In 1972, Alabama prisoners filed a class action lawsuit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the State of Alabama in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Alabama. The plaintiffs, who were represented by a court-appointed attorney, asked the court to grant them declaratory and injunctive relief, claiming that their constitutional rights had been violated by inadequate medical care.
On October 4, 1972, the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Alabama (Judge Frank M. Johnson) found Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment violations relating to the inadequate medical care and treatment of state inmates. The Court granted declaratory and injunctive relief, finding that approximately 10% of the inmate population was psychotic and another 60% mentally disturbed enough to require treatment and ordering the Board of Corrections to undertake extensive changes in its present practices in order to provide adequate medical care to inmates. The court also awarded the plaintiffs their attorney fees. Newman v. Alabama, 349 F.Supp. 278 (M.D.Ala. 1972). The prisoners had found a judge who paid attention to their claims. The defendants appealed. (Newman v. Alabama is case PC-AL-17 in the Civil Rights Litigation Clearinghouse.)
On November 8, 1974, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit sustained the District Court's finding of constitutional violations and held that the case was properly decided. Newman v. State of Alabama, 503 F.2d 1320 (5th Cir. 1974). The defendants asked for a rehearing en banc; the Fifth Circuit refused. The defendants then sought Supreme Court review, and on January 10, 1975, the U.S. Supreme Court denied the writ of certiorari. Newman v. State of Alabama, 421 U.S. 948 (1975).
In the months prior to the Fifth Circuit's ruling in the Newman case, other Alabama state prisoners filed, also in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Alabama, two separate pro se lawsuits under 42 U.S.C. §1983 against Alabama corrections officials. These cases came to be known as Pugh v. Locke and James v. Wallace. The plaintiffs were appointed private counsel by the court, and counsel persuaded attorneys from the National Prison Project of the American Civil Liberties Union to also enter the case. The complaints were successfully amended to seek class action status, with the class consisting of all convicted felons housed in Alabama Correctional Institution System (ACIS) facilities. The plaintiffs alleged that their constitutional rights had been violated by the prison system's overcrowding, lack of custodial officers, and the inability of prison officials to control violence within the facilities. The plaintiffs asked the court to enjoin the defendants from accepting any new prisoners into ACIS prisons until the population of each prison in the system was no greater than its stipulated designed capacity.
On September 30, 1974, Judge Johnson denied a summary judgment motion filed in one of the cases by the defendants. Reviewing the sufficiency of the amended complaint, Judge Johnson first found that assertions of an Eighth Amendment violation based upon some generalized obligation of the state to provide rehabilitative services to all prisoners had not stated a claim upon which relief could be granted; however, the court ruled that certain other claims were sufficient to proceed to trial. These included assertions that Alabama inflicted cruel and unusual punishment by impairing prisoners' efforts at self-rehabilitation and, in violation of due process requirements, engaged in arbitrary and capricious housing assignments of inmates among the few housing units with limited available educational, vocational and health treatment facilities. Claimed state restrictions of visitation rights without due process also withstood the defense motion to dismiss. James v. Wallace, 382 F.Supp.1177 (M.D. Ala. 1977).
The cases were consolidated for trial, which began in August 1975. In addition to plaintiffs' private counsel, the district's U.S. Attorney and ACLU National Prison Project counsel appeared as amici curiae. Near the end of the seven-day trial, the state conceded that it had operated its prisons in violation of the Eighth Amendment's prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. The next day, Judge Johnson and a district judge in an adjoining district issued a joint order. Similar allegations stemming from overcrowded, understaffed prison conditions had been made in a case then pending in the U.S. District Court for Southern Alabama, McCray v. Sullivan (case PC-AL-29 in the Civil Rights Litigation Clearinghouse database). On August 29, 1975, the U.S. District Courts for the Middle and Southern Districts of Alabama (Judge Johnson of the Middle District and Judge William Brevard Hand of the Southern District) jointly enjoined the defendants from accepting any new prisoners into the Alabama penal system until the population of each prison in the system was no greater than its stipulated designed capacity. The judges further stated that, apart from the joint order of injunction, the cases would be handled separately by the district courts. (As a result of this injunction, a large contingent of state prisoners in county jails awaiting transfer into the state penal system could not be transferred as planned, and the counties were forced to financially provide for their maintenance. On September 17, 1975, the Association of County Commissions of Alabama filed a third party complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Alabama as intervenors in the lawsuit. They asked the court to order the state government to give them funds from the state treasury to provide for these state prisoners under their care. We have only the third party complaint and the post-1979 portion of the docket sheet and, therefore, no information on how the court answered that request.)
