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Court Looks Whether Injunctions Should be Terminated


The Facts:

Sometime in 1993, a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action was brought by Plaintiffs-Appellees, a certified class of detainees in the Cameron County, Texas jail, against Cameron County and the State of Texas, the governor of Texas, and various members of the Board of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. The plaintiffs, who were imprisoned for various crimes like assault, rape, kidnapping, robbery, murder, larceny, other white collar crimes, etc., alleged that overcrowding at the Jail produced conditions that constituted cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution. A New York Criminal Lawyer said the plaintiffs originally filed suit against only the County. The County brought a third-party complaint seeking injunctive relief against the State, alleging that the State failed to expeditiously transfer nearly 300 paper ready inmates to state correctional facilities and, therefore, was responsible for the constitutional violations.

On 21 January 1994, the plaintiffs filed an amended complaint, adding the State as a defendant, and on 20 May 1994, they filed an application for a preliminary injunction, in an attempt to remedy the overcrowding by enjoining the County and the State from incarcerating more prisoners in the Jail than allowed by the Texas Jail Standards.

On 15 August 1994, temporary injunction in favor of the plaintiffs to reduce the jail population was issued by the district court. Then, on 14 September 1994, a preliminary injunction against the State and the County was issued by the same district court.

On 27 July 1999, the district court dismissed the State from the lawsuit. On 30 July 1999, the district court denied the State’s motion to terminate and continued both the September 1994 injunction and all other preliminary injunctive relief granted by the Court.

Thereafter, the State appeals the 1999 order.

The Ruling:

First, on the issue of the State’s standing to pursue the appeal:

The first question that must be resolved by the court is whether or not the injunctions contained or continued in the 1999 order are prisoner release orders that the PLRA expressly provides for standing of certain officials and units of government. The cour finds that they are. The September 1994 injunction requires the State to adopt and implement the policies necessary to remove the number of state-ready felons from the custody of Cameron County officials that is necessary to ensure that Cameron County’s detention facilities are not populated above design capacity. Similarly, the October 1997 injunction orders the Sheriff of Cameron County, if at any time the population of Cameron County Jail exceeds ninety per cent of the design capacity, to take such of the following actions he may see fit in order to reduce jail population. Both of these injunctions cap the prison population at a particular number of detainees, which has the purpose or effect of reducing or limiting the prison population. These types of population caps have consistently been found to meet the definition of a prisoner release order. Moreover, a review of the legislative history of the PLRA reveals that it was precisely these types of caps that the statute was created to address. Clearly, the two injunctions are prisoner release orders as defined by the PLRA, and therefore, under the PLRA, the State has the right to oppose the imposition or continuation in effect of such relief and to seek termination of such relief.

Second, on the issue of a non-party standing to appeal:

The court has adopted a three-part test in order to determine if a nonparty may properly appeal, viz: whether the non-parties actually participated in the proceedings; whether the equities weigh in favor of hearing the appeal; and, whether the non-parties have a personal stake in the outcome.

The court finds that the State possesses sufficient interest in the litigation to qualify for nonparty standing to appeal; the State is permitted to appeal the continuance of the injunctions. First, there can be no question that the State has been an active participant in the proceedings. From the time the plaintiffs first amended their complaint to just two days before the continuance of the injunctions, the State was a named party to the proceedings. In fact, the State brought the very motion that was denied in the order that is being appealed. Second, the equities weigh in favor of allowing the State to appeal. Given that the PLRA itself gives the State the right to seek the termination of injunctive relief, it seems unjust to deny them standing to appeal the denial of that termination. Similarly, as the State filed the original motion to terminate the injunctions, and maintained that position at the July 30 hearing, the court fins it unfair to continue the injunctions without permitting the State to appeal the continuation. And third, the State has a personal stake in the outcome. The State’s economic interests are implicated. Although the State had been dismissed as a party, prior to the 1999 order continuing the injunctions, no changes were made to the September 1994 injunction itself, which requires the State to remove paper-ready prisoners within forty-five days. Moreover, should the State violate the September 1994 injunction it risks being found in civil contempt. Furthermore, with regard to the October 1997 injunction, even though the State is not required to perform or refrain from performing any particular acts by the its terms, the State’s sovereign and quasi-sovereign interests are also implicated. The October 1997 injunction allows the sheriff, in violation of state law, to refuse to incarcerate state parole violators for whom blue warrants have been issued. A Long Island Criminal Lawyer said the State has a sovereign interest in enforcing its laws and because of this it has a personal stake in appealing the October 1997 injunction that gives the County discretion to violate those laws. In addition, all of the parties stipulated that there were 289 blue warrant violators who, but for the injunction, would be required under state law to be housed in the Jail. This now implicates the State’s quasi-sovereign interest in protecting its citizens from criminal activity.

