In 1996, Tracey Neal and five other female prisoners filed a class action lawsuit against the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) and individual officials in the Circuit Court of Washtenaw, Michigan. Plaintiffs alleged a pattern of systematic sexual misconduct, sexual harassment and abuse by the MDOC in violation of Michigan's Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act ("ELCRA" or the "Civil Rights Act"), M.C.L. § 37.2101 et seq.; M.S.A. § 3.548(101) et seq.
Specifically, plaintiffs' complaint alleged that the MDOC assigned male officers to supervise the female prisoners; that the women were forced to dress, undress, and perform basic hygiene and bodily functions in the open with male officers observing, often pruriently; that the MDOC allowed male officers to observe during gynecological and other intimate medical care; that the MDOC required male officers to perform body searches of women prisoners that included pat-downs of their breasts and genital areas; that women prisoners were routinely subjected to offensive sexual harassment, offensive touching, and requests for sexual acts by male officers; and that there was a pattern of male officers' coercing sexual acts from women prisoners as a condition of retaining good-time credits, work details, and educational and rehabilitative program opportunities.
Plaintiffs sought injunctive and declaratory relief as well as compensatory damages. Plaintiffs' request for class certification was granted by the Trial Court (Judge Timothy P. Connors). In response to plaintiffs' complaint, defendants moved for summary disposition which was denied. Defendants appealed.
The Michigan Court of Appeals initially affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded for further proceedings. The Appeals Court held that as a matter of first impression, Michigan's Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act ("ELCRA") did not apply as correctional facilities were not places of "public service,'' under the Act, in their dealings with prisoners. Neal v. MDOC, 583 N.W.2d 249 (Mich.App. 1998) (Neal I). On rehearing, the Appeals Court analyzed the U.S. Supreme Court's recent decision in Pennsylvania Dep't of Corrections v. Yeskey, 524 U.S. 206, 118 S.Ct. 1952, 141 L.Ed.2d 215 (1998) and concluded that the MDOC facilities were places of "public service" within the meaning of the Act. Neal v. MDOC, 592 N.W.2d 370 (Mich.App. 1998) (Neal II). Defendants' application to appeal Neal II to the Michigan Supreme Court was denied. Neal v. MDOC, 649 N.W.2d 82 (2002). In response to the Neal II decision, the Michigan legislature on March 10, 2000, amended ELCRA to explicitly exclude prisoners from the Act's protection against discrimination. M.C.L. §37.2102(1).
When the case returned to the trial court, plaintiffs amended the complaint to substitute representative class members as plaintiffs. Defendants moved for summary disposition on various grounds, including arguing that plaintiffs' civil rights claims accruing after March 10, 2000, were barred by the amendment to the Civil Rights Act. Defendants also moved to de-certify the class and filed a separate motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. Before any ruling on defendants' motions, Plaintiffs filed a second amended complaint.
Trial Judge Connors granted in part defendants' motion on the jurisdictional issue, finding that the court had jurisdiction only over plaintiffs' claims under the Civil Rights Act. Judge Connors dismissed plaintiffs' remaining claims as they had to be filed before the Court of Claims. Defendants' other motions were denied. Defendants appealed.
Plaintiffs then filed a separate complaint in the Court of Claims, styled Anderson v. MDOC, LC No.03-000162-MZ, alleging the same claims that were dismissed from Neal. The Anderson plaintiffs were granted class certification. Defendants appealed the certification order. The Neal and Anderson cases were consolidated on appeal.
On February 10, 2005, the Appellate Court held in pertinent part that the claims of the Neal plaintiffs that arose after the effective date of the ELCRA amendment were no longer viable, as the amendment excluded prisoner claims from the Act's protection. Neal v. MDOC, 2005 WL 326883 (Mich.App. Feb. 10, 2005). Defendants applied to the Michigan Supreme Court for leave to appeal that opinion on a separate issue. Plaintiffs in turn filed a new class-action lawsuit pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 1981 and 1983 in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan against the MDOC, styled Mason v. Granholm, Case No. 5:05-cv-73943-JCO-DAS. [PC-MI-20 of this collection]. (In that case, in 2007, the U.S. District Court held the amendment to ELCRA unconstitutional. Mason v. Granholm, 2007 WL 201008 (Jan. 23, 2007, E.D. Mich.)
On December 27, 2005, the Michigan Supreme Court remanded the Neal case back to the Appellate Court for consideration of defendants' argument regarding the applicability of the Prison Litigation Reform Act, MCL 600.5501 et. seq., to prisoners' claims that accrued after the effective date of the Act. Neal v. MDOC, 707 N.W.2d 193 (2005). On February 23, 2006, the Court of Appeals issued its opinion and reversed the portion of the trial court's decision that denied summary disposition to defendants on the ground that the Prison Litigation Reform Act was inapplicable. Neal v. MDOC, 2006 WL 448712 (Mich.App. Feb. 23, 2006).
The Neal case was remanded again to the trial court. Two trials were held during 2007, for a portion of the plaintiffs, and they won jury verdicts of more than $30 million. The defendants appealed, and the Michigan Court of Appeals denied their appeal on January 27, 2009. Neal v. Department of Corrections, 2009 WL 187813 (Mich.App. Jan 27, 2009).
The case then proceeded to class action settlement negotiations. On July 15, 2009, the parties reached a tentative settlement, granted preliminary approval by the court, for $100 million to be distributed to the class members and to their lawyers. The agreement resolved several cases together: this one (Neal v. Michigan Department of Corrections, Washtenaw County Circuit Court Case No. 96-6986-CZ; the joined case of Anderson v. Michigan Department of Corrections, Court of Claims No. 03-162-MZ; LaCross v. Zang, Washtenaw County Circuit Court Case No. 05944-CZ; and Mason v. Granholm, U.S. Dist. Ct. for the Eastern District of Michigan, 05-cv-73943 [PC-MI-20].
The class members who went to trial received 2/3rds of the amount awarded by the juries; other class members were eligible for a portion of the total damages pool, based on the seriousness of their injury (e.g., more to those raped than to those who were groped or forced to touch the genitals of a correctional staff member, and more to those groped than to those "subjected to prurient viewing while nude." The awards were to be payable over a period of 5 years, and to be administered by a "claims master."
In addition, the preliminary settlement allocated to plaintiffs lawyers $571,000 to reimburse their costs, and 28% of the total fund, to pay them for 30,000 hours devoted by 10 lawyers over 13 years of litigation.
Finally, the settlement included substantial injunctive relief relating to the MDOC's response to claimed sexual abuse.
On August 7, 2012, the Michigan Court of Appeals ruled that the Michigan Department of Corrections must collect all outstanding victim's restitution, court costs, and fees before payment of any settlement funds to individuals who have these outstanding obligations. Additionally, any outstanding obligations for child support must be deducted from settlement funds. 824 N.W.2d 285.Margo Schlanger - 02/28/2014