After the 1975 trial, Judge Johnson issued his findings in favor of the plaintiffs on January 13, 1976, James v. Wallace, 406 F. Supp. 318 (M.D. Ala. 1976), comprehensively directing the state to undertake specific measures meeting "minimum constitutional standards" to address overcrowding, segregation and isolation shortcomings, classification issues, mental health care, protection from violence, living conditions, food service, education/ recreation/ vocational/ work opportunities, physical facilities, correspondence and visitation, and staffing (including staff numbers, training and reductions in racial and cultural disparities). Additionally, Judge Johnson directed appointment of a state-funded Human Rights Committee to oversee and report on the Alabama prison system's progress and compliance with the court's order.
The state appealed to the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. On September 16, 1977, Circuit Judge James P. Coleman, writing for a panel of the court, wrote an opinion affirming and modifying the district court's judgment. James v. Wallace, 559 F.2d 283 (5th Cir. 1977). The appellate court approved, generally, of the steps taken by the lower court to insure prisoners reasonably adequate food, clothing, shelter, necessary medical attention and personal safety, observing that many of the steps viewed in isolation may have exceed constitutional mandates but, in sum, were justified by the need to eradicate Eighth Amendment violations. Less intrusive measures than directed by the district court, however, according to Judge Coleman's opinion, sufficed in several areas. The opinion disapproved requiring individual cells or use of design standards as the constitutional standard and, likewise, disapproved of the appointment of a human rights committee with broad oversight powers. As to the latter, Judge Coleman directed the lower court to appoint a separate monitor for each of the state facilities, each monitor having authority to observe that facility's progress and to file reports with the court. Lower court mandates regarding visitor and search policies were also set aside. While the appellate court affirmed that the Eighth Amendment does not require a state to provide rehabilitative, educational, and vocational opportunities, Judge Coleman agreed that, if offered, such programs are to be available impartially and with equal access to prisoners on an objective standard of basic utility to the individual
While the appeal was pending, on June 15, 1977, Janice Phillips, a prisoner of the state of Alabama, asked the district court to allow her to intervene in the lawsuit as an individual plaintiff rather than as an unnamed member of the class. She claimed to have an undiagnosed and very painful abdominal condition that required specialized emergency medical attention unavailable to her at the prison. She informed the court that she was ready and willing to pay for the medical care that she needed, and she asked the court to order it. On the same day that she filed her petition, Judge Johnson's unpublished order directed the prison officials to allow Phillips appropriate medical care.
Alabama's appeals in the Pugh and James cases, together with McCray v. Sullivan (referenced above, as PC-AL-29) resulted in a per curiam opinion by the U.S. Supreme Court, Alabama v. Pugh, 438 U.S. 781 (1978). That opinion did not question the propriety of the injunctive relief below, but did require dismissal of the state and its board of corrections from the case in light of the Eleventh Amendment's ban on private parties' suits against states and their agencies, absent the state's consent to suit.
Accordingly, the Fifth Circuit entered an order of dismissal as to the state and its correctional agency on August 8, 1978. Newman v. Alabama, 578 F.2d 565 (5th Cir 1978). The consolidated lawsuit's injunctive claims against individual officers, in their official capacity, continued. The district court received compliance reports and scheduled compliance hearings during this period, as described in author Larry W. Yackle's book, Reform and Regret (Oxford U. Press 1989), which comprehensively tells the story of federal judicial involvement in the Alabama prison system during this era.
As compliance with the appellate-approved parts of his January 13, 1976, decree lagged, on February 2, 1979, in an unpublished order, Judge Johnson appointed Fob James, the Governor of Alabama, to serve as the temporary receiver of the state's prison system for at least one year. The court ordered the governor to bring the prison system in line with the U.S. Constitution's requirements. The court ordered the Alabama Board of Corrections to transfer all their control and management duties to the governor, enjoining them from interfering in any manner with the governor's duties as receiver and ordering them to cooperate with all of his commands. The court then ordered the governor to file quarterly reports so that the court could monitor his progress. (The unpublished order in this case paralleled Judge Johnson's published order to the same effect, on the same date, in the related prison conditions case before him, Newman v. Alabama, 466 F. Supp. 628 (M.D. AL. 1979).)
