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Williams v. City of Philadelphia

October 8, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Surrick, J.


Presently before the Court is Plaintiffs' Motion For Class Certification (ECF. No. 2). For the following reasons, the Motion will be granted.


This is a putative class action for injunctive and declaratory relief in which Plaintiffs, who were inmates in the Philadelphia Prison System (the "PPS") when this action was filed, contest the conditions of confinement in the PPS. Plaintiffs allege that Defendants' failure to address overcrowding and to provide inmates with adequate services and supplies has deprived them of their Eighth Amendment right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment and their Fourteenth Amendment right to be free from deprivations of liberty without due process of law. (Compl. ¶ 38, ECF No. 1.)

A. History of Litigation over Prison Conditions in the PPS

Litigation over conditions in the PPS has a long history going back nearly 40 years, as this Court recounted more fully in Bowers v. City of Philadelphia, No. 06-3229, 2007 WL 219651, at *2-5 (E.D. Pa. Jan. 25, 2007) (Bowers II). Litigation commenced in 1971, when inmates filed Jackson v. Hendrick in Pennsylvania state court, alleging unconstitutional conditions of confinement. See Jackson v. Hendrick, 764 A.2d 1139, 1141 (Pa. Commw. Ct. 2000) (discussing procedural history of the Jackson case). The trial court in Jackson found that conditions in the PPS violated the plaintiffs' constitutional and statutory rights, including their Eighth Amendment right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment. Id. The parties entered into a series of consent decrees thereafter. Id. at 1141 & n.2. The PPS failed to conform to the terms of the consent decrees, however, and was repeatedly found in contempt resulting in the imposition of millions of dollars in fines. Id. at 1141 & n.3. The Jackson litigation finally terminated in 2002 with the approval of a final settlement agreement between the parties. Jackson v. Hendrick, No. 2437, slip op. at 3 (Phila. Ct. Com. Pl. July 1, 2002); see also Bowers II, 2007 WL 219651, at *3 (citations omitted).

Federal litigation over conditions in the PPS commenced in 1982 with the filing of Harris v. City of Philadelphia, No. 82-1847 (E.D. Pa. 1982). This class action, which was brought on behalf of "all past, present, and future Philadelphia Prison System inmates," alleged that overcrowding in the PPS resulted in violations of the class's First, Eighth, Ninth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights. Harris v. City of Phila., No. 82-1847, 2000 WL 1239948, at *1 (E.D. Pa. Aug. 30, 2000). In 1986, the parties entered into a consent decree in which the City agreed to build a 440-bed detention center in downtown Philadelphia by December 31, 1990. The City also agreed that the number of inmates housed in PPS facilities would be limited to 3,750. If that number were exceeded, the consent decree provided that the PPS would release inmates who had the lowest bail or who had less than 60 days remaining on their sentence. If the 3,750-inmate limit was exceeded over a certain period of time, the consent decree forbade the PPS from admitting additional inmates, with exceptions made for persons charged with or convicted of murder, forcible rape, or a crime involving the use of a gun or knife in the commission of an aggravated assault or robbery. Id. There were approximately 4,300 inmates in the PPS when the parties entered into the consent decree. Id.

The consent decree was subject to intense criticism from the local community, the media, and law enforcement. See, e.g., John Woestendiek, City Jails Turn Away Suspects; U.S. Order Goes Into Effect, Phila. Inquirer, June 9, 1988, at A01 (describing how local residents cursed at departing inmates and shouted "lock 'em up" and "don't let them out"). The District Attorney was particularly critical of the settlement, calling it "irresponsible" and stating that the City had "sold the safety of Philadelphia citizens down the drain." Toni Locy, More Time to Thin Jails, Phila. Daily News, March 17, 1987, at 10; Woestendiek, supra, at A01. When the prison population continued to exceed 3,750 despite the release of some of the inmates, the court enforced a more limited version of the moratorium than what was enumerated in the consent decree. It applied the moratorium only to pretrial detainees; as a result, no state sentences were reduced, and no inmates were released on parole to reduce the prison population. Harris, 2000 WL 1239948, at *1. The court also directed the City to implement a house arrest program for selected inmates. Id. at *2. Nevertheless, the PPS continued to experience what the Harris court termed "crisis conditions," and additional modifications were made to the consent decree. Id. The parties entered into a new consent decree in 1991, which was stayed in 1995 after the City agreed to implement its Alternatives to Incarceration Plan. Id. at *2-3.The court subsequently approved the City's Ten Year Plan in 1996. See id. at *4 (describing the Ten Year Plan as one of a series of plans for managing the inmate population that the court had approved over the course of the litigation). In 2000, the court approved a final settlement in Harris, and federal supervision of the PPS came to an end.*fn1 Id. at *11.

