On July 8, 1985, a group of individuals incarcerated in North Carolina state prisons filed this class action lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina. The plaintiffs, represented by North Carolina Prisoner Legal Services and private counsel, brought this action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the State's Department of Corrections and Division of Prisons. The plaintiffs sought relief from living conditions alleged to be unconstitutional at forty-nine minimum and medium security prisons in North Carolina that utilized dormitory-style housing where prisoners slept on bunks in large rooms.
On October 22, 1986, the U.S. District Court Judge William Earl Britt granted the plaintiffs' motion for class certification. Over the next few years, the parties engaged in discovery and, in 1988, a non-jury trial on motions for indicative relief by two named plaintiffs.
On December 28, 1988, a settlement agreement was reached. The agreement included provisions aimed at improving prison conditions, including a requirement that the state provide fifty square feet of living space per inmate in each dormitory by July 1, 1994. The fifty square feet of living space per inmate was referred to as "standard operating capacity" (SOC). The agreement also required the state to replace all triple bunks with double bunks and to implement direct supervision by correctional officers in the dormitories. Other provisions dealt with peer review of medical care, visitation policies, work and study programs, fire safety, new dormitory design, ventilation renovations, medical diets, plumbing repairs, clothing and linen policies, and locker space. A settlement committee, composed of representatives of the Governor, the General Assembly, and the Department of Corrections, was created to implement the settlement agreement.
On April 3, 1989, the district court approved the settlement agreement, and it assumed the force of a consent decree. The state's efforts to comply with the terms of the consent decree were frustrated by unexpected increases in prison admissions. Prison admissions increased from a level of 17,000 admissions per year in 1988 to almost 31,000 per year by 1992. Therefore, on October 13, 1993, the state petitioned to modify the consent decree because it was unable to meet the requirement of fifty square feet of living space per inmate.
On January 7, 1994, U.S. Magistrate Judge Alexander B. Denson granted the plaintiffs' motion to compel the production of documents which had been provided to the settlement committee in order to rebut the state's claim that drastic unanticipated increases in prison admission rates necessitated modification of the consent decree. Small v. Hunt
, 152 F.R.D. 509 (E.D.N.C. 1994). Magistrate Judge Denson also held that by filing a petition to modify the consent decree, the state waived any attorney-client privilege that may have protected the deliberations of the settlement committee, and documents related to the deliberations of the settlement committee were not protected by legislative immunity.
On June 28, 1994, U.S. District Court Judge Britt granted the requested modification of the decree to allow certain dormitories to operate at 125 percent of SOC. Small v. Hunt
, 858 F.Supp. 510 (E.D.N.C. 1994). On July 13, 1994, the state moved to alter the recently issued modification order. The district court, in an order dated March 27, 1995, granted the state's request by allowing the state to house inmates in certain dormitories at 130 percent of SOC. Dormitories operating above 100 percent of capacity were required to provide at least 32 inches of space between bunks and were prohibited from having a center row of bunks.
On October 16, 1996, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit (Judge M. Blane Michael) held that increases in prison admissions and related unanticipated expenses justified the changes in the consent decree and affirmed the district court's modification. Small v. Hunt
, 98 F.3d 789 (4th Cir. 1996). On February 20, 1997, the court determined that all provisions of the settlement agreement had been fully implemented and the court’s supervisory jurisdiction was terminated at that time. The case was closed.
In 2008, two inmates filed pro se
motions seeking additional relief. The court rejected those motions, and directed the clerk not to accept any further pro se filings
in the case. The case remains closed.Tom Madison - 10/08/2006
Saeeda Joseph-Charles - 10/18/2016