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J.U. v. Salt Lake County

United States District Court, D. Utah, Central Division

March 13, 2019

J.U., I.Y. and S.T., on behalf of themselves and all others similarly situated, Plaintiffs,
SALT LAKE COUNTY, et al., Defendants.



         This matter comes before the court on Defendants' Motion to Terminate Consent Decree (ECF No. 110) and Renewed Motion to Terminate Consent Decree (ECF No. 363) (collectively "Motion to Terminate"). The Motion to Terminate asks the court, pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 3626(b) of the Prison Litigation Reform Act ("PLRA"),[1] to terminate the prospective relief set forth in a Consent Decree, which was stipulated by the parties (or their predecessors) and entered by the court in this case on November 29,1984.

         The court heard argument on the Motion to Terminate during various pretrial conferences during fall 2017.[2] The court heard further argument on the Motion to Terminate during a motion hearing in August 2018.[3] During these hearings, Kathryn Collard argued on Plaintiffs' behalf, and Darcy M. Goddard of the Salt Lake County District Attorney's Office argued on Defendants' behalf.[4] After hearing the parties' respective arguments, the court took the matter under advisement. The court has carefully considered the parties' arguments and the law and facts relevant to the Motion to Terminate and now, being fully advised, will grant Defendants' Motion to Terminate the 1984 Stipulated Consent Decree, I. BACKGROUND

         On October 27, 1982, Donald Leonard, and others, on behalf of themselves and ail others similarly situated, filed the Complaint in this case.[5] Plaintiffs, mentally-ill inmates then confined or who may later be confined in the Salt Lake County Jail ("Jail"), complained of an absence of mental-health screening and treatment at the Jail.[6] Plaintiffs alleged this absence violated their right to Due Process under the Fourteenth Amendment and their right under the Eighth Amendment to be free from cruel and unusual punishment.[7]

         After approximately two years of litigation, counsel for the parties, including then-Salt Lake County Sheriff Norman D. "Pete" Hayward, stipulated to the entry of the Consent Decree, which the court signed on November 29, 1984.[8] The Consent Decree required Sheriff Hayward, along with other Salt Lake County officials, to construct and operate a mental-health facility for inmates. The Consent Decree also required the County to screen detainees for mental illness, and otherwise governed the County's conduct toward mentally-ill inmates held in the Salt Lake County Jail.[9]

         On April 29, 2015, Defendants filed a Motion to Terminate Consent Decree seeking to terminate the 1984 Consent Decree in this case, to the extent it continues to affect the new Salt Lake County Jail.[10] Congress enacted PLRA on April 26, 1996. Defendants contend the Consent Decree is subject to termination because the order was entered long prior to PLRA's enactment and more than two years have passed since PLRA's enactment. Defendants contend termination is warranted here because the Consent Decree does not contain the findings required by PLRA that the relief granted by the decree be necessary, "narrowly drawn and the least intrusive means to correct the violation." 18 U.S.C. § 3626(b)(3).

         In late 2015, the court granted Plaintiffs' request for limited discovery of current Jail policy manuals, a visit to the current Jail, and interviews of Jail staff.[11] After a request from Defendants, the court entered a scheduling order in early 2016.[12] The court initially set a September 16, 2016 discovery deadline but eventually extended this date to March 3, 2017.[13]The parties conducted extensive discovery. Defendants written discovery production spans over 100,000 pages.[14]

         On April 27, 2017, Defendants filed a Renewed Motion to Terminate the 1984 Consent Decree.[15] That renewed motion focused on Defendants' asserted compliance with applicable constitutional standards when processing and treating mentally-ill inmates. Defendants also assert that, even assuming the court finds a current constitutional violation, the 1984 Consent Decree does not satisfy the "need-narrowness-intrusiveness" requirement of the PLRA. In their opposition, Plaintiffs argue Defendants have been deliberately indifferent to inmates' serious medical needs. Plaintiffs list ten areas in which Plaintiffs believe Defendants have failed to meet the needs of mentally-ill inmates.[16]

         The court heard oral argument on the Motion to Terminate during a pretrial conference beginning on September 6, 2017, reconvened the following day, and reconvened again on October 25, 2017.[17] The court heard further argument on the Motion to Terminate during a motion hearing convened on August 7, 2018, and reconvened on August 15, 2018.[18] At the conclusion of the August 15 hearing, the court asked Defendants to submit a written analysis of the County's substantial compliance with the Consent Decree and offered Plaintiffs an opportunity to respond.[19]

         II. ANALYSIS

         a. The Consent Decree is terminable

          The Consent Decree is terminable because it was entered in November 1984, over eleven years before the PLRA's enactment on April 26, 1996. The PLRA provides that prospective relief relating to prison conditions "shall be terminable upon the motion of any party or intervene!*... in the case of an order issued on or before the date of enactment of the Prison Litigation Reform Act, 2 years after such date of enactment." 18 U.S.C. § 3626(b)(1)(iii). Plaintiffs agree that the Consent Decree predates PLRA and that two years have elapsed since PLRA's enactment.[20] Accordingly, the Consent Decree is terminable. The court will now examine whether termination is warranted.

         b. The court finds termination of the Consent Decree appropriate here

         The court finds termination appropriate under the terms of the PLRA. As an initial matter, the Consent Decree lacks the requisite findings. The PLRA states Defendants "shall be entitled to the immediate termination of any prospective relief if the relief was approved or granted in the absence of a finding by the court that the relief is narrowly drawn, extends no further than necessary to correct the violation of the Federal right, and is the least intrusive means necessary to correct the violation of the Federal right." 18 U.S.C. § 3626(b)(2). Once again, Plaintiffs correctly concede that the Consent Decree, which predates PLRA, does not contain the requisite narrowness-necessary-intrusiveness findings.[21] Accordingly, Defendants meet the initial threshold for termination under the PLRA.

