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Hassine v. Jeffes

filed: April 29, 1988.


On Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, D.C. Civil Action No. 84-0696.

Weis,*fn* Higginbotham and Rosenn, Circuit Judges.

Author: Higginbotham



This is an appeal from the judgment of the district court in an action, brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. ยงยง 1983 and 1985 (1982), challenging the conditions of confinement at the State Correctional Institute at Graterford, Pennsylvania ("Graterford" or "the prison"). The district court found that the conditions at the prison did not result in a deprivation of basic needs in violation of the eighth amendment's proscription of cruel and unusual punishment. The district court, however, limited the scope of its factual findings to the individual claims of the plaintiff-appellants. It circumscribed its inquiry in this manner because it previously had determined that because the plaintiff-appellants had failed to satisfy the requirements of Fed. R. Civ. P. 23, certification of their suit as a class action was unwarranted. Accordingly, the district court did not adjudicate claims that the plaintiff-appellants had sought to raise on behalf of the class of Graterford inmates.

We will not disturb the district court's findings with regard to the individual claims of the appellants. We will, however, vacate its order denying appellants' motion for class certification. In our view, the appellants have demonstrated that the claims asserted on behalf of the class meet the requisites of Rule 23 and, for that reason, they are entitled to adjudication of those contentions. We therefore will remand this matter to the district court for entry of an order granting the motion for class certification, and adjudication of the class's claims.


Appellants Victor Hassine, David Johnson and Aaron Fox ("the complainants") are inmates at Graterford prison. In February 1984, they filed an action against Glen Jeffes, Commissioner of the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections, Charles Zimmerman, Superintendent of Graterford, Thomas Stachelek, Deputy Superintendent at Graterford in charge of treatment services, and Donald Vaughn, Deputy Superintendent at Graterford in charge of security (collectively "Graterford Administration" or "the Administration").

The complainants sought relief from the deteriorated conditions at Graterford, which they attributed substantially to overcrowding at the facility. They asserted, without contravention, that in the five-year period between their arrivals at Graterford and the start of the trial on these complaints, there was a 63% increase in the prison's population. As the result of this increase, Graterford -- which was built in 1933 and designed to accommodate 2,000 inmates -- had an inmate population of 2,563. That population exceeded the facility's maximum design capacity by more than 25%. See Appendix to Appellants' Brief (Appellants' App.) at 287 (testimony of Deputy Superintendent Vaughn). The complainants asserted that, as the result of the overcrowding, inmates were subject to "double-bunking" for indeterminate durations, in cells that were designed for single occupancy, and that the close proximity of inmates that resulted from the overcrowding caused an increase in the occurrences of rapes and other violent assaults among the population. They noted that the increase in the Graterford population was not accompanied by any growth in the size of the staff and asserted that a significant lapse in security has been the result. Moreover, they asserted that the problems of inmate unrest and violence were aggravated by the fact that the Graterford staff was not adequately diverse and, as a result, not sufficiently sensitive to the circumstances of the inmates. They noted that while 80% of the inmate population at Graterford was black, only approximately 20% of the staff was black.

The complainants made further allegations regarding the condition of Graterford's physical plant. They complained that the facility's roof leaked and caused water seepage into the cells, flooding and persistent dampness. Further, they contended that the cells were improperly ventilated and that many of them had windows or transoms that were completely inoperable. They asserted that the combination of the dampness and the poor ventilations presented a significant health risk to the inmates because these conditions generated the growth of mold and bacteria that cause a variety of infectious illnesses. Appellants' App. at 538-40 (testimony of Dr. Robert Powitz).

The complainants charged that the aggregate of the conditions that they challenged caused a deprivation of the inmates' basic needs thereby constituting a violation of their eighth amendment rights.

At the conclusion of a bench trial, the district court found that the conditions in which the complainants were confined did not constitute cruel and unusual treatment. It noted that there were problems attributable to overcrowding at Graterford that resulted from "the state . . . placing increasing numbers of persons who, by and large, have been committed to prison for violent anti-social behavior in proximity to each other[,]" Hassine v. Jeffes, No. 84-0696, at 2 (E.D. Pa. May 29, 1987) ("Opinion") reprinted in Appellants' App. at 1082, but concluded that "the individual facilities and services provided inmates at Graterford appears to meet and exceed the minimum needs of the inmates." Id. at 3, reprinted in Appellants' App. at 1083. The district court's opinion relied substantively upon the proposed findings of fact and conclusions of law that had been submitted by the Graterford Administration. These findings, as adopted by the district court, reflected its view that, although the conditions at Graterford left much room for improvement, they did not result in the deprivation of the complainants' basic needs so as to constitute a violation of their constitutional rights.*fn1


We are aware that inmates at Graterford are required to live in sub-standard conditions, and we are not unsympathetic to the fact that those conditions have worsened as a result of the significant overcrowding of the facility.*fn2 Indeed, after completing our "tour" of Graterford by way of the factual allegations of the complainants in this case, and the admissions by the Graterford Administration regarding the impositions that ...

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