Prisoners in the Delaware state prison system filed a class action lawsuit in March 1980 in the Delaware Court of Chancery in New Castle County alleging that overcrowding at the prison in Smyrna violated article I, §11 of the Delaware Constitution which provides that ""in the construction of ...
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Prisoners in the Delaware state prison system filed a class action lawsuit in March 1980 in the Delaware Court of Chancery in New Castle County alleging that overcrowding at the prison in Smyrna violated article I, §11 of the Delaware Constitution which provides that ""in the construction of jails a proper regard shall be had to the health of prisoners."" The plaintiff class was represented by Community Legal Aid Society, the ACLU of Delaware and the ACLU National Prison Project. A settlement agreement was entered on November 28, 1988, and the agreement's broad provisions covered many areas not originally contained in the complaint by addressing health care services, legal access, and environmental conditions as well as overcrowding. The agreement's provisions were to be applied to all four major prisons operated by the Delaware Department of Correction. Approximately one year after entry of the agreement, the plaintiffs filed a motion to show cause why the defendants should not be held in civil contempt based on alleged violations of the settlement agreement. After filing the contempt motion, the defendants, state prison officials, made significant improvements in the state prisons including improvements in ventilation systems, beginning construction of a new women's prison, and work release and pre-trial release programs to reduce overcrowding.
Because of these improvements, the Court of Chancery (Vice-Chancellor Chandler) found that the defendants were in compliance with the settlement agreement. Dickerson v. Castle, Civ.A.No. 10256, 1991 WL 208467 (Del.Ch. Oct. 15, 1991) (unpublished memorandum opinion). However, Vice-Chancellor Chandler concluded that under the Court of Chancery's inherent equitable powers, reasonable attorneys' fees to plaintiffs' counsel were to be awarded because the motion and ensuing litigation resulted in certain benefits for the plaintiff class. In subsequent litigation over the amount of attorneys' fees, the plaintiffs argued that they were entitled to the lodestar figure of $311,405. Vice-Chancellor Chandler instead held that plaintiffs' reasonable attorneys' fees were $30,000, considering the benefits obtained for the class and the causal connection of those benefits to this litigation. Dickerson v. Castle, Civ.A.No. 10256, 1992 WL 205796 (Del.Ch. Aug. 21, 1992) (unpublished memorandum opinion). The Supreme Court of Delaware affirmed the decision regarding attorneys' fees on March 2, 1993. Dickerson v. Castle, 622 A.2d 1094 (Del. 1993).
The plaintiffs filed a subsequent contempt motion which was settled by a stipulation order entered on December 15, 1992, that addressed overcrowding problems and tuberculosis control throughout the prison system and legal access at the Women's Correctional Institute. After a third contempt motion filed by the plaintiffs, Vice-Chancellor Chandler found for the defendants on all counts except for a finding that the defendants had failed to implement an adequate tuberculosis control system. Dickerson v. Castle, Civ.A.No. 10256, 1995 WL 606316 (Del.Ch. Sep. 7, 1995). Vice-Chancellor Chandler also dismissed the lawsuit and ordered that any future efforts to enforce the 1988 agreement or the 1992 stipulation must be brought as a separate contract action. No docket for this case is available on PACER because it was litigated in state court.Tom Madison - 04/01/2006