         Nonetheless the PLRA limits termination and the parties vigorously disagree about whether that limitation should preclude termination here. The PLRA states:

Prospective relief shall not terminate if the court makes written findings based on the record that prospective relief remains necessary to correct a current and ongoing violation of the Federal right, extends no further than necessary to correct the violation of the Federal right, and that the prospective relief is narrowly drawn and the least intrusive means to correct the violation.

18 U.S.C. § 3626(b)(3). For the reasons set forth below, termination is appropriate here.

         1. Termination is appropriate because circumstances have changed since entry of the Consent Decree

         Put plainly, history has moved on and the Consent Decree is simply out of date. The old Salt Lake County Jail was abandoned. The new Salt Lake County Jail was built. It is located at 3415 South 900 West in Salt Lake City, Utah.[22] The physical facilities and Defendants' treatment of the mentally ill has evolved. The old Jail facility at issue in the Consent Decree was constructed in 1966 at 450 South 300 East in Salt Lake City, Utah,[23] to replace a far more ancient structure on Second East,[24] The Third East Jail ceased to exist in approximately the year 2000.[25]The Consent Decree sought to correct conditions in a markedly different facility than exists currently and it imposed requirements on specific units of the Third East facility that simply no longer exist.[26] The Consent Decree required construction and operations of "a fifty (50) bed .. . mental health facility for the confinement and treatment of mentally ill persons" at the Third East Jail.[27] While this construction was accomplished, the facility was torn down with the rest of the Jail in approximately 2000. The new Jail included 17-bed Acute Mental Health Unit and a 48-bed unit for the sub-acute mentally ill, which Defendants have operated continuously since the new Jail opened.[28]

         In addition to physical changes, there has been a shift in attitude toward mental illness since the Consent Decree was entered. The Complaint filed in 1982 alleged nightmarish scenarios in which Defendants largely ignored mentally-ill inmates who hid under their beds from hallucinated voices, were starved by fellow inmates, and held naked in isolation cells.[29]Despite the obvious suffering, Defendants' predecessors allegedly responded by isolating inmates, rather than making any inquiry about their mental health or providing treatment.[30] It is against this backdrop the parties settled their differences and the court entered the Consent Decree. There is no evidence in this record to suggest Defendants currently exhibit this type of indifference to inmates' mental health, as discussed below,[31]

         Accordingly, the court will vacate the Consent Decree. The court does so, in part, because the facility at issue in the Consent Decree no longer exists. Aside from noncompliance with PLRA, the court declines to test current conduct at the new Salt Lake County Jail against the Consent Decree issued in 1984. In sum, the Consent Decree is not necessary to correct any current or ongoing comparable violation at the new Salt Lake County Jail.

         2. Termination is also appropriate because Plaintiffs have not sufficiently identified any current and ongoing constitutional violation

          The more interesting question is whether Plaintiffs have sufficiently identified any current and ongoing constitutional violation at the new facility. The court finds they have not. As noted above, the court may only continue prospective relief in the Consent Decree if the court finds "a current and ongoing violation of the Federal right. . .." 18 U.S.C. § 3626(b)(3). Plaintiffs claim Defendants violated their rights under the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments by demonstrating deliberate indifference to Plaintiffs' serious medical needs and inflicting punishment on pretrial detainees.[32] As the Supreme Court held, "a prison official may be held liable under the Eighth Amendment for denying humane conditions of confinement only if he knows that inmates face a substantial risk of serious harm and disregards that risk by failing to take reasonable measures to abate it." Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 847 (1994). Nonetheless, "a mere difference of opinion between the prison's medical staff and the inmate as to the diagnosis or treatment which the inmate receives does not support a claim of cruel and unusual punishment." Ramos v. Lamm, 639 F.2d 559, 575 (10th Cir. 1980). Also, as to pretrial detainees, the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment prohibits punishment prior to adjudication of guilt. Bell v. Wolfish, 441 U.S. 520, 537 (1979). The line between punishment and appropriate conditions of confinement is measured by whether restraints on inmates' liberty are reasonably related to legitimate governmental interests, including jail security. Id. at 540. Here, the court declines in this case to find any current and ongoing deliberate indifference or punishment of pretrial detainees because Plaintiffs have not presented or proposed sufficient evidence or even a satisfactory discrete description of any violation as to Plaintiffs.

         Plaintiffs argument consists almost entirely of conclusions that a list often "systemic deficiencies" amount to Defendants' deliberate indifference to mentally-ill inmates' serious medical needs. The alleged deficiencies include:

1. Failing to segregate mentally ill inmates from the general population;
2. Failing to provide adequate mental health admission screening;
3. Failing to provide adequate mental health facilities[[33]];
4. Failing to provide sufficient and qualified mental health staff with clear lines of authority;
5. Confining seriously mentally ill inmates ["SMI"] under harsh and anti-therapeutic conditions and restrictions without individualized determination of those restrictions and without individualized and adequate treatment;
6. Failing to transfer seriously mentally ill to other facilities when Jail cannot provide necessary care and treatment;
7. Lack of appropriate treatment for SMI inmates determined incompetent to stand trial and awaiting competency treatment at Utah State Hospital;
8. Improper use of Administrative Segregation;
9. Inadequate and Dangerous Suicide Prevention Program; and
10. Chronic Overcrowding (Exacerbating Constitutional ...

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