University of Michigan Law School
Civil Rights Litigation Clearinghouse
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Case Name Little v. Shelby County JC-TN-0004
Docket / Court 96-2520 ( W.D. Tenn. )
State/Territory Tennessee
Case Type(s) Jail Conditions
Case Summary
On May 14, 1996, an inmate at the County Jail of Shelby County, Tennessee, filed a lawsuit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the County of Shelby in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Tennessee, Memphis Division. The plaintiff, represented by private counsel, asked the court for ... read more >
On May 14, 1996, an inmate at the County Jail of Shelby County, Tennessee, filed a lawsuit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the County of Shelby in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Tennessee, Memphis Division. The plaintiff, represented by private counsel, asked the court for injunctive and monetary relief, alleging that excessive violence at the Jail and insufficient guard presence resulted in his gang-related rape in violation of his Eighth Amendment rights. On July 1, 1996, the plaintiff filed an amended complaint after, oddly, no jury demand was made on the first complaint.

On September 12, 1996, the District Court (Judge Jerome Turner) issued findings of fact and approved a consent order in which the parties stipulated liability for injunctive relief purposes. The Court specifically found insufficient guard presence, poor monitoring, overcrowding, excessive noise levels, gang activity, and failures in classification that created the possibility that "an arrestee charged with a traffic violation but with no prior criminal record can be locked up with a prisoner who has a violent criminal history." And, on September 25, 1996, the Court issued another consent order in which it dismissed the plaintiff's damages claim with prejudice since the parties had settled. Subsequently, the parties litigated the plaintiff's demand for an injunctive remedy and corresponding attorneys' fees.

On October 22, 1996, the District Court (Judge Turner) held a hearing to determine whether the case was sufficiently similar to two other cases (96-2520-TU, 96-2622-D, 96-2874-MI) to warrant consolidation. Apparently, the Court accepted the defendant's arguments against consolidation.

On January 17, 1997, after the parties each submitted proposed plans during December and January to remedy the Eighth Amendment violations, the District Court (Judge Turner) held a status conference at which the defendants informed the Court that the County had passed a resolution for constructing a new jail facility.

In preparation for an evidentiary hearing, on January 21, 1997, the District Court (Judge Turner) granted the plaintiff's application for a writ of habeas corpus to testify, and issued subsequent writs as the hearing was continued. After the hearing finally took place on May 20, 1997, the parties submitted proposed findings of fact and conclusions of law respecting injunctive relief.

On April 9, 1997, by consent decree, the District Court (Judge Turner) appointed Charles Glover Fisher, Ray Nelson, and William C. Garnos as court appointed experts.

On November 12, 1997, the District Court (Judge Turner) ordered injunctive relief (the 'Order"). The relief required confidential interviews with inmates to determine which, if any, enemies each inmate needed to be separated from and whether certain violent inmates needed to be housed apart from others. Further, the order contained numerous provisions dictating supervision at the Jail, and appointed a Special Master to monitor compliance with a monthly report. On January 14, 1998, the Court appointed Dr. Richard Douglass Morgan as a Special Master and, subsequently, approved the Special Master's hiring of employees.

On July 20, 1998, after the Special Master reported that the defendants were in violation of the Order, the District Court (Judge Turner) ordered the defendants to show cause. After there was some litigation about the sufficiency of the Special Master's data on physical and sexual assaults at the Jail, the Court delayed its decision on the plaintiffs' contempt motion. The parties must have used this time to engage in further negotiations and asked the Court to issue a consent decree effectuating their negotiations.

On November 24, 1999, the District Court (Judge Turner) issued such a consent decree, keeping the November 12, 1997, order in effect until November 1, 2004, and ordering further injunctive relief respecting monitoring, staffing and recordkeeping. The Court further accepted the findings of the Special Master. A few days later, on November 29, 1999, the Court administratively closed the case.

On March 6, 2000, after Judge Turner died, the case was re-assigned to Judge Jon Phipps McCalla. On July 5, 2000, the District Court (Judge McCalla) reopened the case and reinstated the Special Masters. Significant litigation about discovery followed.

After a contempt hearing on September 22, 2000, the District Court (Judge McCalla) resolved to make an unannounced visit to the Jail and, on October 2, 2000, subsequently approved a consent order enjoining the defendants from intimidating, harassing or instructing their employees not to cooperate fully with the court appointed Monitors, and required all supervisory personnel in the Jail to sign a statement detailing their understanding that they were obligated to cooperate with the Monitors. There was then litigation about employee intimidation and cooperation.

