On Appeal from the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania (Pittsburgh), D.C. Civil Action No. 76-743.
A. Leon Higginbotham, Chief Judge, Becker and Nygaard, Circuit Judges.
A. LEON HIGGINBOTHAM, JR., Chief Judge.
On June 2, 1976, the inmates of Allegheny County Jail, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, commenced this action challenging the constitutionality of the conditions of their confinement. In the more than thirteen years since the inmates filed their complaint, Allegheny County has consistently failed to house its inmates in compliance with the sparse and minimal commands of the Eighth Amendment. Through much of this period, Allegheny County officials have also consistently violated court orders designed to remedy severe overcrowding at the jail.
In this appeal, county officials once again ask us to set aside sanctions resulting from their violation of court orders limiting the population at the Allegheny County Jail. Because we conclude that the district court did not commit legal error or abuse its discretion in imposing these fines, we will not disturb the order imposing sanctions. However, for the reasons set out below, we must vacate the attorneys' fee award and remand for further proceedings on the inmates' fee petition.
The facts and procedural history of this case have been thoroughly chronicled in numerous reported decisions of the district court and this court.*fn1 Owens-el v. Robinson, 442 F. Supp. 1368 (W.D.Pa. 1978) (holding after six week trial that conditions at jail violated Constitution in several respects); Owens-el v. Robinson, 457 F. Supp. 984 (W.D.Pa. 1978) (ordering injunctive relief), aff'd in part and remanded in part sub nom. Inmates of Allegheny County v. Pierce, 612 F.2d 754 (3d Cir. 1979), on remand, Inmates of Allegheny County v. Peirce, 487 F. Supp. 638 (W.D.Pa. 1980) (holding after five day trial that care of mentally ill patients amounted to deliberate indifference, and ordering injunctive relief); Inmates of Allegheny County v. Pierce, 716 F.2d 177 (3d Cir. 1983) (attorneys' fee appeal); Inmates of Allegheny County Jail v. Wecht, 565 F. Supp. 1278 (W.D.Pa. 1983) (holding that jail conditions violated prior injunctions in several respects, and that jail overcrowding violated constitution); Inmates of Allegheny County Jail v. Wecht, 573 F. Supp. 454 (W.D.Pa. 1983) (finding that county was not meeting court-imposed jail population limits, ordering restrictions on housing of federal prisoners at jail, and ordering limited release of inmates held on low bail); Inmates of Allegheny County Jail v. Wecht, 754 F.2d 120 (3d Cir. 1985) (affirming district court's imposition of population limits and vacating sanctions); Inmates of Allegheny County Jail v. Wecht, 612 F. Supp. 874 (W.D.Pa. 1985) (enjoining the long term detention in city lock-ups of female inmates committed to the jail); Inmates of Allegheny County Jail v. Wecht, 699 F. Supp. 1137 (W.D.Pa. 1988) (finding continuing constitutional violations at jail, imposing sanctions, ordering closing of jail and submission of plans for new or alternate facilities), aff'd in part, appeal dismissed in part, 874 F.2d 147 (3d Cir.), vacated and remanded, 493 U.S. 948, 110 S. Ct. 355, 107 L. Ed. 2d 343 (1989), on remand 893 F.2d 33 (3d Cir. 1990). Although our previous opinions at 754 F.2d 120 and 874 F.2d 147 describe many of the facts and proceedings relevant to the jail overcrowding issue, for the sake of clarity we will again summarize the pertinent background.
A. Jail Overcrowding Litigation: 1983 to January 1985
Since 1978, the appellants (hereafter, "defendants"*fn2) have been subject to various court orders designed to remedy the unconstitutional conditions at the jail. However, this case was seven years old before the overcrowding issue became the focus of judicial attention. On May 25, 1983, the district court found that the "dangerously overcrowded" status of the Allegheny County Jail was among the circumstances that made the jail "a catastrophe waiting to happen." Inmates, 565 F. Supp. at 1281. The district court observed that overcrowding had a pervasive impact on many aspects of jail life -- adversely affecting inmates' safety and physical and psychological health, restricting recreational and educational activities, decreasing the ratio of staff to inmates, and generally increasing the level of tension at the facility. Id. at 1295.
