In 1980, inmates at the Nassau County Correctional Center in New York filed a class action lawsuit under 42 U.S.C. Â§1983 against the county in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York. The plaintiffs, represented by the Nassau County Legal Aid Society, alleged that their constitutional rights had been violated by overcrowding at the jail, and they asked the court for declaratory and injunctive relief.
The parties agreed that the jail was designed to hold 517 inmates, and there was no dispute that the jail was holding 771 inmates at the time of the lawsuit. On February 25, 1981, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York (Judge George Pratt) ordered the defendants to reduce the population of the jail to 517 within 60 days. The defendants appealed.
On June 2, 1981, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit stayed these orders and remanded the case to the district court for reconsideration. After the remand, the parties entered into a settlement on July 31, 1981. On October 7, 1981, the district court (Judge Pratt) approved the terms and ordered a consent decree. The consent decree provided for an increase in the maximum capacity of the jail to 939, to be accomplished by the construction of a new dormitory and the use of double-celling, which was subject to specified limitations concerning duration and conditions of confinement. In light of state law prohibiting the intermingling of various categories of inmates (such as men and women or adults and minors), the parties agreed that the maximum population of the jail would be less than the maximum number of cell spaces. The judgment provided for a maximum population of 808, and it also contained provisions on a variety of other topics, including medical services, food, recreation, telephones, contact visits, and staffing.
In 1982, the plaintiffs asked the court to hold the defendants in contempt of the decree for noncompliance. On August 26, 1982, the district court (Judge Pratt) appointed David Kadane to be Special Master to assist in enforcing the judgment. The Special Master reported to the court that the defendants had violated the decree by exceeding the population cap, violating the limits on double-celling of inmates, forcing inmates to sleep in hallways on cots, and not allowing the required contact visits.
On September 13, 1983, the district court (Judge Jacob Mishler) ordered the defendants to remove enough inmates to bring them within the agreed population limits within 60 days. The court further ordered the defendants to transfer any inmate who was a deportable alien eligible for parole to the INS if the jail's population exceeded the allowable level of 808 for more than 72 hours. Finally, the court prohibited the defendants from admitting any Intermittent Sentence Inmates (those serving weekend sentences) when the jail's population exceeded the allowable level. On October 5, 1983, the district court (Judge Mishler) granted a motion by the defendants to join the New York State Department of Corrections as a party-defendant to the suit. All defendants appealed the orders of September 13, 1983.
On February 24, 1984, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit (Judge William Timbers, Judge Ellsworth Van Graafeiland, and Judge Jon Newman) vacated the district court's orders (that inmates must be transferred within 60 days) and remanded the case, holding that 1) the special master's findings of violations of the consent decree were supported by the record; 2) that it would be inappropriate to order relief against the state defendants at the time of the appeal at bar; and 3) that the county defendants would be enjoined from accepting any person for confinement at the jail until the inmate population had been reduced to the number provided in the consent decree, and thereafter they would not be able to accept any person for confinement if it would increase the inmate population above the allowable number. Badgley v. Varelas, 729 F.2d 894 (2nd Cir. 1984).
On October 17, 1985, the plaintiffs again asked the court to hold the defendants in contempt for violating the population caps at the jail. On January 6, 1986, the district court (Judge Mishler) denied the plaintiffs' motion, holding that the defendants had not willfully violated the judgment, that they had made every reasonable effort to comply with the population limit, and that it was impossible for them to comply with the judgment. The plaintiffs appealed.
On August 25, 1986, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit (Judge Jon Newman, Judge Wilfred Feinberg, and Judge Amalya Kearse) reversed the district court's decision and remanded the case, ordering the district court to hold the defendants in civil contempt and to award $5000 in compensatory damages to each plaintiff if the defendants had not complied with the consent decree within 30 days. The court also held that the defendants could not assert the defense of factual impossibility, notwithstanding the political difficulties in compliance and the argument that compliance might violate state law. Badgley v. Santacroce, 800 F.2d 33 (2nd Cir. 1986).
Several months later, the defendants asked the district court to grant them temporary permission to increase the maximum allowable population of the jail. On February 26, 1987, the district court (Judge Mishler) granted the permission. The plaintiffs appealed.
On April 10, 1987, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit (Judge Amalya Kearse, Judge Richard Cardamone, and Judge James Oakes) vacated the district court's order and remanded the case, holding that the district court had not made the necessary findings to permit temporary noncompliance with the population caps. Barnes v. Santacroce, 815 F.2d 888 (2nd Cir. 1987).
On remand, the defendants asked the district court to amend the consent decree and raise the population caps at the jail. On June 5, 1987, the district court (Judge Mishler) allowed the modification, holding that the population cap could be raised by 40 inmates. Badgley v. Santacroce, 689 F.Supp. 148 (E.D.N.Y. 1987). The plaintiffs appealed.
On June 27, 1988, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit (Judge Jon Newman, Judge Richard Cardamone, and Judge Lawrence Pierce) reversed and remanded, holding that the population limits could only be increased on the condition that additional beds acquired by the jail were used to secure compliance with provisions of the existing consent decree limiting double-celling and the use of cots, before they could be used for additional prisoners. Badgley v. Santacroce, 853 F.2d 50 (2nd Cir. 1988).
Several years later, the New York State Commissioner of Corrections filed a lawsuit under state law against Nassau County in the Supreme Court of Nassau County, alleging that double-celling of inmates at the jail (which was allowed under the consent decree) violated state laws prohibiting double-celling. The Supreme Court of Nassau County (Judge Robbins) held that the state regulations were preempted by the federal consent decree. The plaintiff appealed.
On June 1, 1993, the New York Supreme Court dismissed the case, holding that 1) the hybrid proceeding filed by the Commissioner of Corrections amounted to an impermissible collateral attack on a federal consent decree; 2) that since the Commissioner was served with process in the federal action and was a party to that litigation for several years, it was appropriate to preclude the Commissioner from litigating this claim in an independent proceeding in state court; and 3) that the Second Circuit's Badgley v. Santacroce decision that the correctional center could not defend against the contempt citation on grounds of factual impossibility was not dispositive of an appeal. New York State Commissioner of Correction v. Gulotta, 598 N.Y.S.2d 547 (June 1, 1993). We have no further information on the proceedings in this case.Kristen Sagar - 08/14/2007