On December 22, 2000, the District Court (Judge McCalla) issued a 43-page order, finding the defendants in contempt of court. In the order, the Court incorporated many of Judge Turner's findings of fact, including the insufficiency of guard presence, monitoring, overcrowding, excessive noise, gang activity, and failures in classification. The Court ordered the defendants to submit short-term remedial plans. On January 10, 2001, the District Court (Judge McCalla) ordered short-term remedial action to correct the violation of inmates' Eighth Amendment rights. Litigation followed respecting defendants' proposed intermediate and long-term plans to correct the Eighth Amendment violations, which included the construction of a new Jail annex.

On June 21, 2001, the District Court (Judge McCalla) found the defendants remained in contempt but did not impose sanctions, finding that they had been "working expeditiously, efficiently, and in good faith to cure the unconstitutional conditions in the Jail." There followed significant litigation respecting attorneys' and monitors' fees and, on March 12, 2002, the Court ordered the defendants to submit reports detailing their progress every three months.

While the litigation was underway, the jail's conditions captured the interest of the Justice Department, which, on August 24, 2000, sent a letter to the Mayor of Shelby County indicating an intention to investigate conditions at the Jail pursuant to the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act (CRIPA), 42 U.S.C. § 1997. December 11-13, 2000, the government toured the Jail and subsequently sent a findings letter to the Mayor indicating it found the conditions unconstitutional. On August 12, 2002, the United States filed a lawsuit against Shelby County. United States v. Shelby County (JC-TN-0001). After the parties apparently negotiated and lodged a settlement agreement with the District Court, the parties memorialized that settlement by filing a joint motion to conditionally dismiss the action. That is, they agreed that the case would leave the active docket of the court, while defendants worked to comply with the agreement, but that if the defendants failed to comply, the case would be restored to the active docket for further litigation. On August 15, 2002, the District Court (Judge Bernice B. Donald) agreed, conditionally dismissing the case but specifically retaining jurisdiction to monitor compliance with the agreement.

In the case at hand, on March 25, 2003, the District Court (Judge McCalla) approved the defendants' proposed Jail Staffing Plans after it received the endorsement of all parties as well as the Special Monitor.

On June 16, 2005, the District Court (Judge McCalla) found the defendants had purged themselves of contempt through the development and implementation of a de facto remedial scheme. The fourteen-point plan included: (1) direct supervision of the cell blocks, (2) improved population management, (3) collection and utilization of data, (4) installation of an objective classification system, (5) improved control of gang members through the creation of a Gang Intelligence Unit, (6) improved inmate discipline and prosecution of inmate crimes committed within the Jail, (7) creation of a separate Disturbance Response Team, (8) provision of adequate inmate service, (9) creation of an effective grievance procedure, (10) improved staff training, (11) improved security, (12) efforts to achieve certification and accreditation, (13) creation of programs and activities to reduce inmate idleness, and (14) improved leadership. The Court noted that "prior to 2001, the Jail was a dangerous place with high level of violence and rape, and pervasive gang control. Today, the Jail is a safer institution for both inmates and staff; violence and gang activity have been brought under control."

After a status conference at which the parties agreed the Court should enter final judgment dismissing the case, on June 30, 2005, the District Court (Judge McCalla) dismissed the case.

