Case: In re Jackson Lockdown/MCO Cases

2:81-72151 | U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan

Filed Date: June 1, 1981

Closed Date: Sept. 30, 1985

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Case Summary

In 1981, a group of state prisoners brought a class action suit, Walker v. Johnson, in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan against the State of Michigan; the Michigan Department of Corrections; and the wardens of Marquette Branch Prison, the State Prison of Southern Michigan, and the Michigan Reformatory at Ionia. The suit alleged that a lockdown imposed by prison officials in response to inmate riots severely restricted inmate privileges and resulted in conditions of c…

In 1981, a group of state prisoners brought a class action suit, Walker v. Johnson, in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan against the State of Michigan; the Michigan Department of Corrections; and the wardens of Marquette Branch Prison, the State Prison of Southern Michigan, and the Michigan Reformatory at Ionia. The suit alleged that a lockdown imposed by prison officials in response to inmate riots severely restricted inmate privileges and resulted in conditions of confinement that violated the inmates’ First, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights. 

In late May of 1981, correctional officers at the State Prison of Southern Michigan attempted to lock down inmates against the orders of Warden Barry Mintzes. A riot broke out in response to the attempted lockdown and shortly spread to the Marquette Branch Prison and the Michigan Reformatory at Ionia. Prison authorities resumed control of all three institutions within five days and thereafter imposed a new set of restrictions that led to the filing of this suit. The inmates sought to challenge their conditions of confinement as well as the Michigan Department of Corrections rule that allowed an institution to assign an inmate to administrative segregation merely upon the finding that the inmate had committed a major misconduct violation.

A seven-week trial took place before the district court in the fall of 1981. The court identified a number of post-riot restrictions at all three institutions: yard time was reduced for all inmates (many from eight hours down to one hour) and recreational activities were significantly restricted; shower allowances were cut for most inmates, with some compelled to forego yard time or a meal in order to shower, while others were required to walk naked to and from the showers; group religious services were limited or eliminated entirely; the number of inmates involved in either work or school assignments fell significantly; access to the law library and jailhouse lawyers was severely restricted; and some inmates had their monthly visitations reduced from six to five.

On June 21, 1982, Judge Newblatt issued an opinion identifying a due process violation, as well as a number of constitutional violations as to the conditions of confinement. With respect to administrative segregation assignments, the district court ordered the defendants to conduct a hearing with 24-hour notice provided to the inmate, allow the inmate to call witnesses and produce documentary evidence, and produce a written statement setting out the reason behind any decision to impose an administrative segregation sanction. The court further ordered that the institutions increase yard time for all inmates; cease requiring inmates to walk naked to and from showers; increase shower allotments for some inmates and schedule showers such that they are not a forced substitute for yard time; increase law library access and, in some cases, restore it to the pre-riot level; and allow for a minimum level of group religious activities. Walker v. Johnson, 544 F.Supp. 345.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded in part the district court’s ruling in the class action. Walker v. Mintzes, 771 F.2d 920. The court of appeals questioned the district court's imposition of specific yard time requirements for each prison and remanded this issue for clarification. The court also remanded the issue of religious services because the district court had failed to consider the state's security and disciplinary interests during the emergency lockdown. The court reversed the district court's order as to law library access and remanded for a specific finding of whether access to the courts had been denied to any prisoner. The lower court's rulings as to shower allotments and the walk to and from showers and as to the due process rights of inmates in administrative segregation were affirmed. We have no further information as to the findings of the district court on remand, nor do we know the final disposition of this case.

Around the same time the class action was filed, a number of individual inmates brought pro per complaints against the Michigan Corrections Organization ("MCO"), the labor union for the prison guards, in the same district court. Their complaints alleged that the guards instigated the riots by taking over the State Prison of Southern Michigan with the intent of instituting a lockdown and violating their constitutional rights. Some of the complaints also named Warden Mintzes and the director of the Michigan Department of Corrections, Perry Johnson, as defendants. The plaintiffs alleged violations of the First, Fourth, Sixth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments, as well as state law, on largely the same facts and theories as Walker. They sought declaratory relief and monetary damages.

These various actions were consolidated for pretrial purposes. Counsel was appointed for all plaintiffs desiring representation and amended complaints containing essentially identical allegations were filed in June 1982 in all but two cases. In the end there were twenty-two cases for the district court to consider. 

