approval of the proposed settlement agreement and approved the proposed notice. The preliminary approval contained eleven points for the parties to use as guidelines in reaching an agreement. These included: reducing the maximum amount of time incarcerated youth are held in solitary confinement, reducing the use of pepper spray, increasing opportunities for physical exercise, and ending a rule that only one book be allowed to inmates in solitary confinement. (Details here). On September 21, 2018, Judge Peterson approved the settlement agreement.

The settlement agreement required the defendants to adopt policy changes with regard to punitive solitary confinement, the use of chemical agents and mechanical restraints, and the administration of strip searches. All of these practices were in large part prohibited by the settlement agreement and those few instances where they were not prohibited were clearly defined by the agreement. The agreement also required that the defendants be monitored during the three-year-minimum settlement term and that they submit reports detailing the use of the new policies and practices. The defendants agreed to pay for a monitor's reasonable fees and costs. The defendants also agreed to pay the plaintiffs' counsel $885,000 in fees and costs for work done through June 18, 2018 and an additional $220.50/hour for work done by the plaintiffs' counsel from June 19, 2018 until entry of the settlement agreement. The court retained jurisdiction to ensure compliance.

Pursuant to the parties' agreement that the facilities be monitored, the monitor submitted her first report on January 14, 2019, indicating partial compliance with the settlement by the defendants and a need for documentation of policies to be improved. The majority of youth were no longer in solitary confinement for more than seven days, however, challenges as to the reliability of documentation remained. Under the settlement terms, administrative confinement was only to be used for a youth posing a serious risk of imminent physical harm to others, however, the monitor observed instances where administrative confinement was used though the youth wasn't at risk of imminent physical harm to others. Additionally, though strip searches had decreased, staff had been utilizing a "hygiene" check instead, where they required the youth to strip to their underwear. The monitor noted that this search should only be used for probable cause of youth possession drugs or weapons. In general, the monitor noted that documentation for policies, programs, and quality assurance needed to be improved further. Monitoring is ongoing.

Jake Parker - 06/25/2018
Emily Kempa - 03/17/2019


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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
Monitor/Master
Monitoring
Preliminary relief granted
Recordkeeping
Reporting
Required disclosure
Training
Defendant-type
Jurisdiction-wide
General
Administrative segregation
Aggressive behavior
Assault/abuse by staff
Confinement/isolation
Disciplinary segregation
Excessive force
Juveniles
Pepper/OC spray
Restraints : chemical
Restraints : physical
Search policies
Strip search policy
Plaintiff Type
Private Plaintiff
Type of Facility
Government-run
Causes of Action 42 U.S.C. § 1983
Defendant(s) Wisconsin Department of Correction
Plaintiff Description All prisoners who are now, or in the future will be, confined at Lincoln Hills School for Boys and Copper Lake School for Girls.
Indexed Lawyer Organizations ACLU Chapters (any)
Juvenile Law Center
Class action status sought Yes
Class action status granted Yes
Filed Pro Se No
Prevailing Party Plaintiff
Public Int. Lawyer Yes
Nature of Relief Preliminary injunction / Temp. restraining order
Attorneys fees
Injunction / Injunctive-like Settlement
Source of Relief Litigation
Settlement
Form of Settlement Court Approved Settlement or Consent Decree
Order Duration 2018 - 2021
Filing Year 2017
Case Ongoing Yes
Additional Resources
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  See this case at CourtListener.com (May provide additional documents and, for active cases, real-time alerts)
  Judge Sets Guidelines for Lincoln Hills
https://urbanmilwaukee.com
Date: July 2017
By: Gretchen Schuldt, (Wisconsin Justice Initiative)
Citation: https://urbanmilwaukee.com/2017/07/05/court-watch-judge-sets-guidelines-for-lincoln-hills/
[ Detail ] [ External Link ]

  Jail Strip-Search Cases: Patterns and Participants
http://law.duke.edu/journals/lcp
Date: Spring 2008
By: Margo Schlanger (Washington University in St. Louis Faculty)
Citation: 71 Law & Contemp. Problems 65 (2008)
[ Detail ] [ External Link ]

