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Case Name Harris v. Thigpen PC-AL-0012
Docket / Court 87-1109 ( M.D. Ala. )
State/Territory Alabama
Case Type(s) Disability Rights-Pub. Accom.
Prison Conditions
Attorney Organization ACLU National (all projects)
ACLU National Prison Project
Case Summary
In 1987, prisoners of the state of Alabama filed this action against the Alabama Department of Corrections in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Alabama; they amended the complaint on March 30, 1988. We don't have the initial complaint, but the amended complaint was a class action ... read more >
In 1987, prisoners of the state of Alabama filed this action against the Alabama Department of Corrections in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Alabama; they amended the complaint on March 30, 1988. We don't have the initial complaint, but the amended complaint was a class action under 42 U.S.C. §1983. In it, the plaintiffs, represented by Southern Prisoners Defense Committee and the National Prison Project of the American Civil Liberties Union, alleged that their constitutional rights had been violated by the defendants' requirement that all inmates be subjected to testing for AIDS upon induction into, and before discharge from, the state's penal system. Specifically, the plaintiffs complained that the defendants tested them for AIDS against their will, failed to notify them of the results, failed to provide mental health counseling for inmates who tested positive, compelled the inmates who tested positive to live in segregated units that were "like leper colonies," branded them as socially unacceptable, provided them with grossly deficient medical care, and deprived them of the opportunity to participate in vocational and education programming, and the opportunity to earn good time credits under the Rehabilitation Act.

On January 8, 1990, the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Alabama (Judge Robert Varner) denied the plaintiffs' request for relief, holding that the testing program did not amount to an invasion of constitutionally protected privacy and that the plaintiffs had shown no credible evidence of any violations of their constitutional rights. Harris v. Thigpen, 727 F.Supp. 1564 (M.D.Ala. 1990). The plaintiffs appealed.

On September 18, 1991, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit (Judge Peter Fay, Judge Stanley Birch, and Judge Walter Hoffman) affirmed the district court's judgment in part, and vacated and remanded in part, holding that the defendants were not deliberately indifferent to the inmates' medical or psychiatric needs, that the defendants' blanket policy of isolating HIV-positive inmates from the general inmate population did not violate any of the plaintiffs' constitutional rights, and that more complete findings of fact and conclusions of law were necessary for proper resolution of the claim that they had been denied programming and good time credits under the Rehabilitation Act. Harris v. Thigpen, 941 F.2d 1495 (11th Cir. 1991).

On remand, the district court (Judge Varner) again ruled in favor of the defendants, finding no violation of the plaintiffs' constitutional right to programming and good time credits under the Rehabilitation Act. The inmates appealed.

On November 4, 1997, the Eleventh Circuit (Judge Emmett Cox, Judge Phyllis Kravitch, and Judge Thomas Stagg) vacated the district court's decision and remanded the case, holding that the inmates had the burden to show that they were otherwise qualified or could be made so with reasonable accommodation, that less that significant risk of transmitting HIV did not alone justify excluding inmates from participating in programs, that determination that Rehabilitation Act rights could be subordinated to correctional concerns violated law of the case doctrine, that refusal to consider inmates' potential integration into off-site programs violated the law of case doctrine, that the cost of adding correctional officers did not make accommodation unreasonable, and that the case should be reassigned to a new judge on remand. Onishea v. Hopper, 126 F.3d 1323 (11th Cir. 1997). The defendants appealed the remand, and the Eleventh Circuit decided to hear the case en banc. Onishea v. Hopper, 133 F.3d 1377 (11th Cir. 1998).

In the rehearing en banc on April 7, 1999, the Eleventh Circuit (Judges Gerald Tjoflat, Robert Anderson, James Edmondson, Emmett Cox, Stanley Birch, Joel Dubina, Susan Black, Edward Carnes, and Stanley Marcus for the majority; Judges Rosemary Barkett, Joseph Hatchett, and Frank Hull dissenting) vacated the prior appellate decision and affirmed the district judge's decision that the prisoners' rights had not been violated. The majority of the en banc court held that "significant risk" of HIV transmission existed for any prison program in which HIV-positive inmates sought participation, that the court's finding that integrated programs would risk violence was not clearly erroneous, that the court's finding that segregation of HIV-positive inmates was not an exaggerated response was not clearly erroneous, that cost was a proper consideration in the determination of whether the hiring of additional guards to deter high risk behavior was a reasonable accommodation, and that the finding that the hiring of additional guards imposed an undue burden on the prison system was not clearly erroneous. Onishea v. Hopper, 171 F.3d 1289 (11th Cir. 1999).

