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Civil Rights Litigation Clearinghouse
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Case Name Abrahamson v. Corrections Corporation of America PC-CO-0033
Docket / Court 2006 CV 8 ( State Court )
State/Territory Colorado
Case Type(s) Prison Conditions
Special Collection Post-PLRA Jail and Prison Private Settlement Agreements
Attorney Organization Public Justice
Case Summary
In February 2006, over 150 prisoners who had been injured during a 2004 riot at Crowley County Correctional Facility (Crowley) filed this lawsuit in the Colorado District Court for the County of Crowley. They sued the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), a private prison company that owned and ... read more >
In February 2006, over 150 prisoners who had been injured during a 2004 riot at Crowley County Correctional Facility (Crowley) filed this lawsuit in the Colorado District Court for the County of Crowley. They sued the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), a private prison company that owned and operated Crowley (which incarcerates Colorado and other state prisoners), for negligence, outrageous conduct, and civil conspiracy. Represented by private counsel, the plaintiffs sought compensatory and punitive damages. They claimed that CCA’s mismanagement of Crowley caused their injuries by sparking the riot. The plainitffs also claimed that CCA’s employees carelessly injured them while trying to stop the riot.

The plaintiffs pointed to numerous deficiencies in CCA's operations at Crowley that they say caused the riot. Specifically, the plaintiffs alleged that CCA had provided inadequate food, used excessive force on prisoners, and failed to address prisoners’ grievances before the riot. Some prisoners did not get along well with new arrivals from Washington state. And the plaintiffs claimed that even prison officials knew violence was imminent.

The events underlying the lawsuit took place on July 20, 2004; some of the prisoners from Washington attacked reputed informants, set fires, and vandalized prison property. Guards fled, and it took several hours for CCA’s Special Operations Response Team to re-establish control. Many prisoners were injured during the riot or as CCA forces retook the prison. The plaintiffs claimed that they were shot, beaten, gassed, dragged through broken glass, or ordered to lie facedown in water containing blood and feces by CCA’s response team. They also alleged that after the riot they were denied water, clean clothing, access to restrooms, or adequate food; some also said they were forced to shower in front of female officers.

The plaintiffs faced several obstacles. First, they could not sue under 42 U.S.C. §1983 because they had not complied with the Prison Litigation Reform Act’s grievace requirements. Second, Colorado had abandoned joint and several liability, which allowed CCA to argue that any damage award should be reduced based on the rioters’ responsibility. Third, the plaintiffs feared that class certification would be difficult or impossible, so each individual prisoner had to be included as a named plaintiff. Finally, the plaintiffs’ potential recovery was limited because most did not have viable claims for lost wages or medical expenses.

The court consolidated this case with Adams v. Correctional Corporation of America, a similar lawsuit, but the litigation soon bogged down. CCA argued that the case should be dismissed because the prisoners did not exhaust administrative remedies before suing, failed to allege any compensable injuries, and prematurely claimed punitive damages. On March 6, 2007, Judge Michael Schiferl granted the defendants’ motion because the plaintiffs had not exhausted their administrative remedies and “the legislature wanted to provide for all administrative remedies to be exhausted for any claim based on prison conditions.” 2007 WL 5210192. The Colorado Court of Appeals reversed in a May 29, 2008, opinion by Judge JoAnn Vogt. Judge Vogt found that the plaintiffs need not exhaust remedies before bringing common law claims because the exhaustion requirement only applied to cases brought “under any statute or constitutional provision.” 187 P.3d 1190. The Colorado Supreme Court refused to hear CCA’s appeal over one dissent. 2008 WL 4958918.

After CCA’s motion to dismiss was denied, the parties tried to settle the case. CCA offered $250 to each prisoner, conditioned on a confidentiality agreement. The plaintiffs rejected the offer, and the case proceeded to discovery.

Another dispute arose in discovery. Approximately 170 plaintiffs who had been or were going to be deposed claimed that they could not afford copies of their deposition transcripts to review for errors. They asked the court to force CCA to provide them with electronic copies of their depositions that CCA was buying from the court reporter. The trial court denied the plaintiffs’ request, explaining “this is clearly a money issue and this Court will not take the work product from the reporter.” The plaintiffs appealed, but the Court of Appeals determined that the question of law at issue was not controlling and thus an interlocutory appeal was inappropriate. 264 P.3d 640.

