On January 3, 1979, prisoners housed in Puerto Rican prisons filed this class action lawsuit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, in the U.S. District Court for the District of Puerto Rico, against the Administration of Corrections of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico. The plaintiffs, represented by the Civil Action and Education Corporation, asked the court for declaratory and injunctive relief, alleging that the prison system provided inadequate healthcare. They also alleged that the living conditions in the system led to unusually high levels of inmate death, and that the use of solitary confinement cells known as "calabozos" for housing persons voluntarily seeking protective custody constituted cruel punishment. They also complained that the prisons were overcrowded and unsanitary, containing insufficient light and ventilation, as well as a lack of privacy. As the discovery process moved forward, the plaintiffs added complaints in the areas of due process, equal protection, rights of free association, and the right of access to the courts.
On January 5, 1980, Judge Juan Manuel Perez-Gimenez found that the defendants had "blatantly violated the federal Constitution's interdiction against cruel and unusual punishment," running a prison system that was rampant with suicides, violent deaths, raw sewage running in the dormitories and kitchens, toilets that didn't work, prescriptions that did not get filled, no beds or mattresses, no soap, toothbrushes, or toothpaste, food contaminated by rats or other vermin, untrained staff, and overcrowding. Judge Perez-Gimenez found that "psychotic mad men are kept for weeks and months (some pre-trial detainees) caged like animals, without clothes, without toilet facilities, without medicines, forced to eat with their hands and in most cases without ever seeing a doctor." The Court also found that other inmates, seeking asylum from threats of death or serious injury in the general penal population, lost all their privileges, all rehabilitation programs, all chance for parole, and all recreation, all the while being locked in dungeons called "calabozos." In light of these findings, the Court granted a preliminary injunction to the plaintiffs, finding that the prison system needed system-wide changes, and that irreparable harm would occur if immediate relief were not granted. 497 F.Supp. 14.
Six years later, the plaintiffs filed an amended complaint, alleging that their Fifth, Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment rights continued to be violated.
On March 21, 1986, Judge Perez-Gimenez re-examined the defendants' compliance with the injunction, and found that the defendants had "all too frequently offered the appearance of compliance with the decree as a substitute for obedience, that the laws of the Commonwealth had been ignored by administrators (at all levels) who disobeyed in silence, and vast sums of money, whose expenditure had been repeatedly proffered to the court as evidence of reformation, had been wasted without bringing about any substantial and enduring change in the reality of daily life in Puerto Rico's prisons." In order to enforce its orders, Judge Perez-Gimenez decided to appoint two court monitors to assess compliance, report on conditions in the prison system, and prepare a detailed remedial order. 672 F.Supp. 591. On the same day, Judge Perez-Gimenez entered a second order finding that since the defendants had not appealed the court's orders, the plaintiffs were overwhelmingly likely to succeed in this case and it would be inequitable to delay awarding the plaintiffs their attorneys' fees. 1986 WL 21347.
One year later, the plaintiff class asked the court to hold the Governor of Puerto Rico, the Administrator of Corrections, and individual parole board members in contempt for failing to comply with the court's orders. On July 23, 1987, Judge Perez-Gimenez held that the failure of the defendants to comply with the Court's orders amounted to civil contempt of court, ordering them to pay $50,000.00 for violations to the court's orders. Judge Perez-Gimenez also ordered that the defendants would pay a daily fine whenever an inmate was held living in an institution where the maximum capacity had been exceeded. 697 F.Supp. 37.
On September 10, 1986, the parties entered into a stipulation requiring the defendants to provide each prisoner within the jurisdiction at least 55 square feet of living and sleeping space no later then December 31, 1987. Shortly before the deadline for compliance, the defendants asked the court to modify the space order.
On September 14, 1987, Judge Perez-Gimenez denied the motion, holding that they had failed to show that compliance would result in pernicious consequences, and that they had failed to show changed circumstances warranting relief. He also held that the building project that the defendants had undertaken to increase dramatically the available beds for housing did not entitle the prison authorities to relief. 672 F.Supp. 627.
The next week, Judge Perez-Gimenez ordered, due to defendants’ continued non-compliance, a $50,000 sanction, with a daily fine of $10 per inmate whenever an inmate was held in an institution where the maximum capacity was exceeded. In an effort to lower the jail population, Judge Perez-Gimenez also ordered the implementation of an expedited bail project.
