University of Michigan Law School
Civil Rights Litigation Clearinghouse
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Case Name Nelson v. Collins PC-MD-0007
Docket / Court 77-116 ( D. Md. )
State/Territory Maryland
Case Type(s) Prison Conditions
Special Collection Solitary confinement
Case Summary
In 1977, prisoners at the Maryland Penitentiary and the Maryland Reception, Diagnostic and Classification Center, represented by the Prisoner Assistance Project, filed a Section 1983 class action suit in federal district court for the District of Maryland against the officials for the Maryland ... read more >
In 1977, prisoners at the Maryland Penitentiary and the Maryland Reception, Diagnostic and Classification Center, represented by the Prisoner Assistance Project, filed a Section 1983 class action suit in federal district court for the District of Maryland against the officials for the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services. The suit alleged that the prison was overcrowded and that defendants' confined mentally ill inmates in isolation without adequate medical assistance.

In 1978, the District Court (Judge C. Stanley Blair) held that double-celling and the confinement of mentally ill inmates in an isolated confinement section without adequate medical assistance constituted cruel and unusual punishment and ordered that the parties attempt to agree upon a plan to remedy the constitutional deficiencies. Nelson v. Collins, 455 F. Supp. 727 (D. Md. 1978). Defendants appealed and the Court of Appeals, having consolidated this case with Johnson v. Levine (see PC-MD-003), affirmed the lower court judgments, but remanded with instructions to incorporate defendants' new plan for decreasing overcrowding into a new decree. Johnson v. Levine, 588 F.2d 1378 (4th Cir. 1978). In the new decree, defendants were required to eliminate double-celling and limit the capacity of the Maryland House of Corrections.

Defendants were unable to meet the requirements of the new decree due to a large influx of prisoners, resulting in a finding by the District Court that they were in contempt. Defendants appealed. The Court of Appeals consolidated the Johnson and Nelson cases with a third case, Washington v. Keller. The Court of Appeals reversed, finding that defendants had made a ""good faith"" effort and were entitled to a modification of the decree. Nelson v. Collins, 659 F.2d 420 (4th Cir. 1981). In November 1985, the parties entered into a stipulation requiring defendants to limit the capacity and amount of double celling at the Maryland Penitentiary. In response to the construction of a new prison facility litigation renewed in 1995.

In 1997, the District Court (Judge William M. Nickerson) held that the Prison Litigation Reform Act was constitutional and required the immediate termination of the consent decrees and stipulations that had previously been approved by the court. The docket for this case is not available on PACER, and therefore our information ends with the last reported decision in 1997.

Note: this case was consolidated with Johnson v. Levine (PC-MD-003) by the fourth circuit Court of Appeals in 1978. Johnson v. Levine, 588 F.2d 1378 (4th Cir. 1978).

Eoghan Keenan - 05/27/2005

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Issues and Causes of Action
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Affected Gender
Crowding / caseload
Assault/abuse by staff
Classification / placement
Disciplinary procedures
Food service / nutrition / hydration
Sanitation / living conditions
Solitary confinement/Supermax (conditions or process)
Medical/Mental Health
Intellectual disability/mental illness dual diagnosis
Mental health care, general
Plaintiff Type
Private Plaintiff
Type of Facility
Causes of Action 42 U.S.C. ยง 1983
Defendant(s) Maryland Penitentiary, Maryland Reception, Daignostic & Classification Center
Plaintiff Description prisoners at the Maryland Penitentiary and the Maryland Reception, Diagnostic and Classification Center
Indexed Lawyer Organizations None on record
Class action status sought Yes
Class action status granted Yes
Prevailing Party Plaintiff
Public Int. Lawyer Yes
Nature of Relief Injunction / Injunctive-like Settlement
Source of Relief Litigation
Form of Settlement Court Approved Settlement or Consent Decree
Order Duration 1978 - 1997
Case Closing Year 1997
Case Ongoing No
Case Listing PC-MD-0003 : Johnson v. Galley (D. Md.)
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 ]

No docket sheet currently in the collection
General Documents
Reported Opinion (455 F.Supp. 727) (D. Md.)
PC-MD-0007-0003.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Date: 05/17/1978
Source: Google Scholar
Reported Opinion (588 F.2d 1378)
PC-MD-0007-0001.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Date: 12/13/1978
Source: Google Scholar
Reported Opinion (659 F.2d 420)
PC-MD-0007-0002.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Date: 09/04/1981
Source: Google Scholar
Judges Blair, Charles Stanley (D. Md.)
Butzner, John Decker Jr. (Fourth Circuit, E.D. Va.)
PC-MD-0007-0001 | PC-MD-0007-0002
Ervin, Samuel James III (Fourth Circuit)
Hall, Willard (D. Del.)
PC-MD-0007-0001 | PC-MD-0007-0002
Haynsworth, Clement Furman Jr. (Fourth Circuit)
Murnaghan, Francis Dominic Jr. (Fourth Circuit)
Phillips, James Dickson Jr. (Fourth Circuit)
PC-MD-0007-0001 | PC-MD-0007-0002
Russell, Donald Stuart (Fourth Circuit, D.S.C.)
PC-MD-0007-0001 | PC-MD-0007-0002
Sprouse, James Marshall (Fourth Circuit)
Widener, Hiram Emory Jr. (Fourth Circuit, W.D. Va.)
PC-MD-0007-0001 | PC-MD-0007-0002
Winter, Harrison Lee (Fourth Circuit, D. Md.)
PC-MD-0007-0001 | PC-MD-0007-0002
Monitors/Masters None on record
Plaintiff's Lawyers Burch, Francis B. (Maryland)
PC-MD-0007-0001 | PC-MD-0007-0003
Caplis, Stephen B. (Maryland)
PC-MD-0007-0001 | PC-MD-0007-0002 | PC-MD-0007-0003
Feldman, David H. (Maryland)
Nilson, George A. (Maryland)
Sachs, Stephen H. (Maryland)
Sharp, Clarence W. (Maryland)
Defendant's Lawyers Bekman, Paul D. (Maryland)
PC-MD-0007-0001 | PC-MD-0007-0002
Boteler, Sandra D. (Maryland)
Brown, Warren A. (Maryland)
Coshnear, Lawrence B. (Maryland)
PC-MD-0007-0001 | PC-MD-0007-0002
Elcano, Mary S. (Maryland)
PC-MD-0007-0001 | PC-MD-0007-0003
Finan, W. Timothy (Maryland)
Fishman, Richard G. (Maryland)
PC-MD-0007-0001 | PC-MD-0007-0003
North, Richard L. (Maryland)
PC-MD-0007-0001 | PC-MD-0007-0003
Pierson, W. Michel (Maryland)
Seligman, Richard A. (Maryland)
Steele, Nevett Jr. (Maryland)
PC-MD-0007-0001 | PC-MD-0007-0002
Other Lawyers None on record

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