The court also noted the county's lack of interest in providing more prison space.
We take judicial notice of the fact that for years Allegheny County officials have proposed, rejected, discussed and haggled over new jail facilities; plans for new buildings have been drawn up; proposals for renovating already existing facilities have been made and rejected; other plans have been delayed in the hope that outside financial sources of assistance will be uncovered. As a result, the jail remains with us -- old, dilapidated and unconstitutionally overcrowded. An economic motive can no longer excuse or be used to justify the conditions imposed on the inmates at [the Allegheny County Jail].
To remedy the overcrowding, the district court on May 25, 1983 issued an order providing for the phased reduction of the jail population to 500 male and 30 female inmates by January 1, 1984. Supplemental Appendix ("Supp. App.") at 30. No appeal was taken from that order.
Although the defendants initially complied with the terms of the May 25, 1983 order, the jail population soon exceeded the court-imposed population limits. On October 20, 1983, the district court denied the defendants' motion for an extension of time to comply with the population limits and granted the inmates' motion for additional relief to ensure observance of those limits. The court stated that "[although] there has been some reduction in population, the dangerously overcrowded condition of the jail is just as serious today as it was on May 25, 1983." Inmates, 573 F. Supp. at 457. The court did not impose sanctions against the defendants. Instead, it cut back on the housing of federal prisoners at the jail and ordered the defendants to meet the population cap by releasing inmates held in default of the lowest amount of bail. However, the court cautioned the defendants not to regard the release of low bail prisoners as a permanent measure. The court stated: "[it] is the duty of the County to house prisoners, and any release of prisoners as a result of this order should be recognized as a final, albeit temporary, effort to ameliorate the situation, not as a solution to the problem." Id.
By late December 1983, twenty six inmates had been released to comply with the population limits, and the county had made no progress in obtaining interim or alternate facilities for inmates who could not be housed at the jail. On December 30, 1983, the district court issued an order providing, in part, that after February 15, 1984, the defendants would be fined $5,000 "for each prisoner released under the formula described in this Court's Order of October 20, 1983."*fn3
In February 1984, the defendants moved for an increase in the population limits and permission to house inmates in refurbished jail cells and trailers. The district court denied this motion after a hearing, finding that the trailers would not provide constitutionally adequate living space for inmates, and would pose health and safety dangers.
On January 29, 1985, this court affirmed the district court's refusal to modify its injunction, stating:
The defendants made no real showing of extraordinary circumstances occurring since the entry of the May 25, 1983 injunction, from which no appeal was taken. The makeshift arrangements which they proposed in March of 1984 could have been suggested a year earlier, but were not. Instead, the defendants allowed the inmate ceilings to go into effect, while making no arrangements for alternative places of accommodation outside the jail. The County's reluctance to find such alternative accommodations is the same as it was in the spring of 1983. Meanwhile, by virtue of the ceiling on the jail population, some alleviation of the unconstitutional conditions found by the trial court occurred as a result of the May 25, 1983 injunction. As the court's findings make clear, what the defendants proposed . . . was to reinstate conditions which had already been found to be constitutional violations, and to add new risks to the health and safety of inmates. We can find no clear abuse of discretion in the court's denial of the defendants' motion for such extraordinary relief.
Inmates, 754 F.2d at 127.
In the same decision, we set aside the December 30, 1983 order imposing a $5,000 fine for each prisoner released in order to comply with the population cap. We concluded that the order could not be sustained as a civil contempt sanction, as the County's release of inmates was not in violation of an existing court order. We further concluded that the order could not stand as a modification of the district court's prior injunction, since there was not a sufficient nexus between the sanction and the court's remedial objectives. We vacated the sanction with some misgivings, explaining that "[our] reluctance reflects our complete sympathy with the court's ...