University of Michigan Law School
Civil Rights Litigation Clearinghouse
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Case Name Webster v. Sowders PC-KY-0006
Docket / Court 86-12 ( E.D. Ky. )
State/Territory Kentucky
Case Type(s) Prison Conditions
Case Summary
On March 11, 1986, a class of 2,800 inmates at Northpoint Training Center, a Kentucky correctional institution, brought a class action lawsuit against prison officials for injunctive relief and damages claiming to have been exposed to potentially dangerous levels of asbestos at the facility. They ... read more >
On March 11, 1986, a class of 2,800 inmates at Northpoint Training Center, a Kentucky correctional institution, brought a class action lawsuit against prison officials for injunctive relief and damages claiming to have been exposed to potentially dangerous levels of asbestos at the facility. They challenged both the existence of asbestos in prison dormitories and the use of inmate labor to remove it. In 1985, officials at Northpoint began a program to use inmate labor to remove asbestos in old prison buildings. Inmates filed suit shortly thereafter. The US District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky (Judge William O. Bertelsman) issued a temporary restraining order, and later a preliminary injunction, finding that inmates were at risk by the facility's use of prisoners in unsafe conditions to remove asbestos. Postponing discovery and trial on liability and damages, the Court appointed an asbestos-removal expert, Versar, Inc., to oversee compliance with asbestos removal regulations and awarded interim attorneys fees and monitor fees. This fee-award order was appealed by the state, and the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed and remanded in part and dismissed in part. Webster v. Sowders, 846 F.2d 1032 (6th Cir. 1988) (Judge Gilbert S. Merritt, Jr.).

After several years of litigation on the asbestos issue, the parties reached a settlement that was approved by Judge Bertelsman on January 5, 1990 after two hearings. The settlement, which had been approved by the majority of class members, granted the injunctive relief sought by the inmates but dismissed the claims for damages, though it preserved the rights of inmates to seek damages in separate actions. Two inmates who were part of the class filed an appeal, arguing that the court should not have approved the settlement. In an unpublished per curiam opinion on March 26, 2001, the 6th Circuit affirmed the District Court's approval of the settlement, finding no abuse of discretion. Webster v. Sowders, 928 F.2d 1134 (6th Cir. 1991). The U.S. Supreme Court denied the inmates' subsequent petition for a writ of certiorari. Parrott v. Sowders, 502 U.S. 1007 (1991).

After the enactment of the Prison Litigation Reform Act in 1996, the state sought to terminate the prospective relief provisions in the consent decree. After various proceedings, the District Court entered an order terminating the prospective relief provisions but leaving intact the provisions governing accrual of claims for statute of limitations purposes. The precise timing of the termination is unclear. In an unpublished opinion, the 6th Circuit affirmed the District Court's order on August 10, 1998. Webster v. Sowders, 165 F.3d 29 (6th Cir. 1998).

Denise Lieberman - 10/23/2005

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Issues and Causes of Action
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Content of Injunction
Preliminary relief granted
Personal injury
Type of Facility
Causes of Action 42 U.S.C. ยง 1983
Defendant(s) Kentucky Department of Corrections
Plaintiff Description inmates at Northpoint Training Center in Kentucky
Indexed Lawyer Organizations None on record
Class action status sought Yes
Class action status granted Yes
Prevailing Party Plaintiff
Public Int. Lawyer No
Nature of Relief Preliminary injunction / Temp. restraining order
Injunction / Injunctive-like Settlement
Source of Relief Settlement
Form of Settlement Court Approved Settlement or Consent Decree
Order Duration 1990 - n/a
Case Closing Year n/a
Case Ongoing Unknown
Additional Resources
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Case Studies Civil Rights Injunctions Over Time: A Case Study of Jail and Prison Court Orders
N.Y.U. Law Review
By: Margo Schlanger (Washington University)
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
By: Malcolm M. Feeley & Edward Rubin (UC Berkeley Boalt Hall School of Law & Vanderbilt School of Law Faculty)
Citation: (1998)
[ Detail ]

Links Cruel Confinement: Abuse, Discrimination and Death Within Alabama's Prisons
Written: Jun. 04, 2014
(Southern Poverty Law Center )
[ Detail ] [ External Link ]

97-5869 (U.S. Court of Appeals)
PC-KY-0006-9000.pdf | Detail
Date: 09/14/1998
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
General Documents
Reported Opinion (846 F.2d 1032)
PC-KY-0006-0001.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Date: 05/18/1988
Source: Google Scholar
Unpublished Opinion (928 F.2d 1134)
PC-KY-0006-0002.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Date: 03/26/1991
Memorandum Decision (502 U.S. 1007)
PC-KY-0006-0004.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Date: 12/09/1991
Source: Westlaw
Unpublished Disposition (165 F.3d 29)
PC-KY-0006-0003.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Date: 08/10/1998
Judges Gilman, Ronald Lee (Sixth Circuit)
PC-KY-0006-0003 | PC-KY-0006-9000
Kennedy, Cornelia Groefsema (Sixth Circuit, E.D. Mich.)
PC-KY-0006-0003 | PC-KY-0006-9000
Merritt, Gilbert Stroud Jr. (Sixth Circuit)
PC-KY-0006-0001 | PC-KY-0006-0003 | PC-KY-0006-9000
Nelson, David Aldrich (Sixth Circuit)
Rubin, Carl Bernard (S.D. Ohio)
Suhrheinrich, Richard Fred (Sixth Circuit, E.D. Mich.)
Monitors/Masters None on record
Plaintiff's Lawyers Dolan, Daniel R. (Kentucky)
Lipton, Andrew S. (Ohio)
Powell, Gary E. (Ohio)
Reeves, Robert E. (Kentucky)
Defendant's Lawyers Biggs, Tamela A. (Kentucky)
Jones, Barbara Willett (Kentucky)
Other Lawyers None on record

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