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BEEHLER v. JEFFES

June 30, 1986

Pauletta Beehler, et al., Plaintiffs
v.
Glen Jeffes, et al., Defendants



The opinion of the court was delivered by: NEALON

WILLIAM J. NEALON, Chief Judge, Middle District of Pennsylvania

 MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

 Before the court is a Report of Magistrate Raymond J. Durkin dated January 9, 1986, recommending that defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment be granted with respect to the preclusive effect of I.C.U. v. Shapp, Nos. 70-2545, 70-3054, 71-0513, 71-1006 (E.D. Pa.) (I.C.U.), except issues relating to gender discrimination. In addition, the Magistrate recommends that defendants' Amended Motion for Summary Judgment be denied. Defendants objected to two (2) portions of the Magistrate's Report and filed a brief in support on January 22, 1986. Specifically, defendants contend that the Magistrate erred in recommending the denial of the Amended Motion for Summary Judgment pertaining to plaintiffs' claims for damages based upon Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, Title II of the Vocational Education Amendments of 1976 and violations of Pennsylvania law. Plaintiffs filed a Brief in Opposition to Defendants' Objections to Portions of the Magistrate's Report and their own Objections to Portions of the Magistrate's Report and supporting brief on February 18, 1986, pursuant to a Motion for Extension of Time. *fn1" Following their own request for an extension of time, defendants filed a Brief in Opposition to Plaintiffs' Objections and a Motion to Join an Additional Party on March 28, 1986. *fn2" These matters are ripe for disposition. For the reasons set forth below, plaintiffs' objections will be sustained in part in that the court finds that the issues of physical safety hazards, a lack of privacy, gender discrimination and reliance on unreliable urine tests are not precluded by the I.C.U. litigation. Plaintiffs' remaining objections concerning other issues which the Magistrate found precluded will be denied. Defendants' objections to the Magistrate's recommendation involving plaintiffs' federal statutory claims will be denied, but defendants' objections concerning plaintiffs' state law claims will be sustained.

 FACTUAL BACKGROUND

 A brief summary of the factual background of I.C.U. and this case is necessary before proceeding with an analysis of the present matter. Plaintiffs in the I.C.U. litigation commenced suit alleging that they were subjected to grievous bodily harm, cruel and unusual punishment and violations of their rights under the First, Fifth, Sixth, Eighth, Ninth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. See Document 77 of the Record -- Exhibit A at 5. More specifically, the I.C.U. plaintiffs complained of: defendants' failure to provide plaintiffs with many items necessary for maintaining personal hygiene; plaintiffs' illegal and unconstitutional placement in segregation; the arbitrary transfer of prisoners, including demotional transfers resulting in the loss of privileges; censorship of plaintiffs' outgoing and incoming mail; arbitrary restrictions on the reading material available to plaintiffs; a lack of adequate law libraries; a failure to supply a proper diet and provide certain religiously necessitated foods; the lack of adequate medical care; the inadequacy of prison clothing and generally attacked the overall conditions of their confinement. *fn3" Id. at 6-17. A Consent Decree was entered in I.C.U. concerning most issues, while a few remaining issues were disposed of at trial. *fn4"

 The complaint in this case was filed on behalf of all female prisoners who are or will be confined at the State Correctional Institution at Muncy. As discussed further in this Memorandum, the class in I.C.U. encompasses the present plaintiffs. See infra at 935 n.6. Plaintiffs challenge a ". . . wide spectrum of programs, practices, services and facilities at Muncy.. ." and ". . . challenge conditions of confinement at Muncy which subject them to serious health and safety hazards." Document 1 of the Record at 2. Plaintiffs' claims are based on sex discrimination, id. at 8-21, unsafe conditions of confinement, id. at 21-22, violations of their due process rights, id. at 22-23 and interference with their religious freedom. Id. at 23. The condition of confinement complaints concern the existence of a fire hazard, exposure to asbestos, inadequate medical care, lack of exercise and limited visitation. The due process claims center around the alleged lack of access to an adequate law library and reliance on unreliable urine tests subjecting plaintiffs to misconduct charges. With this brief factual background in mind, the court focuses on the Magistrate's Report and Recommendations and the parties' objections to the same.

 DISCUSSION

 I.

 The court first considers plaintiffs' objections to the Report and Recommendation of the Magistrate. Specifically, plaintiffs object to that portion of the Magistrate's Report recommending that defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment be granted with respect to the preclusive effect of I.C.U., excluding those issues involving gender discrimination. Document 75 of the Record at 2. The Magistrate provides a detailed analysis of this issue in his Report and Recommendation. See Document 68 of the Record at 4-21.