The plaintiffs appealed the en banc ruling, and on January 18, 2000, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the case. Davis v. Hopper, 528 U.S. 1114 (2000).

Kristen Sagar - 05/02/2006

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Issues and Causes of Action
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Constitutional Clause
Cruel and Unusual Punishment
Due Process
Equal Protection
Unreasonable search and seizure
Disability (inc. reasonable accommodations)
Administrative segregation
Classification / placement
Personal injury
Recreation / Exercise
Religious programs / policies
Sanitation / living conditions
Search policies
Staff (number, training, qualifications, wages)
Suicide prevention
Medical/Mental Health
Type of Facility
Causes of Action 42 U.S.C. § 1983
Defendant(s) Alabama Department of Corrections
Alabama Department of Corrections
Plaintiff Description prisoners of the state of Alabama
Indexed Lawyer Organizations ACLU National (all projects)
ACLU National Prison Project
Class action status sought Yes
Class action status granted Yes
Filed Pro Se Unknown
Prevailing Party Defendant
Public Int. Lawyer Yes
Nature of Relief None
Source of Relief None
Filing Year 1987
Case Closing Year 2000
Case Ongoing No
Additional Resources
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  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
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 ]

No docket sheet currently in the collection
General Documents
Amended Complaint
PC-AL-0012-0001.pdf | Detail
Date: 03/30/1988
Comprehensive Amended Complaint
PC-AL-0012-0002.pdf | Detail
Date: 06/24/1988
Opinion (727 F.Supp. 1564) (M.D. Ala.)
PC-AL-0012-0003.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Date: 01/08/1990
Source: Google Scholar
Opinion (941 F.2d 1495)
PC-AL-0012-0004.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Date: 09/18/1991
Source: Google Scholar
Opinion (126 F.3d 1323)
PC-AL-0012-0005.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Date: 11/04/1997
Source: Google Scholar
On Petition for Rehearing and Rehearing En Banc (133 F.3d 1377)
PC-AL-0012-0006.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Date: 01/23/1998
Source: Google Scholar
Opinion (171 F.3d 1289)
PC-AL-0012-0007.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Date: 04/07/1999
Source: Google Scholar
On Petition for Writ of Certiorari (528 U.S. 1114)
PC-AL-0012-0008.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Date: 01/18/2000
Source: Westlaw
Judges Anderson, Robert Lanier III (Fifth Circuit, Eleventh Circuit)
PC-AL-0012-0006 | PC-AL-0012-0007
Barkett, Rosemary (Eleventh Circuit)
PC-AL-0012-0006 | PC-AL-0012-0007
Birch, Stanley F. Jr. (Eleventh Circuit)
PC-AL-0012-0006 | PC-AL-0012-0007
Black, Susan Harrell (Eleventh Circuit, M.D. Fla.)
PC-AL-0012-0006 | PC-AL-0012-0007
Carnes, Edward Earl (Eleventh Circuit)
