Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

VAZQUEZ v. CARVER

June 19, 1998

RANDOLPH C. VAZQUEZ, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
TIMOTHY CARVER, individually and in his official capacity as Warden of Lehigh County Prison, et al., Defendants.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: CAHN

MEMORANDUM

 Cahn, C.J.

 In this class action regarding prison conditions, Defendants have filed a Motion to Declare the Consent Decree Terminated (Dkt. 165), relying primarily on 18 U.S.C.A. § 3626(b)(2) (West 1985 & Supp. 1998) (the "termination provision"), as amended by the Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1995, Pub. L. No. 104-134, 110 Stat. 1321-66 to 76 (1996). Plaintiffs argue, inter alia, that the termination provision is unconstitutional, and propose modification of the Consent Decree as an alternative to its termination. The government has intervened pursuant to 28 U.S.C.A. § 2403(a) (West 1994). After briefing and oral argument, and for the reasons that follow, the court holds that the termination provision is constitutional, and will grant the Motion.

 I. BACKGROUND1

 The parties are familiar with the history of this case. In addition, much of the relevant background is set forth in detail in three prior opinions by Judge Huyett, *fn2" see Vazquez v. Carver, 1987 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 6828, Civ. A. No. 86-3020, 1987 WL 14847 (E.D. Pa. Jul. 27, 1987) ("Vazquez I "), aff'd, 845 F.2d 1019 (3d Cir. 1988); Vazquez v. Carver, 729 F. Supp. 1063 (E.D. Pa. 1989) ("Vazquez II "); Vazquez v. Carver, 1989 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 14639, Civ. A. No. 86-3020, 1989 WL 147591 (E.D. Pa. Dec. 5, 1989) ("Vazquez III "). A brief summary of events, however, is appropriate.

 This case began in 1986, when Plaintiffs, on behalf of all present and future inmates of the (since-demolished) Lehigh County Prison ("Old LCP"), filed suit pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that the conditions of their confinement violated the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments. Plaintiffs' primary goal was to eliminate overcrowding and related problems at Old LCP. Plaintiffs sought injunctive relief in the form of, inter alia, a population cap at Old LCP. Although the conditions at Old LCP troubled Judge Huyett, he found no constitutional violation. See Vazquez I, 1987 WL 14847, at *20. Judge Huyett therefore denied injunctive relief, although he suggested that a more fully-developed record might show that Plaintiffs were entitled to such relief. See id. at *21.

 Over two years later, Plaintiffs renewed their motion for injunctive relief. Finding that conditions at Old LCP had worsened and now violated the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments, Judge Huyett issued an injunction that capped the population at Old LCP and gave Defendants forty-five days to comply. See Vazquez II, 729 F. Supp. at 1065, 1069-70. Judge Huyett held that the injunction would "cure the constitutional violations which presently exist at [Old] LCP." Id. at 1070. The injunction was to remain in effect until the court held a final hearing on the merits, or approved the consent decree (the "Consent Decree") that the parties had recently submitted to the court, whichever came first. See id. at 1071. On May 4, 1990, the court approved the Consent Decree (Dkt. 150), effectively ending the injunction and settling the litigation.

 The twenty-nine page Consent Decree addresses many aspects of inmate life at Old LCP, including population, classification, admission procedures, programs, lighting, heating, ventilation, sanitation, medical care, petitioning rights, law library facilities, mail services, exercise privileges, and jobs. Certain provisions of the Consent Decree are particularly relevant to the current proceeding. Paragraph 1 limits the combined number of inmates and pretrial detainees at Old LCP to 242. Paragraph 73 requires Defendant Lehigh County to continue with plans to construct a new prison ("New LCP") to replace Old LCP, and sets a target date of April, 1992, for the completion and occupation of Phase I of New LCP ("Phase I").

 Paragraphs 74-77 establish a monitoring period during which, inter alia : (1) Defendant Lehigh County must periodically update Plaintiffs' counsel on the progress of Phase I construction; (2) Defendant Lehigh County must submit to Plaintiffs' counsel copies of state inspection reports concerning Old LCP, and copies of agreements for the provision of Plaintiffs' health care; and (3) Plaintiffs' counsel have a right of access to Old LCP and may periodically meet with inmates there. Under paragraph 79, the monitoring period terminates one year after Phase I is completed and substantially occupied. Paragraph 79 also gives Defendants the right to seek modification of the non-monitoring provisions of the Consent Decree after Phase I is completed and substantially occupied.

 The Consent Decree does not expressly provide that it is subject to the continuing supervisory jurisdiction of the court. Paragraph 78, however, provides that, "in the event of one or more alleged violations of this Consent Decree, counsel for plaintiffs shall have the right to seek enforcement and any and all appropriate relief from the Court." *fn3"

 The Consent Decree contains no language regarding how long its provisions, with the exception of those relating to the monitoring period, remain in effect. A Notice of Proposed Settlement (the "Notice") prepared by Plaintiffs' counsel, however, which was posted at Old LCP and published in the Allentown Morning Call before the court approved the Consent Decree, contains a "Summary of Proposed Consent Decree" that provides, in relevant part: "20. Termination. The Consent Decree shall terminate one (1) year after completion and occupancy of the first phase of the new prison." (Mot. to Decl. Consent Decree Terminated Ex. B.).

 Phase I was completed and occupied in April, 1992, and Old LCP ultimately was demolished. The total cost of constructing New LCP, which can accommodate over 1,000 inmates, was over fifty million dollars.