Judge Cohn dismissed defendants Mintzes and Johnson in their individual capacities and dismissed several of the state law claims, but denied the defendants’ motion to dismiss as to the constitutional claims. MCO brought a motion for summary judgment asserting that the individual actions were barred because the plaintiffs were members of the class in Walker, but the plaintiff class had failed to bring claims for damages. The district court denied the motion, holding that the judgment in Walker was relevant “only insofar as plaintiffs here argue that the State-imposed restrictions are an element of the damages caused by MCO’s actions[.]” 568 F.Supp. 869.

In April 1985, the district court certified a class of between 6,000 and 10,000 persons, all of whom were under the Michigan Department of Corrections’ jurisdiction and inmates at the State Prison of Southern Michigan at any time from May 21, 1981 through August 31, 1981, with 48 named plaintiffs over 35 consolidated cases.

On September 30, 1985, Judge Cohn approved a consent judgment between the parties in this case. The terms of the settlement included a permanent injunction enjoining MCO from ever engaging in an unauthorized lockdown at SPSM, as well as the creation of a $50,000 fund for the benefit of the class, creation of a $20,000 Special Injury fund, and payment of up to $50,000 in attorneys’ fees and costs. 107 F.R.D. 703.

Summary Authors

Rachel Harrington (6/16/2021)

Related Cases

Walker v. Johnson, Eastern District of Michigan (1981)

People


Judge(s)

Cohn, Avern Levin (Michigan)

Kinneary, Joseph Peter (Ohio)

Milburn, Herbert Theodore (Tennessee)

Wellford, Harry Walker (Tennessee)

Judge(s)

Cohn, Avern Levin (Michigan)

Kinneary, Joseph Peter (Ohio)

Milburn, Herbert Theodore (Tennessee)

Wellford, Harry Walker (Tennessee)

Documents in the Clearinghouse

Document

Memorandum Opinion and Order

Walker v. Johnson

544 F.Supp. 345

June 21, 1982 Order/Opinion

On Motion for Summary Judgment

568 F.Supp. 869

July 13, 1983 Order/Opinion

Opinion [U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit]

Walker v. Mintzes

U. S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit

771 F.2d 920

Aug. 22, 1985 Order/Opinion

Opinion and Order Approving Proposed Consent Judgment

Walker v. Johnson

107 F.R.D. 703

Sept. 30, 1985 Order/Opinion

Docket

Last updated May 11, 2022, 8 p.m.

Docket sheet not available via the Clearinghouse.

State / Territory: Michigan

Case Type(s):

Prison Conditions

Key Dates

Filing Date: June 1, 1981

Closing Date: Sept. 30, 1985

Case Ongoing: No

Plaintiffs

Plaintiff Description:

Inmates under control of the Michigan Department of Corrections who alleged they were subject to unconstitutional procedures and conditions of confinement during a prison lockdown imposed after a riot.

Plaintiff Type(s):

Private Plaintiff

Public Interest Lawyer: No

Filed Pro Se: Yes

Class Action Sought: Yes

Class Action Outcome: Granted

Defendants

Michigan Correctional Organization, Union

Defendant Type(s):

Corrections

Case Details

Causes of Action:

42 U.S.C. § 1983

State law

Constitutional Clause(s):

Cruel and Unusual Punishment

Due Process

Due Process: Procedural Due Process

Due Process: Substantive Due Process

Unreasonable search and seizure

Availably Documents:

Injunctive (or Injunctive-like) Relief

Any published opinion

Outcome

Prevailing Party: Plaintiff

Nature of Relief:

Injunction / Injunctive-like Settlement

Attorneys fees

Damages

Source of Relief:

Settlement

Form of Settlement:

Court Approved Settlement or Consent Decree

Amount Defendant Pays: 120000

Order Duration: 1985 - None

Issues

Reproductive rights:

Fetus Identity

General:

Access to lawyers or judicial system

Administrative segregation

Bathing and hygiene

Classification / placement

Conditions of confinement

Disciplinary procedures

Disciplinary segregation

Law library access

Recreation / Exercise

Religious programs / policies

Sanitation / living conditions

Work release or work assignments