These efforts, however, were ultimately unsuccessful in lowering the population to acceptable limits. On August 15, 1988, the court increased the daily fine to $50 per inmate. As further incentive, the court ordered that the daily fine would be increased in September to $60 per inmate. In response to this influx of funds, Judge Perez-Gimenez ordered a special advisory committee be appointed to help the court appropriately spend the accumulated money.
On December 23, 1988, the defendants filed a second motion for relief, asking the court to change the requirement to 35 square feet rather than 55 for at least another year and a half. The court held hearings on this motion from May 3-8, 1990, and on June 7, 1990, Judge Perez-Gimenez denied the defendants' motion to change the 55 square foot standard and ordered the defendants to present the court with a comprehensive compliance plan within 30 days. Judge Perez-Gimenez warned the defendants that if they did not present the plan in a timely fashion, the court would grant damages to the plaintiffs. 1990 WL 83321.
In the meantime, the inmates motioned the court to close the Ponce District Jail (popularly known as "El Castillo") because of the continuing violations of the rights of the detainees. On July 28, 1988, Judge Perez-Gimenez found that the defendants had violated the rights of the inmates of the jail by housing them with convicted inmates and by refusing them access to medical services. While Judge Perez-Gimenez refused to order immediate closing of the jail, he agreed to impose conditions on its continuing operation. 697 F.Supp. 37. The defendants appealed, and on September 26, 1989, the U.S. Court of Appeal for the First Circuit (Judge Stephen Gerald Breyer) affirmed the District Court's decisions, holding that the defendants' compliance with the court orders had not been substantial enough to invalidate the finding of contempt, and that the sanctions imposed by the district court were not too high. 887 F.2d 1 (1st Cir. 1989). The defendants sought Supreme Court review, and on March 19, 1990, the U.S. Supreme Court denied the petition for writ of certiorari. 494 U.S. 1046 (1990).
A few months later, a member of the plaintiff class named Domingo Grajales Cardona filed a complaint with the court, alleging that several defendants had retaliated against him for his cooperation with the plaintiff attorneys in this lawsuit. The court held a hearing and found that the defendants had taken him from his cell, handcuffed him, beat him up, locked him inside a box, and shot several tear gas bombs at him inside the box. Judge Perez-Gimenez ordered each of the four named defendants in the lawsuit to pay the Grajales $125.00 in damages. 704 F.Supp. 16.
Shortly after the court’s June 7, 1988 order, negotiations between the parties broke down. The court found that the plaintiffs had been making reasonable requests, and that the defendants had not negotiated in good faith. The plaintiffs asked the court to hold the defendants in contempt, and the court held a hearing on October 22, 1990. Shortly before the hearing, the defendants again asked the court to modify the stipulation requiring 55 square feet of space for each inmate. On January 10, 1991, Judge Perez-Gimenez denied the defendants' motion and imposed contempt sanctions on them for their noncompliance with the Court's orders. 754 F.Supp. 942. A month later, the court ordered the defendants to pay the plaintiffs' attorneys' fees. 757 F.Supp. 140.
On May 30, 1991, the court entered an order directing the defendants to enter into a contract for conducting evaluations and preparing plans of corrective action to address problems in the jail's living environment. The defendants failed to do so, and on July 18, 1991, Judge Perez-Gimenez held that the court would appoint a special master to enter into the contract on behalf of the prison officials. 771 F.Supp. 11.
The defendants asked the court to grant them partial and temporary relief from the contempt fines. On June 25, 1991, Judge Perez-Gimenez denied the motion, holding that the increase in population at some institutions due to the necessary closing of admission at other institutions due to life-threatening environmental and health conditions did not amount to an unforeseen condition that would excuse compliance. 775 F.Supp. 477.
On October 10, 1991, Judge Perez-Gimenez expressed its extreme frustration with the defendants' ongoing disobedience to the court's orders, noting that the defendants had paid a total of $68,240,910.00 in fines based on their violation of the requirements that the inmates be given a stipulated amount of living space. In an effort to force compliance, Judge Perez-Gimenez ordered the Clerk of the Court to transfer $1,000,000.00 from the special account currently holding the fine money to the United States Treasury each week. 775 F.Supp. 487.
