In the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida, a group of state prisoners filed a class action complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 on September 12, 2003. The plaintiffs' attorneys included lawyers of the Florida Institutional Legal Services, Inc., the Florida Justice Institute, ...
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In the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida, a group of state prisoners filed a class action complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 on September 12, 2003. The plaintiffs' attorneys included lawyers of the Florida Institutional Legal Services, Inc., the Florida Justice Institute, Inc., the Southern Poverty Law Center, and private counsel. The plaintiffs sought declaratory and injunctive relief, as well as attorneys' fees, from the defendant state officials, basing their complaint upon allegations that Florida Department of Corrections (FDOC) officers improperly used chemical agents (tear gas and pepper spray) against prisoners in "non-spontaneous" circumstances. (Spontaneous circumstances, the plaintiffs explained, were those presenting an immediate need to use force without time for reflection or planning.)
According to the complaint, rather than use the chemical agents as a good-faith means of maintaining prison order and discipline, the officers used these chemicals maliciously and sadistically, contravening the Eighth Amendment's prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment,. The complaint detailed numerous instances of chemical agent misuse, in violation of applicable FDOC regulations governing use of force,. The complaint also set out allegations of officials' use of stronger-than-authorized chemical agents, officials' increasingly-common resort to use of chemical agents when unauthorized by regulations, their failure to fairly investigate and act upon prisoners' grievances stemming from the misuse and overuse of these sprays, and purposeful neglect of post-use procedures to limit pain and injury stemming from these chemicals. Plaintiffs sought an injunction that would forbidthe excessive and unjustified use of these chemical agents and require that the defendants develop and submit to the court a comprehensive plan ensuring only the constitutionally-justified use of this form of discipline.
On July 14, 2004, in an unpublished order, District Judge John E. Steel denied the defendants' motion to dismiss the case, finding that the plaintiffs had standing and had sufficiently alleged facts which, if proven true, would entitle them to relief. Judge Steel later, on September 20, 2004, denied the plaintiffs' motion for a preliminary injunction and expressed reluctance to interfere in prison operations, at least at this stage of the proceedings.
The effort to have plaintiffs' case certified as a class action was rejected by Judge Steel on June 21, 2005. According to the court, the fact-intensive nature of the use of these sprays by correctional officers precluded his finding that the factual allegations by the named plaintiffs had sufficient typicality and commonality with other and future prisoners' circumstances. Plaintiffs' attempt to have Judge Steel reconsider his denial of class action status was denied on July 21, 2005.
On November 28, 2005, the case was dismissed without prejudice, after the parties had, on November 23, 2005, filed a stipulation of dismissal, with each party to bear its own costs and expenses. Although this suggests that a settlement occurred, we have neither a copy of a settlement agreement nor any information about settlement terms.Mike Fagan - 04/10/2008