PC-AL-0012-0006 | PC-AL-0012-0007
Cox, Emmett Ripley (S.D. Ala., Eleventh Circuit)
PC-AL-0012-0005 | PC-AL-0012-0006 | PC-AL-0012-0007
Dubina, Joel Fredrick (M.D. Ala., Eleventh Circuit)
PC-AL-0012-0006 | PC-AL-0012-0007
Edmondson, James Larry (Eleventh Circuit)
PC-AL-0012-0006 | PC-AL-0012-0007
Fay, Peter Thorp (Eleventh Circuit, S.D. Fla., Fifth Circuit)
Hatchett, Joseph Woodrow (Fifth Circuit, Eleventh Circuit)
PC-AL-0012-0006 | PC-AL-0012-0007
Hull, Frank M. (N.D. Ga., Eleventh Circuit)
PC-AL-0012-0006 | PC-AL-0012-0007
Kravitch, Phyllis A. (Fifth Circuit, Eleventh Circuit)
Marcus, Stanley (S.D. Fla., Eleventh Circuit)
PC-AL-0012-0006 | PC-AL-0012-0007
Stagg, Thomas E. Jr. (W.D. La.)
Tjoflat, Gerald Bard (Eleventh Circuit, M.D. Fla., Fifth Circuit)
PC-AL-0012-0006 | PC-AL-0012-0007
Varner, Robert Edward (M.D. Ala.)
Plaintiff's Lawyers Alexander, Elizabeth R. (District of Columbia)
PC-AL-0012-0003 | PC-AL-0012-0004 | PC-AL-0012-0005
Bright, Stephen B. (Georgia)
PC-AL-0012-0001 | PC-AL-0012-0002 | PC-AL-0012-0003 | PC-AL-0012-0004
Bronstein, Alvin J. (District of Columbia)
Freeman, Alexa P. (District of Columbia)
PC-AL-0012-0001 | PC-AL-0012-0002 | PC-AL-0012-0003 | PC-AL-0012-0004 | PC-AL-0012-0005
Glassroth, Steve (Alabama)
Harris, Rick (Alabama)
PC-AL-0012-0001 | PC-AL-0012-0002
Khan, Ayesha N. (District of Columbia)
PC-AL-0012-0005 | PC-AL-0012-0006 | PC-AL-0012-0007
Krakoff, Jere (District of Columbia)
PC-AL-0012-0001 | PC-AL-0012-0002
Mandell, Howard (Alabama)
PC-AL-0012-0001 | PC-AL-0012-0002 | PC-AL-0012-0003 | PC-AL-0012-0004
Ortega, Nancy E. (Georgia)
PC-AL-0012-0001 | PC-AL-0012-0002 | PC-AL-0012-0003 | PC-AL-0012-0004
Winter, Margaret (District of Columbia)
PC-AL-0012-0005 | PC-AL-0012-0006 | PC-AL-0012-0007
Defendant's Lawyers Boswell, Alice Ann (Alabama)
Byrne, David Bryson Jr. (Alabama)
PC-AL-0012-0003 | PC-AL-0012-0003 | PC-AL-0012-0004 | PC-AL-0012-0005 | PC-AL-0012-0006 | PC-AL-0012-0007
Byrne, Alice Ann (Alabama)
PC-AL-0012-0005 | PC-AL-0012-0006 | PC-AL-0012-0007
Curtis, Jack M. (Alabama)
PC-AL-0012-0004 | PC-AL-0012-0005
Gaston, Geary A. (Alabama)
PC-AL-0012-0003 | PC-AL-0012-0004 | PC-AL-0012-0005
Kellum, Julia Elizabeth (Alabama)
PC-AL-0012-0005 | PC-AL-0012-0006 | PC-AL-0012-0007
Leonard, Ellen Ruth (Alabama)
Lyles, Harry A. (Alabama)
PC-AL-0012-0003 | PC-AL-0012-0004
Lynn, Horace N. (Alabama)
PC-AL-0012-0003 | PC-AL-0012-0004
Masters, Daryl L. (Alabama)
Norwood, Dorothy F. (Alabama)
PC-AL-0012-0003 | PC-AL-0012-0004
Redd, Andrew Weldon (Alabama)
PC-AL-0012-0003 | PC-AL-0012-0004 | PC-AL-0012-0005
Talkington, Scott R. (Alabama)
PC-AL-0012-0003 | PC-AL-0012-0004 | PC-AL-0012-0005
Wilhelm, Alice B. (Alabama)
Other Lawyers Galanter, Seth Michael (District of Columbia)
King, Neil (District of Columbia)
Seaton, Elizabeth A. (District of Columbia)
PC-AL-0012-0005 | PC-AL-0012-0006 | PC-AL-0012-0007

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