Docket(s)
3:17-cv-47 (W.D. Wis.)
JI-WI-0004-9000.pdf | Detail
Date: 01/14/2019
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
General Documents
Class Action Complaint for Declaratory and Injunctive Relief [ECF# 1]
JI-WI-0004-0001.pdf | Detail
Date: 01/23/2017
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Class Action Complaint for Declaratory and Injunctive Relief [ECF# 13]
JI-WI-0004-0002.pdf | Detail
Date: 04/17/2017
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Preliminary Injunction [ECF# 71] (W.D. Wis.)
JI-WI-0004-0003.pdf | Detail
Date: 07/10/2017
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Settlement Agreement
JI-WI-0004-0005.pdf | Detail
Date: 10/31/2017
Source: ACLU
Memorandum in Support of Joint Motion for Preliminary Settlement Approval [ECF# 97]
JI-WI-0004-0004.pdf | Detail
Date: 06/01/2018
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
First Report of the Monitor to Court [ECF# 109]
JI-WI-0004-0006.pdf | Detail
Date: 01/14/2019
Source: ACLU
show all people docs
Judges Crocker, Stephen L. (W.D. Wis.) [Magistrate] show/hide docs
JI-WI-0004-9000
Peterson, James Donald (W.D. Wis.) show/hide docs
JI-WI-0004-0003 | JI-WI-0004-9000
Monitors/Masters Abreu, Teresa (Wisconsin) show/hide docs
JI-WI-0004-0006
Plaintiff's Lawyers Burdick, Katherine E. (Pennsylvania) show/hide docs
JI-WI-0004-9000
Dupuis, Laurence J. (Wisconsin) show/hide docs
JI-WI-0004-0001 | JI-WI-0004-0002 | JI-WI-0004-0004 | JI-WI-0004-9000
Eastburn, Zachary T. (Wisconsin) show/hide docs
JI-WI-0004-0001 | JI-WI-0004-0002 | JI-WI-0004-0004 | JI-WI-0004-9000
Feierman, Jessica R. (Pennsylvania) show/hide docs
JI-WI-0004-0001 | JI-WI-0004-0002 | JI-WI-0004-0004 | JI-WI-0004-9000
Graham, Rachel Anne (Wisconsin) show/hide docs
JI-WI-0004-0001 | JI-WI-0004-0002 | JI-WI-0004-0004 | JI-WI-0004-9000
Kadri, Asma Imtiazali (Wisconsin) show/hide docs
JI-WI-0004-9000
Levick, Marsha (Pennsylvania) show/hide docs
JI-WI-0004-0001 | JI-WI-0004-0002 | JI-WI-0004-0004 | JI-WI-0004-9000
Lindell, Karen U. (Pennsylvania) show/hide docs
JI-WI-0004-0001 | JI-WI-0004-0002 | JI-WI-0004-0004 | JI-WI-0004-9000
Muth, R. Timothy (Wisconsin) show/hide docs
JI-WI-0004-0001 | JI-WI-0004-0002 | JI-WI-0004-0004 | JI-WI-0004-9000
Rotker, Karyn (Wisconsin) show/hide docs
JI-WI-0004-0001 | JI-WI-0004-0002 | JI-WI-0004-0004 | JI-WI-0004-9000
Splitek, Matthew J. (Wisconsin) show/hide docs
JI-WI-0004-0001 | JI-WI-0004-0002 | JI-WI-0004-0004 | JI-WI-0004-9000
Stedman, Emily Logan (Wisconsin) show/hide docs
JI-WI-0004-0001 | JI-WI-0004-0002 | JI-WI-0004-0004 | JI-WI-0004-9000
Defendant's Lawyers Finkelmeyer, Corey F. (Wisconsin) show/hide docs
JI-WI-0004-0005 | JI-WI-0004-9000
Hall, Samuel C. Jr. (Wisconsin) show/hide docs
JI-WI-0004-0004 | JI-WI-0004-0005 | JI-WI-0004-9000
Sparks, Benjamin Andrew (Wisconsin) show/hide docs
JI-WI-0004-0004 | JI-WI-0004-0005 | JI-WI-0004-9000
Other Lawyers Brown, Dustin Brett (Wisconsin) show/hide docs
JI-WI-0004-9000

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