In May 1979, Judge Johnson became a Circuit Judge on the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. Just prior, he transferred the prison conditions cases to District Judge Robert E. Varner, who oversaw proceedings for years afterward, as reflected in docket entries for the case.
On October 9, 1980, the district court ordered the defendants to pay monthly fees to the plaintiffs to cover the costs of hiring consultants to monitor the defendants' compliance with the court's order.
On March 4, 1981, the court (Judge Varner) dismissed the following defendants from the lawsuit: the City of Hamilton, the County of Marion, the Alabama Mental Health Board, the Northwest Alabama Mental Health Center, the Department of Mental Health of the State of Alabama, Murray Ballard (Mayor of the City of Hamilton), Brady Baccus, Wade Galbreath, Hugh Stone, Royce Mann, and Hugh Ackers (all Commissioners of Marion County).
On March 9, 1981, the plaintiffs filed a motion for emergency relief, asking the court to either force the defendants to comply with the court's order (from October 9, 1980) to provide funds to pay for the plaintiffs' consultants or, alternatively, to force the defendants to release members of the plaintiff class from prison until the inmate population is sufficiently reduced to bring the penal system in compliance with the court's order. The plaintiffs asked the court to designate and convene a three-judge district court to hear their complaint. On April 7, 1981, the court (Judge Varner) denied the plaintiffs' motion for the designation and convening of a three-judge panel. On April 20, 1981, the court ordered the defendants to pay $10,653.00 to the plaintiffs in attorneys' fees.
Overcrowding and understaffing continued in ACIS prisons. With the state's continued failure to comply with the court's decree that its prisons meet minimum constitutional standards, on July 15, 1981, the court (Judge Varner) ordered the Alabama Department of Corrections to release the 1000 prisoners in the state penal system least deserving of incarceration. The court also instructed that the next 250 prisoners in the state penal system least deserving of incarceration were to be paroled 6 months earlier than planned.
On July 16, 1981, the defendants asked the court to stay the prisoner release order and to reconsider. That day, Charles Graddick, the Attorney General of the State of Alabama, asked the court to allow him to intervene in the case and to stay the prisoner release order pending an appeal. On July 22, 1981, the court denied these motions. Graddick and the defendants appealed.
On July 27, 1981, in an unpublished ruling, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit denied the motion for a stay of the prisoner release order. The state's Attorney General then sought to block the prisoner release order by appealing to the Supreme Court. On July 25, 1981, sitting as Circuit Justice to decide Alabama's emergency motion for a stay, Justice Lewis F. Powell's unpublished ruling denied the request to stay the district court's order (the Justice had issued a temporary stay just after the motion was filed, on July 23). Approximately 200 prisoners were released that day from Alabama prisons and the state's Attorney General again sought a stay, this time by applying to the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, who referred the application to the full Court. On September 2, 1981, the U.S. Supreme Court denied the application to stay the prisoner release order. Graddick v. Newman, 453 U.S. 928 (1981) (Justice Powell). Thereafter, additional prisoners were released.
While the stay applications were being litigated, on August 5, 1981, the district court (Judge Varner) ordered the defendants to contract with professionals to fully evaluate the current state of compliance with the court's orders and to produce a realistic master plan within 8 months that would move the prison system into full compliance. The court ordered the defendants to file quarterly reports of their progress with respect to development of the master plan.
On December 14, 1981, Judge Varner ordered that more of the inmates who had been designated as least deserving of incarceration be released from the state prisons. The court further ordered that inmates' parole be given six months earlier than planned. On December 16, 1981, the defendants asked the district court to stay the order pending their appeal to the newly-formed U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit. On December 22, 1981, the district court denied the defendants' request for the stay.
On December 24, 1981, however, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit granted the defendants' motion for a stay of the prisoner release order. On August 9, 1982, the Eleventh Circuit dismissed as moot that part of the stay application concerning already-released prisoners but, as to the remainder, it vacated the district court's order. Circuit Judge Gerald B. Tjoflat wrote for the appellate court that the plaintiffs could have sought to impose traditional civil contempt sanctions (fines or incarceration) against the individual defendants responsible for the non-compliance with the district court's remedial orders. Not having sought such relief, the plaintiffs had not shown inadequacy of available legal remedies and, so, were not entitled to release via injunctive order. Additionally, the state's parole board was not a party to the action. Thus, ordering the board to accelerate the parole eligibility of unreleased prisoners was improper, according to the appellate court, which vacated the prisoner release order and remanded the case to the district court. Newman v. Alabama, 683 F.2d 1312 (11th Cir. 1981).
