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Dwight Williams, et al. v. City of Philadelphia

August 5, 2011

DWIGHT WILLIAMS, ET AL.
v.
CITY OF PHILADELPHIA, ET AL.



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

MEMORANDUM

Presently before the Court is the parties' joint request for approval of their Settlement Agreement. (ECF No. 87.) For the following reasons, the Settlement Agreement will be approved.

I. BACKGROUND

On April 28, 2008, Plaintiffs filed the instant class action against the City of Philadelphia and others (collectively, the "City Defendants") seeking injunctive and declaratory relief under Fed. R. Civ. P. 23(b)(2). The Complaint alleges that the Philadelphia Prison System ("PPS") is subjecting inmates to "dangerous, unsanitary, severely overcrowded, degrading, and cruel conditions of confinement." (Compl. ¶ 1, ECF No. 1.) Specifically, it alleges that the PPS's practice of housing three inmates in cells designed to hold only two-referred to as "triple-celling"-violates the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution. (Id. ¶ 3.) When the Complaint was filed, the inmate population in the PPS was at a historic high of over 9,300 inmates. (Id. ¶ 1.) Over 2,500 inmates were housed in triple cells. (Settlement Agreement 1, ECF No. 87.) By January 2009, the PPS inmate population had reached 9,800 inmates, with close to 3,000 inmates housed in triple cells. (Id. at 2.)

Since January 2009, the inmate population in the PPS has declined, due in large part to significant steps taken by the City Defendants. The City Defendants have expanded the "Video Crash Course" program, which accelerates disposition of minor cases for persons in custody, and have consolidated probation and parole hearings before judges who specialize in such matters. (Settlement Agreement 2-3.) The City Defendants have also increased the use of house arrest and GPS monitoring, as well as increased the use of diversionary programs for certain nonviolent offenders. (Id. at 3.) There are currently 7,594 in-house inmates in the PPS-a reduction of approximately 1,700 from when this action was filed. (Fairness Hr'g Tr. 6.) There are approximately 1,000 inmates housed in triple cells today, compared to over 2,500 when the Complaint was filed. (Id. at 6.) Triple-celling has been eliminated in the Riverside Correctional Facility, which houses female inmates, as well as in Alternative Special Detentions and the Philadelphia Industrial Correctional Center. (District Att'y's Supplemental Resp. Opp'n Mot. Certify Class 1-2, ECF No. 63.) Moreover, sentencing legislation recently passed by the Pennsylvania Legislature, which takes effect in September of 2011, will further alleviate the overcrowding problem at PPS.

On October 8, 2010, we certified the following class under Federal Rule of Civil

Procedure 23(b)(2):

All persons who are or will in the future be confined in the Philadelphia Prison System, and who are or will in the future be subjected to the conditions of confinement, including triple celling, or placement in dormitories, without minimally adequate security, services or programs as set forth in plaintiffs' Complaint.

Order, Williams v. City of Phila., No. 08-1979 (E.D. Pa. Oct. 8, 2010), ECF No. 80. In early 2011 the parties entered into settlement negotiations. On April 29, 2011, we granted preliminary approval of the proposed Settlement Agreement and scheduled a fairness hearing for June 15, 2011. (See Order ¶¶ 1-2, ECF No. 86.) The City Defendants published notice of the proposed Settlement Agreement in the Philadelphia Inquirer and the Philadelphia Daily News and posted a Notice of Class Action Settlement in every housing unit and law library in the PPS.

Taking into consideration the reduction in the inmate population at the PPS, this Settlement Agreement essentially preserves the status quo and provides for monitoring of the situation by Plaintiffs' counsel for the next two years. (Settlement Agreement 4-6.) The City Defendants agree to continue to implement the programs that have reduced the inmate population in the PPS and to make reasonable efforts to reduce the triple-celling of inmates. (Id. at 4.) The City Defendants also agree to make reasonable efforts to minimize the use of lockdowns and to provide inmates with medical and social services during lockdowns. Plaintiffs' counsel will be provided with information regarding the prison population, triple-celling, and other relevant matters on a monthly basis for a two-year period beginning on the date that the Settlement Agreement is approved. (Id. at 5.) Plaintiffs' counsel will also have the right to inspect any facilities at PPS in which there is triple-celling at six-month intervals. The City Defendants will reimburse Plaintiffs' counsel for fees and costs in the amount of $45,000. (Id. at 6.)

At the fairness hearing on June 15, 2011, counsel for all of the parties agreed that the Settlement Agreement was fair and reasonable, particularly in light of the steps the City Defendants have taken to reduce the prison population over the past two years. The City Defendants noted that inmates would not spend more than 60 days in a triple cell and assured the Court that they were taking further steps to reduce the amount of time inmates are housed in triple cells, the goal being 30 days. (Fairness Hr'g Tr. 10, 12.)

II. LEGAL STANDARD

Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23(e), the "claims, issues, or defenses of a certified class may be settled, voluntarily dismissed, or compromised only with the court's approval." Final approval of a class-action settlement requires a finding by the Court that the settlement is fair, reasonable, and adequate. Ehrheart v. Verizon Wireless, 609 F.3d 590, 592 (3d Cir. 2010).

In Girsh v. Jepson, the Third Circuit articulated nine factors for district courts to consider in deciding whether a class-action ...


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