On July 12, 2002, death row inmates at the Mississippi State Penitentiary filed a class action lawsuit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Mississippi against the Mississippi Department of Corrections (MDOC). Plaintiffs were represented by the American Civil Liberties Union and private attorneys. The suit alleged that the inmates were subjected to isolation, lack of exercise, inadequate ventilation, unsanitary conditions, and lack of mental heath care. On July 15, 2002, Chief Judge Glen H. Davidson denied plaintiffs' motion for temporary relief and preliminary injunction to stop the execution of one of the plaintiffs. Russell v. Johnson, 210 F.Supp.2d 804 (N.D. Miss. 2002). On July 18, 2002, Judge Davidson issued an order incorporating this case into Gates, et al v. Collier, et al (PC-MS-001), an ongoing prisoners' rights class action. On October 25, 2002, Magistrate Judge Jerry A. Davis consolidated the cases, naming these plaintiffs a sub-class in Gates.
Following a non-jury trial, the District Court (Magistrate Judge Davis) found that there were constitutional violations in the areas of ventilation, sanitation, lighting, laundry services, and mental health care. Russell v. Johnson, 2003 WL 22208029 (N.D. Miss. May 21, 2003). Judge Davis ordered the defendants to ensure that inmates not be required to clean their own cell when they move into one, provide inmates with cleaning supplies, create a maintenance schedule, provide inmates with fans when the temperature is above 90 degrees, improve plumbing and laundry conditions, and provide each inmate with a private mental health evaluation. Defendants appealed.
The Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit (Judge James L. Dennis) affirmed in part and vacated in part the District Court's judgment. Gates v. Cook, 376 F.3d 323 (5th Cir. 2004). After holding that the district court did not err in allowing this case to proceed separately from Gates v. Collier, No. 71-6 (PC-MS-1), the Court of Appeals addressed the merits, and held that the unsanitary condition in cells, the temperature of the cells, and inadequate lighting were all constitutional violations, but that laundry conditions were not serious enough to rise to the level of a constitutional violation. The Appeals Court also found that the District Court had exceeded its authority in granting relief on issues relating to parts of death row beyond where plaintiffs were housed.
On remand, Judge Davis issued an order on February 4, 2005 granting attorneys' fees to plaintiffs.
On June 14, 2006, the District Court issued an order formally closing the case, noting that the issues in the case had been resolved. The parties were advised that they could petition to reopen the case in the event that further remedial measures became necessary. No such motions had been filed as of the date of this summary.Angela Heverling - 04/17/2006