For the next hear and a half, the court closely monitored the case, intermittently approving plans from the court monitors, the special advisory committee, and the appointed special master in areas of medical administration, rehabilitation of drug users, bed space and population management, building codes and staff training. The court also continued to disperse attorney’s fees and other costs in monthly intervals.
On August 19, 1992, the defendants orally requested an injunction barring the opposing counsel from engaging in ex-parte communications with employees, which was summarily denied by the court. The court also ordered that all future applications for funds be filed jointly by plaintiffs and defendants.
The defendants also motioned for a permanent discharge of fines for the dates of November 1991 to May 1992 on September 1, 1992. This issue was fully briefed, and on March 12, 1993, the defendant additionally motioned for a permanent discharge of all fines. These motions were dismissed on June 14, 1993. The court continued to closely monitor various projects presented by the appointed monitors and committee.
In the meantime, the plaintiffs motioned on April 29, 1993, to hold the defendants in contempt for violating the court’s orders to construct a psychiatric hospital. Judge Perez-Gimenez set the hearing for September 27, 1993. Three days before the hearing, both parties motioned to continue the hearing, which was granted by the court.
In October of 1993, the plaintiffs motioned for a temporary restraining order reducing the populations of Section Q of the Bayamon Metropolitan Institute and to increase custodial staff. The court held a meeting in his chambers later that month, where the both parties agreed to a stipulation regarding the restraining order. The plaintiffs submitted an order, which was signed by Judge Perez-Gimenez on October 28, 1993.
On December 17, 1993, the court established that the parties would have a period of discovery, culminating in a pretrial hearing on April 5, 1994, to resolve any outstanding disputes. The plaintiff responded by filing an amended complaint on December 31. Both parties motioned for summary judgment.
On April 28, 1994, the parties entered into a stipulation wherein the defendants agreed to file an organizational plan within 90 days, detailing their plan to achieve compliance with the court's orders on facility standards.
The court continued to monitor monthly expenses of the monitors, committees, and programs. The court approved the stipulation regarding the facilities rehabilitation program on June 8, 1994. Two months later, on August 16, 1994, the plaintiffs motioned to compel the defendants to comply with the court-approved stipulation.
The defendants continued to regularly stipulation to requests made by the plaintiffs regarding custodial and sociopenal staffing, security, and classification. These were approved on September 13, 1994. The court approved more stipulations regarding these issues and other miscellaneous items on December 5, 1994.
The court continued close monitoring of the expense and programs authorized by the court. On January 31, 1995, Judge Perez-Gimenez ordered the defendants to file a list of all Administration of Correction Facilities reflecting the maximum capacity at 55 square feet of living and sleeping space per prisoner for each such institution and for each housing unit. The defendants filed an answer to the amended complaint on February 15, 1995. The defendants also continued to file motions requesting time to complete tasks in their multiple stipulations. The court granted some motions for more time and denied others, imposing fines for non-compliance with the stipulations.
On May 24, 1995, the court ordered that a hearing to be set regarding the Roster Management and Facilities Rehabilitation Program. This hearing was continued upon information that the parties had reached an agreement.
In June, the court held the Administrator of Correction in contempt, fining him $100 each day that he did not comply with the court’s order of reference (specific order is not available). This was resolved on July 6, 1995, when the court ordered an injunction, directing the Administrator of Correction to refrain from allowing false documents of compliance before the court, and to circulate a notice to every employee of their duty to truthfully disclose all information to the court monitor.
The monitoring of the expenses and programs in the Administration of Corrections continued for several years.
On February 28, 1997, the court suspended the joint compliance consultant and instead appointed an expert witness to offer recommendations. The expert witness identified a health crisis within the prison health program, and recommended that a receiver be appointed. Both parties objected to this recommendation. A hearing on the correctional health program was throughout August and September. Judge Perez-Gimenez also issued a check to the Secretary of the Treasury of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico in the amount of $1.5 million to cover the expenses for the existing contract until the defendants had an opportunity to develop a detailed budge proposal. The parties submitted proposed findings of fact and conclusions of law following the hearing. The court-appointed expert witness also submitted a proposed order with a revised plan for a receiver of a correctional health program. On May 18, 1998, the court ordered a Joint Health Coordinator to run the correctional health program, with a reporting and financial structure fully dependent on the court for operation.