Josh Altman - 09/23/2006

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Issues and Causes of Action
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Affected Gender
Crowding / caseload
Race discrimination
Assault/abuse by residents/inmates/students
Classification / placement
Personal injury
Sexual abuse by residents/inmates
Staff (number, training, qualifications, wages)
Totality of conditions
Plaintiff Type
Private Plaintiff
Type of Facility
Causes of Action 42 U.S.C. § 1983
Defendant(s) Shelby County Jail
Plaintiff Description Inmate alleging that he had been raped in jail in violation of his Eighth Amendment rights
Class action status sought No
Class action status granted No
Filed Pro Se Unknown
Prevailing Party Plaintiff
Public Int. Lawyer No
Nature of Relief Damages
Injunction / Injunctive-like Settlement
Source of Relief Litigation
Form of Settlement Court Approved Settlement or Consent Decree
Order Duration 1996 - 2005
Filing Year 1996
Case Closing Year 2005
Case Ongoing No
Case Listing JC-TN-0001 : United States v. Shelby County (W.D. Tenn.)
2:96-cv-02520-JPM (W.D. Tenn.)
JC-TN-0004-9000.pdf | Detail
Date: 01/06/2006
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
General Documents
Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law in Support of Order Granting Injunctive Relief to Remedy Unconstitutional Conditions in the Shelby County Jail (1997 U.S.Dist.LEXIS 24200) (W.D. Tenn.)
JC-TN-0004-0002.pdf | LEXIS | Detail
Date: 11/12/1997
Order Granting Injunctive Relief to Remedy Unconstitutional Conditions in Shelby County Jail (1997 U.S.Dist.LEXIS 24201) (W.D. Tenn.)
JC-TN-0004-0003.pdf | LEXIS | Detail
Date: 11/12/1997
Consent Order Adopting Recommendations of Special Master, Final Order Granting Injunctive Relief as to Conditions in the Shelby County Jail (1999 U.S.Dist.LEXIS 23443) (W.D. Tenn.)
JC-TN-0004-0004.pdf | LEXIS | Detail
Date: 11/24/1999
Opinion Finding Defendants in Contempt of Court (2000 U.S.Dist.LEXIS 22741) (W.D. Tenn.)
JC-TN-0004-0005.pdf | LEXIS | Detail
Date: 12/22/2000
Notice of Filing Revised Shelby County Jail Compliance Plan
JC-TN-0004-0006.pdf | Detail
Date: 04/09/2001
Order (2001 U.S.Dist.LEXIS 26016) (W.D. Tenn.)
JC-TN-0004-0007.pdf | LEXIS | Detail
Date: 06/21/2001
Appendix I: U.S. v. Shelby County Settlement Agreement
JC-TN-0004-0009.pdf | Detail
Date: 05/08/2002
Order Regarding Shelby County Jail Staffing Plan (W.D. Tenn.)
JC-TN-0004-0011.pdf | Detail
Date: 03/25/2003
Order Regarding Shelby County Jail Staffing Plan (2003 WL 23849734) (W.D. Tenn.)
JC-TN-0004-0014.pdf | WESTLAW | Detail
Date: 03/25/2003
Appendix K: Shelby County Jail Inspection Reports
JC-TN-0004-0010.pdf | Detail
Date: 09/29/2004
Notice of Filing of Shelby County Sheriff's Office April 2005 Jail Report Card
JC-TN-0004-0008.pdf | Detail
Date: 06/13/2005
Appendix J: U.S. v. Shelby County Findings Letter
JC-TN-0004-0012.pdf | Detail
Date: 06/15/2005
Order and Opinion Purging Defendants of Contempt (384 F.Supp.2d 1169) (W.D. Tenn.)
JC-TN-0004-0013.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Date: 06/16/2005
Source: Google Scholar
Order and Opinion Purging Defendants of Contempt [ECF# 836-1] (W.D. Tenn.)
JC-TN-0004-0001.pdf | Detail
Date: 06/16/2005
Judges McCalla, Jon Phipps (W.D. Tenn.)
JC-TN-0004-0001 | JC-TN-0004-0005 | JC-TN-0004-0007 | JC-TN-0004-0011 | JC-TN-0004-0013 | JC-TN-0004-0014 | JC-TN-0004-9000
Pham, Tu M. (W.D. Tenn.) [Magistrate]
Turner, Jerome (W.D. Tenn.)
JC-TN-0004-0002 | JC-TN-0004-0003 | JC-TN-0004-0004
Plaintiff's Lawyers Bohan, Mary (District of Columbia)
Boyd, Ralph F. Jr. (District of Columbia)
Glankler, Adam F. (Tennessee)
JC-TN-0004-0001 | JC-TN-0004-0006 | JC-TN-0004-0008 | JC-TN-0004-0013 | JC-TN-0004-0014 | JC-TN-0004-9000
Gregg, Tammie (District of Columbia)
Harris, Terrell L. (Tennessee)
Hutton, Robert L. (Tennessee)
JC-TN-0004-0001 | JC-TN-0004-0004 | JC-TN-0004-0006 | JC-TN-0004-0008 | JC-TN-0004-0013 | JC-TN-0004-0014 | JC-TN-0004-9000
Nelson, Mellie H. (District of Columbia)
Rosenbaum, Steven H. (District of Columbia)
Defendant's Lawyers Fessenden, Debra L. (Tennessee)
JC-TN-0004-0001 | JC-TN-0004-0008 | JC-TN-0004-0014 | JC-TN-0004-9000
Jones, Fred E. Jr. (Tennessee)
JC-TN-0004-0006 | JC-TN-0004-0013 | JC-TN-0004-9000
Kuhn, Brian L. (Tennessee)
JC-TN-0004-0001 | JC-TN-0004-0004 | JC-TN-0004-0006 | JC-TN-0004-0014 | JC-TN-0004-9000
Spruill, Kathleen (Tennessee)
JC-TN-0004-0001 | JC-TN-0004-0006 | JC-TN-0004-0013 | JC-TN-0004-0014 | JC-TN-0004-9000
Strother, Don D. (Tennessee)
JC-TN-0004-0013 | JC-TN-0004-9000
Wilson, Donnie E. (Tennessee)
Other Lawyers Allen, Mark A. (Tennessee)
Chambers, Alan B. (Tennessee)
Horne, Arthur E. III (Tennessee)
JC-TN-0004-0001 | JC-TN-0004-9000
Wells, Murray B. (Tennessee)
JC-TN-0004-0001 | JC-TN-0004-9000

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