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Case Name Cantell v. Commissioner of Correction et al. PC-MA-0047
Docket / Court SJC-12015 ( State Court )
State/Territory Massachusetts
Case Type(s) Prison Conditions
Special Collection Solitary confinement
Attorney Organization Prisoners' Legal Services of Massachusetts
Case Summary
On January 20, 2012, prisoners incarcerated in Massachusetts administrative segregation filed this class action in state court in Massachusetts. Represented by the Prisoners Legal Services of Massachusetts, the plaintiffs sued the Commissioner of Correction and superintendents of various ... read more >
On January 20, 2012, prisoners incarcerated in Massachusetts administrative segregation filed this class action in state court in Massachusetts. Represented by the Prisoners Legal Services of Massachusetts, the plaintiffs sued the Commissioner of Correction and superintendents of various correctional facilities for violations of their federal and state due process rights. Specifically, the plaintiffs alleged that the prison held the plaintiffs in segregation without informing them of a release date or opportunities to obtain release. The plaintiffs received only one hour out of their cell each weekday, ate their meals alone in their cells, and were allowed only non-contact visits with family members. The proposed class included “all prisoners held in non-disciplinary segregation in an SMU [special management units].” The plaintiffs sought declaratory and injunctive relief alongside their request for class certification.

On January 31, 2013, Judge Elizabeth Fahey of the Superior Court of Massachusetts granted the defendant’s motion to dismiss and denied the plaintiff’s motion for class certification. That opinion argued that LaChance v. Commissioner, a 2013 case regarding administrative segregation, resolved the claim. 2013 WL 9925512 (Mass. Super.).

The plaintiffs appealed. The appeals court, however, on July 22, 2015, dismissed the case as moot; all but one of the named plaintiffs had been released from administrative segregation and the remaining plaintiff had been released while the appeal was pending. According to that decision, forthcoming guidance from the Department of Corrections in response to LaChance would “frame unresolved issues.” 87 Mass. App. Ct. 629. The dissent argued that the case was not moot as the alleged wrongful conduct continued to impact the putative class. Moreover, the dissent continued that the court should not wait for the still unissued regulations required by LaChance; those new regulations were not anticipated to address all the claims alleged in Cantell.

On December 7, 2015, the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts—the state's highest court—granted leave to appeal. On March 10, 2016, the court heard oral arguments. Then, on October 21, 2016, the court reversed and remanded the appellate decision. In its opinion, the court held that the regulations and procedural rights afforded people incarcerated in the Departmental Segregation Unit [DSU] applied to this class held in administrative segregation. Thus, the plaintiffs were entitled to file their motion to certify a class in Superior Court.

On remand, the plaintiffs amended their complaint to add new plaintiffs and to allege noncompliance with the federal due process procedures that the Supreme Judicial Court established in LaChance. The court accepted the Second Amended Complaint on February 2, 2017. On June 23, 2017, the court granted the motion for class certification. The class comprised all prisoners who were then or would be in the future confined in Non-Disciplinary Restrictive Housing status (formerly known as SMUs) within the Massachusetts Department of Corrections.

On May 21, 2019, the parties moved to approve a settlement agreement. The agreement included programmatic relief such as mandated reviews of restricted housing placements for each person incarcerated there, an expectation that a prisoner should not be confined in nondisciplinary restrictive housing for more than 30 days, provisions for an appeals process, and educational and other rehabilitative-related programming. Since initiation of the litigation, the Massachusetts Legislature had passed the Act Relative to Criminal Justice Reform, which took effect on December 31, 2018. The parties incorporated the reforms into the agreement that pertained to solitary confinement. The agreement also included a provision on quarterly reporting to Class Counsel. Furthermore, according to the agreement, the court’s jurisdiction would terminate at the end of the two-year settlement period and the agreement included provisions to manage potential non-compliance. The defendants agreed to pay attorneys’ fees and costs to Prisoners’ Legal Services in total of $60,000.

We know from conversation with plaintiffs' counsel that the case settled in 2019. However, we don't know the structure of the approval process. The case is ongoing.

Lily Sawyer-Kaplan - 11/13/2019

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Issues and Causes of Action
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Constitutional Clause
Due Process
Due Process: Procedural Due Process
Content of Injunction
Implement complaint/dispute resolution process
Administrative segregation
Classification / placement
Conditions of confinement
Disciplinary procedures
Protective custody
Recreation / Exercise
Solitary confinement/Supermax (conditions or process)
Suicide prevention
Plaintiff Type
Private Plaintiff
Type of Facility
Causes of Action 42 U.S.C. § 1983
State law
Defendant(s) Commissioner of Correction
Plaintiff Description All prisoners held in non-disciplinary segregation in an SMU [special management units].
Indexed Lawyer Organizations Prisoners' Legal Services of Massachusetts
Class action status sought Yes
Class action status granted Yes
Filed Pro Se No
Prevailing Party Plaintiff
Public Int. Lawyer Yes
Nature of Relief Attorneys fees
Injunction / Injunctive-like Settlement
Source of Relief Settlement
Filed 01/20/2012
Case Ongoing Yes
Court Docket(s)
State Supreme Court SJC-12015
PC-MA-0047-9000.pdf | Detail
Date: 01/31/2018
Source: Bloomberg Law
General Documents
State Trial Court
Memorandum of Decision and Order on Plaintiff's Motion for Class Certification and Defendant's Motion to Dismiss
PC-MA-0047-0005.pdf | Detail
Date: 07/31/2013
State Court of Appeals
Opinion (33 N.E.3d 1255)
PC-MA-0047-0003.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Date: 07/22/2015
Source: Westlaw
State Court of Appeals
Brief of the Plaintiffs' Appellants
PC-MA-0047-0002.pdf | External Link | Detail
Date: 01/15/2016
Source: State Court Website
State Supreme Court
Opinion (60 N.E.3d 1149)
PC-MA-0047-0004.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Date: 10/21/2016
Source: Westlaw
State Trial Court
Joint Motion for Approval of Settlement Agreement
PC-MA-0047-0001.pdf | Detail
Date: 05/21/2019
show all people docs
Judges Botsford, Margot Court not on record show/hide docs
PC-MA-0047-0004 | PC-MA-0047-9000
Fahey, Elizabeth Court not on record show/hide docs
Gants, Ralph D Court not on record show/hide docs
Hines, Geraldine S. Court not on record show/hide docs
Lenk, Barbara A. (State Supreme Court) show/hide docs
Milkey, James R Court not on record show/hide docs
Plaintiff's Lawyers Sugerman-Brozan, Alexander (Massachusetts) show/hide docs
Tenneriello, Bonita (Massachusetts) show/hide docs
PC-MA-0047-0001 | PC-MA-0047-0002 | PC-MA-0047-9000
Defendant's Lawyers Grant, Sheryl (Massachusetts) show/hide docs
PC-MA-0047-0001 | PC-MA-0047-0002 | PC-MA-0047-9000
Saltzman, William D (Massachusetts) show/hide docs
Other Lawyers Bourquin, Ruth A (Massachusetts) show/hide docs
Fetttig, Amy (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
Harris, Deborah (Pennsylvania) show/hide docs
Kassel, Phillip (Massachusetts) show/hide docs
Monsell, Margaret (Massachusetts) show/hide docs
Sabino, Jamie Ann (Massachusetts) show/hide docs
Segal, Matthew (Massachusetts) show/hide docs

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