With Judge Varner unable, as matters stood, to order prisoner releases and the receiver he had appointed, Governor James, soon to leave office, in 1982 the parties began negotiations toward ending federal court supervision of the Alabama prisons.
The district court's docket sheet reflects an entry on December 6, 1982, that, days before (the exact date is illegible), the Eleventh Circuit ordered the district court to conduct all further proceedings in this case in open court, with full access given to the public and the press, unless a hearing is held and findings are made as to why the case should be in closed court. A month later, the Fifth Circuit explained that the earlier order was prompted by the district court's denial, without opinion, in November, 1982, of a newspaper company's motion to attend a pretrial hearing in the case. Newman v. Graddick, 696 F.2d 796 (11th Cir. 1983) (Circuit Judge Paul H. Roney). In its appeal, the newspaper company also complained Judge Varner's rulings restricting access to lists of prisoners proposed to be released. Reversing the district court's decision denying press access to inspect and copy the lists, Judge Roney found that the presumption of open access to court records and proceedings had not been outweighed by evidence or reasons produced at a pre-denial hearing. Id.
On January 5, 1983, the parties entered into a consent agreement, which provided for the establishment of an "Implementation Committee" to monitor the implementation of the plan for improvements in the prison system. The committee would monitor three areas: state prisoners in county jails, mental healthcare to inmates, and conditions in segregation. The agreement further stated that the committee would report to the district court, and that if any party felt that their rights were being jeopardized by the committee's actions, they could apply to the district court for relief. This committee, of course, took on responsibilities which might have been performed years earlier, had Judge Johnson's appointment of a Human Rights Committee in his January 13, 1976, order, been allowed to stand by the Fifth Circuit or agreed to by the state--which, years later, was agreeing to something similar.
On January 18, 1983, Judge Varner approved the consent agreement and conditionally dismissed the part of the case dealing with the three areas covered under the agreement.
The Implementation Committee attempted, among other things, to reduce overcrowding in the prisons, in part by implementing a Supervised Intensive Restitution (SIR) program (releasing certain property crime offenders to live and work in the community, remitting a portion of their earnings to their prior victims). Before long, officials' threats to end the SIR program led Judge Varner to take further action.
On November 4, 1983, as a contempt sanction, the district court ordered the Attorney General of the State of Alabama to pay the court one dollar per day for each state inmate held in any penal institution wherein overcrowded conditions have existed for a specified number of days. The court further ordered the Commissioner of Corrections to release from confinement the number of inmates by which state facilities were overcrowded. The attorney general and the commissioner of corrections appealed. On September 10, 1984, their appeal succeeded, with issuance of the opinion in Newman v. Graddick, 740 F.2d 1513 (11th Cir. 1984) (Circuit Judge Roney). Upholding the January 1983 consent decree from attack by the state's Attorney General, Judge Roney nonetheless ruled that the district court should hold more hearings to consider modifications of earlier orders, given recent precedent interpreting the Eighth Amendment. Prisoner release orders, he said, would be warranted only if another trial were held to assess current prison conditions against these more recent standards. Moreover, the contempt findings were also set aside by the appellate court.
After this 1984 appellate ruling adverse to the plaintiffs, and with the involvement of the Implementation Committee, the parties' attorneys negotiated a settlement. We do not have a copy of the settlement but, according to Larry W. Yackle's book, Reform and Regret, p. 250, the unpublished agreement stated that the ACIS was in "sufficient compliance" to "permit" the parties to recommend that the Pugh and James cases be dismissed--subject to being reopened if Alabama's prison conditions should deteriorate. Additionally, the agreement provided for three additional years of monitoring by the Implementation Committee. Judge Varner approved the agreement in an unpublished dismissal order issued on November 27, 1984.
We have no information on further proceedings, if any, in this case. As noted, above, related cases in the Civil Rights Litigation Clearinghouse database are Newman v. Alabama (PC-AL-17) and McCray v. Sullivan (PC-AL-29).Mike Fagan - 04/25/2008