 At the outset, the court recognizes that a federal court has the inherent power to enforce and to consider challenges to settlements entered into in cases originally filed therein. See Fox v. Consolidated Rail Corp., 739 F.2d 929 (3d Cir. 1984), cert. denied, 469 U.S. 1190, 105 S. Ct. 962, 83 L. Ed. 2d 968 (1985). The authority of a court to enforce settlement decrees has as its foundation a policy favoring amicable adjustment of disputes and avoidance of costly and time consuming litigation. See Rosso v. Foodsales, Inc., 500 F. Supp. 274 (E.D. Pa. 1980). Accordingly, as the Magistrate finds, the I.C.U. court retains jurisdiction to determine if there are violations of the consent decree and, if necessary, to modify that decree to the extent changing circumstances warrant. It would be a waste of judicial resources for this court to litigate matters over which the I.C.U. court has retained jurisdiction by virtue of the consent decree entered into in that case.

 The defense of res judicata5 requires that the party asserting the defense bear the burden of demonstrating that it applies. See United States v. Athlone Industries, Inc., 746 F.2d 977 (3d Cir. 1984). The Magistrate found that plaintiffs were precluded from asserting their § 1983 and federal constitutional claims, with the exception of plaintiffs' gender discrimination claims, in this case. The court agrees that application of the claim preclusive aspect of the res judicata doctrine bars plaintiffs from asserting the majority of their § 1983 and federal constitutional claims in this action.

 Claim preclusion requires a showing that there has been (1) a final judgment on the merits in a prior suit involving (2) the same parties or their privies and (3) a subsequent suit based on the same causes of action. Id. at 983. Plaintiffs object to the Magistrate's recommendation primarily because they contend that there was no prior judgment on the merits in I.C.U. and this suit is not based on the same causes of action as those asserted in I.C.U.6

 A consent decree generally is treated as a final judgment on the merits and is accorded res judicata effect except when there has been an express reservation of rights. United States v. Athlone Industries, Inc., supra, at 983 n.5. Accordingly, the issue is whether the consent decree in I.C.U. contained an express reservation of rights clause which precludes that decree from being treated as a final judgment on the merits.

 In pertinent part, the consent decree provides that "plaintiffs reserve their rights to sue for alleged violations of state or federal law." Plaintiffs maintain that by reason of this reservation clause, plaintiffs are not precluded from litigating claims that overlap with claims raised in I.C.U. Defendants asserted, and the Magistrate agreed, that the reservation clause in this case means that ". . . individual plaintiffs could bring individual suits if they felt their rights were being violated on an individual basis when otherwise proper policies or practices were not being followed." Document 68 of the Record at 12.

 The scope of a consent decree must be discerned within its four (4) corners. See Firefighters Local Union No. 1784 v. Stotts, 467 U.S. 561, 104 S. Ct. 2576, 81 L. Ed. 2d 483 (1984). The goal of the task of interpreting a contract is to ascertain the intent of the parties as manifested by the language of the written instrument. AC and S, Inc. v. Aetna Casualty and Surety Co., 764 F.2d 968 (3d Cir. 1985). Consequently, a court may examine the circumstances surrounding the consent decree, including the context in which the parties were operating, without departing from the so-called four (4) corners rule. New York State Association for Retarded Children, Inc. v. Carey, 596 F.2d 27, 37 (2d Cir.), cert. denied, 444 U.S. 836, 100 S. Ct. 70, 62 L. Ed. 2d 46 (1979). Accord Barber v. International Brotherhood of Boilermakers, 778 F.2d 750 (11th Cir. 1985); Alliance to End Repression v. City of Chicago, 742 F.2d 1007 (7th Cir. 1984). See also National Wildlife Federation v. Gorsuch, 744 F.2d 963, 971 (3d Cir. 1984). Considering the four (4) corners of the decree, the court agrees with the Magistrate's conclusion that the reservation clause does not negate the finality of the consent decree for res judicata purposes in this case. See Document 68 of the Record at 12-13.

 The consent decree itself manifests the parties' intention to litigate in the I.C.U. court those issues involving an institution or system wide pattern of a failure or refusal to follow the provisions of the decree. The possibility of changed circumstances or a change in the law is expressly provided for in the terms of the consent decree granting the I.C.U. court the ability to modify its terms. See Safe Flight Instrument Corp. v. United Control Corp., 576 F.2d 1340 (9th Cir. 1978). This prospective power to modify does not, however, alter the finality of the consent decree's terms. On the other hand, this prospective nature of the consent decree evidences the parties' intent that challenges to institution and ...


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