Discovery continued, and the case was set for trial in March 2013. But as the trial date approached, the trial court issued rulings that pushed both parties back to the settlement table. The court bolstered the plaintiffs’ case by dismissing CCA’s counterclaims and affirmative defenses. But it also denied the plaintiffs’ motion for separate trials, and the Court of Appeals declined to intervene. Worse for the plaintiffs, the court ruled that each plaintiff who was not still in prison would have to testify in person. That presented logistical problems because by 2013, the plaintiffs lived in many states. And even some of the plaintiffs who were still in prison would have had to appear in person because their prisons refused them access to telephones or video conference equipment with which to testify remotely. Moreover, the plaintiffs worried that the jury would have difficulty remembering each of them well enough to make informed damages claims during a trial estimated to last 25 weeks.

On April 24, 2013, the parties announced that they had reached a $600,000 settlement. Each of the plaintiffs received between $1,500 and $17,000 depending on their individual injuries. Somewhat unusually, the settlement agreement was not confidential.

Bill Trine, the lead plaintiffs’ attorney, was disappointed in the amount; he described feeling “like a pregnant elephant that has just given birth to a mouse.” Some plaintiffs were happy with their recovery; others noted that the amount was “pennies on the dollar” for CCA and said “[not] much has changed” at Crowley since the riot.

The Clearinghouse was unable to locate copies of individual settlement agreements, but the case is presumably now closed.

Timothy Leake - 08/03/2019


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Issues and Causes of Action
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Issues
Defendant-type
Corrections
General
Assault/abuse by staff
Bathing and hygiene
Conditions of confinement
Excessive force
Food service / nutrition / hydration
Personal injury
Sanitation / living conditions
Staff (number, training, qualifications, wages)
Plaintiff Type
Private Plaintiff
Type of Facility
Non-government for profit
Causes of Action State law
Defendant(s) Corrections Corporation of America
Plaintiff Description Prisoners who were injured by guards during riots at a private prison.
Indexed Lawyer Organizations Public Justice
Class action status sought No
Class action status granted No
Filed Pro Se No
Prevailing Party Plaintiff
Public Int. Lawyer Yes
Nature of Relief Damages
Source of Relief Settlement
Filing Year 2006
Case Closing Year 2013
Case Ongoing No
Additional Resources
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  The Last Chapter in the Crowley Prison Riot Litigation
https://www.triallawyerscollege.org/blog/the-last-chapter-in-the-crowley-prison-riot-litigation-by-bill-trine/
Date: July 2013
By: Bill Trine (Trial Lawyers College Blog)
[ Detail ] [ External Link ]

  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
Book
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 ]

Docket(s)
No docket sheet currently in the collection
General Documents
AFTER ACTION REPORT Inmate Riot: Crowley County Correctional Facility
PC-CO-0033-0001.pdf | Detail
Date: 10/01/2004
Source: Prison Legal News
Complaint for Damages and Jury Demand
PC-CO-0033-0005.pdf | Detail
Date: 02/01/2006
Order (2007 WL 5210192)
PC-CO-0033-0002.pdf | WESTLAW | Detail
Date: 03/06/2007
Source: Westlaw
Opinion (187 P.3d 1190)
PC-CO-0033-0003.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Date: 05/29/2008
Source: Westlaw
Opinion (264 P.3d 640)
PC-CO-0033-0004.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Date: 09/15/2011
Source: Westlaw
show all people docs
Judges Gabriel, Richard L Court not on record show/hide docs
PC-CO-0033-0004
Graham, Dennis Court not on record show/hide docs
PC-CO-0033-0003
Kapelke, Robert Court not on record show/hide docs
PC-CO-0033-0003
Schiferl, Michael Court not on record show/hide docs
PC-CO-0033-0002
Terry, Diana Court not on record show/hide docs
PC-CO-0033-0004
Vogt, JoAnn L. (State Appellate Court) show/hide docs
PC-CO-0033-0003
Webb, John R (State Appellate Court) show/hide docs
PC-CO-0033-0004
Plaintiff's Lawyers Taussig, Deborah A (Colorado) show/hide docs
PC-CO-0033-0005
Trine, William A (Colorado) show/hide docs
PC-CO-0033-0005

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