In 1984, death row inmates at the Nebraska State Penitentiary, represented by private counsel, filed a Section 1983 class action suit in the District of Nebraska against officials of the Nebraska Department of Correctional Services. Plaintiffs complained of inadequate access to the law library, legal services, exercise, and visitation rights.
The case went to trial in July 1986, but settled prior to the conclusion of the trial. The District Court (Judge Warren K. Urbom) entered the consent decree in August 1986. The consent decree required that defendants provide death row inmates access to the law library, legal materials and services, telephone use, exercise, and visitation. Finally, the consent decree included an agreed amount for the attorney fees and costs.
(This is not the same litigation as the one with the same caption, in which the Supreme Court granted certiorari, Rust v. Gunter, 494 U.S. 1055 (1990), and appointed Al Bronstein of the National Prison Project Supreme Court counsel, Rust v. Gunter, 494 U.S. 1077 (1990), but later vacated and remanded for further consideration "in light of the representations made by counsel for petitioner appointed by the Court in his motion to withdraw as counsel on May 22, 1990, the response to that motion filed by respondent May 30, 1990, and petitioner's motion for appointment of counsel filed June 4, 1990. Rust v. Gunter, 496 U.S. 914 (1990).)
In February 2010 Eric Vela and Jorge Galindo alleged that they had been deined rights specified in the 1986 consent decree. They filed a motion to enforce the decree, and argued that their time in disciplinary and administrative segregation prevented them from library access, yard time, and phone calls. On August 6, 2010 the prison responded with a motion to terminate the consent decree and dismiss the case. They argued that under the Prison Litigation Reform Act that the consent decree had to narrowly tailor its corrections to violations of federal rights.
On Decemeber 6, 2010 Judge Urbom dismissed Vela and Galindo's motion, but waited for the rest of the death row inmates to weigh in on the motion to terminate the consent decree. 2010 WL 5093306.
On May 2, 2012 Judge Urbom held that the consent decree was no longer necessary. Judge Urbom listed the various grievances alleged by the inmates, but did not hold any of them sufficient enough to warrant a continuation of the consent decree. Judge Urbom acknowledged that access to the courts was a vital right for death row inmates, but the small grievances concerning access to library books or legal training was not an right in itself. Furthermore, Judge Urbom did not find that the Equal Protection claim merited continuation. Finding that death row inmates were not similarly situated to the regular inmate population, the court concluded it was impossible to conduct a rational basis analysis. The opinion also noted that the consent decree was not narrowly construed to protect violations of rights. The motion was then granted and the consent decree was terminated.
On February 11, 2013 the Court granted attorney's fees for the plaintiffs' lawyer, who was appointed by the Court. 2013 WL 508304. The plaintiffs were not the prevailing party, so the fees could not exceed $2,000, but because this was a special case that involved extensive research into an old case file the Court awarded the lawyer $6,000.
This case is now closed. Eoghan Keenan - 07/15/2005
Salvatore Mancina - 11/04/2016