Meanwhile, on January 30, 1998, the plaintiffs filed a motion asking the court to hold the defendants in contempt of the court's orders, asserting that the defendants had disobeyed in the areas of inmate classification, crowding, and staffing. On December 20, 2000, Judge Perez-Gimenez held the defendants in contempt, finding that they were not entitled to protection under the defense of impossibility. 124 F.Supp. 2d 774.
A dispute arose regarding the extent to which the Secretary of the Puerto Rico Department of Health was to control decisions regarding the process of transfer of responsibility for inmate health care from the defendants to a nonprofit private corporation, an action that had been included in the earlier stipulation. The district court assigned new duties to the chief health care coordinator in order to facilitate the transition, and the Secretary appealed. On July 15, 2002, the First Circuit, in an opinion by Judge Bruce Marshall Selya, dismissed that appeal, holding that the District Court's order did not modify the previously issued injunction, and thus was not immediately appealable. 303 F.3d 1 (1st Cir. 2002).
On October 1, 2003, the defendants asked the court to terminate the consent orders that had been entered by the court pursuant to the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA). On January 26, 2004, Judge Perez-Gimenez denied the motion, finding that the historical systemic indifference to the inmates' medical and mental health needs, as well as the institutional failures to comply with the Court's orders, continued to threaten the health and safety of the plaintiff class, requiring the continued operation of the prospective relief in favor of the plaintiffs. 300 F.Supp.2d 321. The defendants appealed, and on August 6, 2004, the First Circuit affirmed the District Court's decision. 378 F.3d 42 (1st Cir. 2004). The defendants asked for Supreme Court review, and on January 10, 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court denied the petition for certiorari. 532 U.S. 1054 (2005).
On February 8, 2010, plaintiffs filed a motion asking the court to order the defendants to show why they should not be held in contempt for failure to comply with food services that passed constitutional muster. The court set the matter for a hearing. Despite being granted additional time to file, the defendants opted not to file any response.
Prior to the hearing the parties attempted to reach a negotiated stipulation which would address the various area of noncompliance. These negotiations were unsuccessful. As a result, the court held a multi-day hearing in May of 2010. At these hearings, the plaintiffs presented the testimony of 13 witnesses, including inmates currently in the custody, the Administration of Corrections' Director of Food Services, and an expert in nutrition, diets and food security, as well as voluminous documentary exhibits demonstrating the extent of the violations of the court's orders, and the defendant's knowledge and deliberate indifference to the ongoing constitutional violations.
On this basis, Judge Perez-Gimenez required the implementation of critical food safety practices and permitted the oversight and implementation of those practices, ordering the defendants to submit an itemized list of what they will do in terms of creating the positions and staffing within forty-five days. 2010 WL 4922700.
For the next several months, Judge Perez-Gimenez continued to monitor the defendants' compliance with the orders that had been entered, including food services order, mental health plan and financial disbursements. In April of 2011, Judge Perez-Gimenez recused himself from the case.
On May 10, 2011, Judge Paul J. Barbadoro was assigned the case. Judge Barbadoro denied the plaintiffs next motion for disbursement of funds, and issued a statement reiterating that counsel needed to submit a memorandum with any future requests for funds. Judge Barbadoro further ordered on September 19, 2011, that the parties should submit reports of current compliance or non-compliance of the various orders to prepare for settlement discussions. The parties submitted these reports in November. On December 14, 2011, Judge Barbadoro appointed Judge Charles Cordero as settlement master for the negotiations, with regular status reports to the court.
The parties reached an injunctive agreement the following year. The settlement agreement superseded all prior orders, and outlined nine areas where the defendant agreed to change its practices: (1) access to the courts, (2) laundry services, (3) classification, (4) medical services, (5) food services, (6) admission cells, and (7) recreation (8) staffing and security, and (9) environmental conditions.