The final settlement in Harris did not remedy the severe overcrowding problem in the PPS, however. By the summer of 2006, the PPS again experienced a severe overcrowding crisis. The population in the PPS had increased from approximately 7,000 at the conclusion of Harris to over 9,000 by the summer of 2006. Bowers II, 2007 WL 219651, at *10 (opinion granting motion for injunctive and declaratory relief). In response, pretrial detainees filed Bowers v. City of Philadelphia, No. 06-3229 (E.D. Pa. 2006), against the City, alleging unconstitutional conditions of confinement in local police districts, the Police Administration Building ("PAB"), and the intake units of the PPS. In Bowers, this Court certified a class consisting of:

All persons who have been or will in the future be held post-preliminary arraignment in the custody of the Philadelphia Police Department, including its districts or the Police Administration Building, or anywhere in the Philadelphia Prison System, pending intake/admissions processing, at the Philadelphia Prison System, who have been or will in the future be subjected to the conditions of confinement as set forth in Plaintiffs' Complaint.

Bowers v. City of Phila., No. 06-3229, 2006 WL 2818501, at *2 (E.D. Pa. Sept. 28, 2006) (Bowers I). In granting the plaintiffs' motion for injunctive and declaratory relief, we described at length the deplorable conditions found in the intake units of the PPS, as well as in the PAB and local police districts. The evidence revealed that pretrial detainees were being held in holding cells that were severely overcrowded. Some of these cells were so crowded that there was not enough room for all the detainees to sit down at the same time, even when using all the benches and every inch of the floor. Bowers II, 2007 WL 219651, at *10. The holding cells lacked beds, and pretrial detainees spent as many as six days sleeping on the floor, often overlapping each other due to the lack of space. Id. Inmates in holding cells also had no access to basic hygiene supplies and would sometimes go up to six days without access to showers, warm water, soap, or a toothbrush. Id. at 10. 30 men would share a single toilet, which would frequently be filled with human waste and rotten food. Id. at 11. Inmates were also routinely denied medical attention for minor and major health issues. Id.

To alleviate overcrowding, the PPS instituted several measures, including contracting with a prison in Monmouth County, New Jersey, to provide 100 prison beds; placing additional bunk beds in a day room at the Curran Fromhold Correctional Facility ("CFCF"); and placing plastic blue cots (known colloquially as "blue boats") in cells in order to fit three inmates in cells that were only designed to fit two, a practice known as triple-celling. Bowers II, 2007 WL 219651, at *8 (opinion granting motion for injunctive and declaratory relief). We observed that these measures amounted to "plac[ing] a band-aid on a wound that requires major surgery." Id. at *27. While we did not pass on the constitutionality of triple-celling in Bowers, we remarked that "even if triple-celling is permissible as a short-term emergency solution, it is not tenable as a permanent cure." Id. at *26.

B. Recent Developments in Philadelphia Prison Conditions Litigation

Plaintiffs filed the instant action on April 28, 2008, alleging that due to historic overcrowding in the PPS, inmates were being subjected to "dangerous, unsanitary, severely overcrowded, degrading, and cruel conditions of confinement." (Compl. ¶ 1.) Plaintiffs allege that by April 21, 2008, the prison population in the PPS had reached a historic high of over 9,300 inmates. (Id.) To address the overcrowding problem, Plaintiffs allege that the PPS instituted a "widespread practice of triple celling and placement of inmates in overcrowded dormitories." (Id. ¶ 3; see also Mot. Class Cert'n 3, Apr. 28, 2008,ECF No. 2.) Moreover, to control the growing prison population, the PPS has expanded its practice of restricting prisoner movements and locking down inmates when there are not enough corrections officers to provide adequate security for the inmates. (Mot. Class Cert'n 4.)