 Since the opening of Phase I, the court has never had to order Defendants to comply with the Consent Decree. The court intervened to address Defendants' compliance with the Consent Decree in only one instance. In August, 1995, the court forwarded to Plaintiffs' counsel a letter from New LCP inmate Donald Jones, a copy of which the court had received in April, 1995. Jones complained about the conditions at New LCP. The court asked Plaintiffs' counsel what action, if any, they had taken in response to Jones's letter. Although the monitoring period had expired by the time Plaintiffs' counsel received Jones's letter, Plaintiffs' counsel visited New LCP and investigated Jones's complaints with the cooperation of Defendants. No further action by the court was required.

 On June 30, 1996, Defendants filed the instant Motion to Declare the Consent Decree Terminated (Dkt. 165). The parties have had ample opportunity to make their arguments for or against the Motion. Plaintiffs filed a response (Dkt. 172), and Defendants filed a reply (Dkt. 175). After this case was reassigned to this court, Plaintiffs and Defendants filed letter briefs (Dkt. 198, 199), and Plaintiffs filed a reply letter brief (Dkt. 200). Defendants and Plaintiffs then filed supplemental briefs (Dkt. 194, 201), and Defendants filed a reply letter brief (Dkt. 202). The government intervened on April 13, 1998, pursuant to 28 U.S.C.A. § 2403(a) (West 1994), and filed a memorandum addressing the termination provision's constitutionality (Dkt. 203). The court heard oral argument on May 1, 1998. After oral argument, Plaintiffs filed two supplemental submissions (Dkt. 204, 205), and the government filed a supplemental memorandum (Dkt. 206).

 II. DISCUSSION

 Defendants, who seek the immediate termination of the Consent Decree, advance four arguments. First, Defendants argue that the Consent Decree terminated by its own terms at the end of the monitoring period. Second, Defendants argue that the court should terminate the Consent Decree because Defendants have satisfied the Consent Decree. Third, Defendants argue that the court should terminate the Consent Decree pursuant to 18 U.S.C.A. § 3626 (West 1985 & Supp. 1998). Fourth, Defendants argue that the court should terminate the Consent Decree pursuant to the standard set forth in Rufo v. Inmates of Suffolk County Jail, 502 U.S. 367, 383-92, 116 L. Ed. 2d 867, 112 S. Ct. 748 (1992). As explained below, the court rejects Defendants' first and second arguments. The court agrees, however, with Defendants' third argument and will grant the Motion on that basis.

 A. Self-Termination of the Consent Decree

 Defendants' first argument is that the Consent Decree terminated by its own terms at the end of the monitoring period, that is, one year after Phase I's completion. *fn4" In support of this argument, Defendants cite the Notice, which purports to summarize the Consent Decree and provides that the Consent Decree terminates one year after Phase I's completion. Defendants emphasize that Plaintiffs' counsel drafted the Notice. *fn5" According to Defendants, the termination of the Consent Decree was self-executing.

 This argument lacks merit. The Notice is irrelevant to the court's analysis, *fn6" because the court "discerns the scope of a consent decree by examining the language within its four corners." Harris v. City of Philadelphia, 137 F.3d 209, 212 (3d Cir. 1998). Here, the four corners of the Consent Decree contain no language regarding how long its provisions, with the exception of those relating to the monitoring period, remain in effect. In addition, the fact that Defendants did not object when Plaintiffs' counsel investigated Jones's allegations of Consent Decree violations in 1995 belies Defendants' claim that the Consent Decree self-terminated two years earlier. Plaintiffs' claim that neither party intended for the Consent Decree to terminate at the end of the monitoring period, (see Proposed Stipulations P 8), although relevant, is not necessary to the court's analysis.

 B. Satisfaction of the Consent Decree

 Defendants' second argument is that, pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 60(b)(5), *fn7" the court should terminate the Consent Decree because the construction and occupation of New LCP, and the demolition of Old LCP, have satisfied the Consent Decree. Defendants suggest that the Consent Decree governs conditions at only Old LCP, and that the plaintiff class consists of present and future inmates of only Old LCP. Defendants further suggest that, even if the Consent Decree and the plaintiff class relate to New LCP, the Consent Decree has been satisfied because the primary focus of the original litigation, overcrowding, is not a problem at New LCP, which can accommodate well over the 242 inmates that the Consent Decree fixes as the maximum inmate population at Old LCP.

 Rule 60(b)(5) does not justify terminating the Consent Decree. The Consent Decree and the plaintiff class do not relate to only Old LCP. The fact that the Consent Decree provides for monitoring through the first year after Phase I is completed and substantially occupied, and gives Defendants the right to seek modification of the non-monitoring provisions after Phase I is completed and substantially occupied, suggests that the parties intended the Consent Decree to remain in effect after the plaintiff class had moved to New LCP, and Old LCP had been vacated, if not demolished. Thus, the court finds that the Consent Decree governs conditions at New LCP, and the plaintiff class includes present and future inmates of New LCP.

 More important, although the primary focus of the original litigation was overcrowding, the construction of a prison with more cells such as New LCP, and the demolition of Old LCP, do not alone satisfy and warrant termination of a Consent Decree that addresses many aspects of inmate life unrelated to overcrowding, such as classification, admission procedures, programs, medical care, and petitioning rights. The Consent Decree clearly has as much to do with prison administration as with the prison itself. As Plaintiffs correctly note, "the Consent Decree addresses more than bricks and mortar." (Pls.' 7/30/97 Reply Letter Br. at 3.) *fn8"

 C. The Termination Provision

 Defendants' third argument is that the court should terminate the Consent Decree pursuant to 18 U.S.C.A. § 3626 (West 1985 & Supp. 1998), as amended by the Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1995 (the "PLRA"), Pub. L. No. 104-134, 110 Stat. 1321-66 to 76 (1996). Section ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.