The defendants agreed to have a staffed library, legal supplies, access to attorneys and a working grievance procedure. The defendants agreed to provide three sets of clean clothes to each inmate, clean bedding that was changed weekly, adequate soap in the laundry service area, and a laundry procedure that guaranteed the laundry machines would be serviced within 30 days of a need for repair. The defendants agreed to follow the developed classification manual for classifying and housing inmates. The defendants agreed to follow the 2011 Mental Health Plan and to keep a file of each inmate’s current medications. The defendants agreed to follow the 2009 Federal Food Code. The defendants agreed to use the prisons' admissions area as a temporary location for inmates and not keep them there for more than 24 hours. The defendants agreed to establish a recreation plan with at least two hours outside for five days a week. The defendants agreed to initiate a recruitment plan to fill the identified 635 missing officers system-wide, as well as the estimated yearly attrition of 250 workers per year. The defendants agreed that the new officers would receive 40 hours of initial training, as well as 40 hours of annual training. Finally, the defendants agreed to regularly evaluate and fix any environmental concerns.
The defendants also agreed to other miscellaneous provisions, including the elimination of double bunking, canceling visits as a disciplinary measure, and regular parole review.
On December 13, 2012, Judge Barbadoro signed the settlement agreement. It was scheduled to last two years, and stated "Upon completion of said time period, the relief stipulated by the parties shall be terminated, unless otherwise provided by the Court pursuant to the Prison Litigation Reform Act."
The court continued to monitor the expenses of the prison system through monthly invoice reports. On May 16, 2013, the plaintiffs submitted a status report, alleging that the defendants were not in compliance in several areas. First, the plaintiffs stated that the inmates’ access to court had been compromised, with no paralegal assistance in the prison libraries and an undeveloped grievance procedure. Second, the plaintiffs alleged there was a laundry service problem, causing clothing and bedding shortage. Third, the plaintiffs alleged that the prison did not have enough money in their budget to run the medial service program. The plaintiffs also had concerns with the defendant’s ability to meet the required staffing, environmental and capacity standards. The court held a series of video status conferences with both parties to discuss the settlement agreement and budget issues.
On May 5, 2014, Judge Barbadoro requested another status report with the ongoing points of contention between the parties. The parties submitted a spreadsheet that highlighted the many of the same problems as the May 16, 2013 report: There were no paralegals, no grievance procedures, and not enough clean laundry. The plaintiffs expressed concern that there was still no transportation of inmates to medical care. The plaintiffs alleged that the food was not up to the agreed upon 2009 Federal Food Code standards. They alleged that the inmates were not receiving daily opportunities for physical movement. Finally, the plaintiffs were alleged that there was not enough trained staffing in most areas of the facility, that the buildings were in a state of disrepair, and that double bunking of maximum-security inmates was still occurring. The defendants asserted that they were either in the process of complying or had complied with all the regulations.
On September 15, 2014, the defendants motioned to amend the settlement agreement, arguing that, in light of the current financial distress of Puerto Rico, it was too high of a financial burden on the defendants. The plaintiffs responded later that month, objecting to the changes.
On December 4, 2014, the plaintiffs also filed a motion to extend the court’s supervision of the settlement agreement, which was scheduled to end December of 2014. Judge Barbadoro immediately granted an order extending the settlement agreement until December 31, 2014.
On December 19, 2014, the defendants withdrew their motion before the court to amend the settlement agreement. On the same day, the parties filed an unrelated, joint final private settlement before the court for damages to the prisoners incarcerated under unconstitutional conditions. The damages settlement, while nominally submitted to the court, continued to be discussed between the parties for several months.
On March 2, 2015, Judge Barbadoro requested that the parties either file an amended damages agreement or file a notice of intent not to file an amended agreement. The parties immediately filed requesting until March 13, 2015 to submit the proposed agreement, which the court granted. The final damages agreement, a private settlement and benefits proposal, was submitted on March 30, 2015.
In the agreement, the parties proposed a system of giving individual inmates who had been incarcerated between 1980 to present a package of various educational, housing, health, recreation, public transportation and Department of Correction commissary benefits.
On May 4, 2015, the court entered an order requesting estimates from both the plaintiffs and defendants on final costs associated with complying with the 2012 injunctive settlement agreement.
Judge Barbadoro approved the damages settlement on November 30, 2015. The court is currently managing the notification and claims process of the inmates eligible for one of the benefit packages.
On February 3, 2015, the plaintiffs started destroying old files relating to this case. While it is not clear whether the court still has official jurisdiction over the injunctive settlement aspect of the case, the court appears to be focused on financially resolving both the damages and injunctive agreement aspects of this case. Kristen Sagar - 10/05/2007
Lakshmi Gopal - 05/15/2016
Kathryn DeLong - 11/10/2016