The prison system in Pennsylvania consists of both state and county prisons. The City of Philadelphia manages the county prison system through the PPS pursuant to the City's Home Rule Charter. See 351 Pa. Code § 5.5-700(c). The State funds and operates its own prison system. Cf. 71 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 310-1 (establishing the Department of Corrections as an administrative department). Whether an inmate is housed in a state or county facility is determined in part by the length of the inmate's prison sentence. Currently, persons sentenced to a maximum term of five years or more are committed to the state prison system. 42 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 9762(a)(1). Persons sentenced to a term of more than two years but less than five years may at the discretion of the sentencing judge be committed to either a state prison or to a county prison. Id. § 9762(a)(2). Persons sentenced to a term of less than two years are committed to a county prison. Id. § 9762(a)(3).

In 2008, the Pennsylvania legislature amended § 9762 to eliminate the sentencing judge's discretion over whether a person who is sentenced to a maximum term of between two and five years is committed to a state or county prison. See 2008 Pa. Legis. Serv. 2008-81 (H.B. No. 4), amending 42 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 9762, enacted Sept. 25, 2008. As amended, § 9762(b)(2) states that persons who are sentenced to a maximum term of not less than two years nor more than five years "shall be committed to the Department of Corrections for confinement" unless the chief administrator of the county prison and the attorney for the Commonwealth certify that the county prison has space available for additional inmates. However, this subsection of § 9762 does not take effect until the fall of 2011. See 42 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 9762(b). Until then, the sentencing judge retains discretion to commit persons whose sentence is between two and five years to either a state or a county prison.

To complement these legislative changes, the PPS has taken other measures to reduce the prison population. The state agreed to transfer from the PPS to state prison approximately 250 prisoners who had been sentenced prior to the effective date of § 9762. (Hr'g Tr. 6, May 3, 2010.) Moreover, changes in sentencing practices have reduced the number of persons who are committed to the PPS, and changes in the method of transporting state prisoners have further reduced prisoner intake in the PPS. (Id.) As a result of these measures, the population in the PPS has fallen to 7,921 as of May 2010, from a high of 9,900 inmates 16 months earlier. (Id. at 4, 6.) There has not been triple-celling at Riverside Correctional Facility ("RCF"), the women's prison facility, for over a year. (Id. at 9.) However, approximately 1,350 inmates in the PPS are still being held in triple-cells. (Id. at 10.)

On June 27, 2008, the City filed a Motion for Preliminary Injunction and a Motion to Dismiss Pursuant to Rule 12(b)(7) or, in the Alternative, Motion to Join Under Rule 19 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. These Motions sought to join the Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections, the President Judge of the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas, and the President Judge of the Philadelphia Municipal Court in this litigation. The City filed a Third-Party Complaint against the Secretary and the President Judges concurrently with those Motions. We denied the City's Motions by Memorandum and Order on July 27, 2010. See Williams v. City of Phila., No. 08-1979, 2010 WL 2977485 (E.D. Pa. July 27, 2010).


The requirements for maintaining a class action are set forth in Rule 23 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. To be certified, a class must satisfy the four prerequisites in Rule 23(a) and must fit within at least one of the three categories of class actions in Rule 23(b). Fed. R. Civ. P. 23; Amchem Prods., Inc. v. Windsor, 521 U.S. 591, 613-14 (1997). "Unless each requirement of Rule 23 is actually met, a class cannot be certified." In re Schering Plough Corp. ERISA Litig., 589 F.3d 585, 596 (3d Cir. 2009). "As a result, '[a]n overlap between a class certification requirement and the merits of a claim is no reason to decline to resolve relevant disputes when necessary to determine whether a class certification requirement is met.'" Id. (quoting Beck v. Maximus, 457 F.3d 291, 316 (3d Cir. 2006)). We must therefore conduct a "rigorous analysis" to determine whether the prerequisites of Rule 23 have been satisfied, going beyond the pleadings if necessary. Id.

Rule 23(a) requires that the movant demonstrate the following for certification:

(1) the class is so numerous that joinder of all members ...

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