Third, on the issue of termination of relief § 3626(b):

The PLRA establishes standards for the entry and termination of prospective relief in civil actions challenging prison conditions. The PLRA both narrowly limits the relief a court may order in prisoner suits, and authorizes the termination of existing prospective relief that does not comply with these limits.

Whether the requirements to continue the relief as mandated by law were met, the court first resolved the issue of whether the injunctions are terminable and found that it was. The PLRA was enacted on 26 April 1996, and the State, at the time a party to the proceeding, filed its motion for termination on 3 May 1999, more than three years later. Thus, the relief is terminable unless the findings set out are made.

Subsequently, the court resolved the issue of whether the record inadequately supports the district court’s need-narrowness findings. The court notes that a current and ongoing violation is one that exists at the time the district court conducts the inquiry. Therefore, in order to make the required finding of a current and ongoing violation of a Federal right, a court must look at the conditions in the jail at the time termination is sought, not at conditions that existed in the past or at conditions that may possibly occur in the future, to determine if there is a violation of a federal right. Additionally, the court must also, based on the record, make the other findings as required by the subject law. The court must make new findings about whether the relief currently complies with the need-narrowness-intrusiveness requirements, given the nature of the current violations. It is not enough that the orders, when entered, were sufficiently narrow considering the violations that existed at that time. This requires particularized findings, on a provision-by-provision basis, that each requirement imposed by the consent decrees satisfies the need-narrowness-intrusiveness criteria, given the nature of the current and ongoing violation. It is not enough to simply state in conclusory fashion that the requirements of the consent decrees satisfy those criteria. Particularized findings, analysis, and explanations should be made as to the application of each criterion to each requirement imposed by the consent decrees.

Here, although the language in the 1999 order tracks the requirements, it does not reach the needed level of particularized findings based on the conditions in the jail at the time termination was requested. Additionally, there is simply not enough evidence in the record to support the requisite findings. The only evidence in the record relevant to whether a current and ongoing violation of a federal right exists, is that there are 289 Blue Warrant persons outstanding who would put the Jail over design capacity if they were arrested. There are two reasons that this is insufficient to support the finding of a current and ongoing constitutional violation. First, although overcrowding may give rise to unconstitutional conditions, overcrowding itself is not per se unconstitutional. Moreover, there was no evidence in the 1999 order or in the record of any analysis or explanation as to the other findings required by 18 U.S.C. § 3626(b)(3). However, taking into consideration that the record presented contains almost no evidence regarding current conditions in the Jail and that all parties offered to present additional evidence on these issues at the July 27 hearing, the court concludes that the best course of action is to remand the case to the district court to hold an evidentiary hearing on whether the relief meets the requirements of § 3626(b)(3).

Fourth, on the issue of entry of prospective relief:

In addition to arguing that the injunctions should be terminated pursuant to the §§ 3626(b)(1) and (b)(2) termination provisions of the PLRA, the State also argues that the September 1994 injunction, the 1997 injunction, and the 1999 order should be terminated because they violate the requirements of § 3626(a)(3), which sets out the criteria for the entry of prisoner release orders (including the requirement for a three-judge court), and § 3626(a)(1)(B), which sets out the conditions under which a court can enter prospective relief that allows a government official to violate state law.

A New York Sex Crimes Lawyer said that although the PLRA applies to injunctions existing at the time of its enactment, §§ 3626 (a)(1)(B) and (a)(3) apply when relief is entered, whether that occurs by entering new relief or by modifying existing relief. Therefore, the September 1994 injunction and the 1997 injunction cannot be terminated for failure to comply with §§ 3626(a)(1)(B) and (a)(3) because they predated the PLRA and do not constitute the entering of relief. Similarly, the district court, in entering the 1999 order, did not enter new relief, but simply denied the State’s motion to terminate the existing relief. Although the court did expressly state that it was continuing the relief, that language is a mere truism – it did no more than state what would happen by operation of law once the motion to terminate the relief was denied. No changes or modifications to the injunctions in place were made.

Moreover, it is generally presumed that Congress acts intentionally and purposely when it includes particular language in one section of a statute but omits it in another. Evidently, Congress did not explicitly state that failure to comply with these particular provisions is a ground for termination of relief. If Congress had intended that injunctions issued before the enactment of the PLRA were to be terminated for failure to comply with the requirements, it would have so provided.

Thus, the court finds that the September 1994 injunction, the 1997 injunction, and the 1999 order are not terminable for failure to comply with the subject provisions.

In sum, the 1999 order is vacated and the case is remanded for further proceedings.

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