Case: Stapleton v. Singletary Jr.

2:88-cv-14178 | U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida

Filed Date: Sept. 30, 1988

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Case Summary

This case challenged Florida’s prison system and its treatment of individuals in protective custody compared to those in the general population. It culminated in a settlement which mandated reforms to Florida’s protective custody system. Unfortunately, the publicly available documents for this case are limited. On September 20, 1988, eleven incarcerated persons filed a class action complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida. Defendants included the Secretary of th…

This case challenged Florida’s prison system and its treatment of individuals in protective custody compared to those in the general population. It culminated in a settlement which mandated reforms to Florida’s protective custody system. Unfortunately, the publicly available documents for this case are limited.

On September 20, 1988, eleven incarcerated persons filed a class action complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida. Defendants included the Secretary of the Florida Department of Corrections and the superintendents of three correctional facilities. Represented by the Florida Justice Institute and Florida Institutional Legal Services, plaintiffs alleged defendants had a policy, pattern, or custom of imposing harsh and punitive measures on people housed in protective custody. This included the following:

  • Very limited work assignments. This meant those in protective custody could not earn incentive or administrative gaintime for satisfactory work. As such, they were forced to serve longer sentences than individuals with similar charges in the general population.
  • Could not enroll in vocational or educational programs unless they paid the cost.
  • At most, two hours of out-of-cell recreation a week.
  • Limited to three showers a week. The general population could have multiple a day.
  • Could not visit the law library themselves. Instead, they had to request materials, which often went unanswered.
  • They were not permitted regular visitors. Instead, they had to seek special approval.
  • Very limited access to telephones. Only for emergencies or contacting an attorney for pending matters.
  • Not permitted to attend religious services or activities.
  • Various security issues. This included individuals being escorted around prison while handcuffed behind their back. This made them a “defenseless target.”
  • Frequent ridicule and abuse from officers.
  • Overcrowded cells. This included housing three individuals in a cell designed for one inmate.
  • Individuals would only be transferred to protective custody after a substantial delay (often a year or more) while they would be promptly returned to the general population on request.

Under 42 U.S.C. §1983, plaintiffs alleged the disparate treatment and conditions faced by persons in protective custody compared to those in the general population violated both the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause and the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment. They sought certification of a class under Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 23(b)(2) for “all persons who are currently incarcerated at prisons operated by the Florida Department of Corrections or who will be incarcerated at prisons operated by the Florida Department of Corrections in the future and who are, or will seek to be, placed in protective confinement for their own safety.” They sought attorneys fees, declaratory relief, and an injunction against the above conduct.

After two years of litigation and right before trial, defendants announced they were revising their policies. Additionally, defendants conceded plaintiffs were the prevailing parties and claimed the conditions leading to the class action no longer existed. However, defendants refused to admit their actions were unconstitutional. Defendants had renamed their “protective containment” program to “protective management” (“PM”).

A trial was held, after which the District Court refused to grant declaratory or injunctive relief. In effect, defendants’ voluntary reforms to the PM system had rendered the case moot. The District Court refused to create a mechanism to monitor the new PM system. The court felt that the defendants’ internal grievance procedure was an adequate remedy. The court ordered the case closed and instructed plaintiffs to bring a new suit if conditions once again became an issue.

Plaintiffs appealed to the Eleventh Circuit. They argued that voluntary cessation of illegal conduct did not moot the case. Additionally, there were still lingering unconstitutional conditions despite the changes defendants made at the eve of trial. This included the following:

  • There remained a disparity in gaintime earned between those in PM and the general population, while lessened, was still an issue. For example, they claimed defendants were able to offer no explanation why 44.5% of those in protective custody state-wide received no gaintime compared to only 13.7% of the general population.
  • The near-total lock down conditions of PM had been partially eliminated. However, many individuals remained locked in cells for unnecessary amounts of time.
  • Many in PM still faced harassment and even threats from other incarcerated persons and staff.
  • Visitors for PM individuals were required to make advance arrangements while general population visitors did not. Also, PM visits are generally restrained to the evenings or weekdays to prevent them from interfering with the general population’s visits.

Additionally, plaintiffs argued that the grievance procedure was an inadequate solution, despite the District Court’s reliance on it. Many individuals had attempted to use this system during the litigation and were “uniformly unsuccessful.” Even if they were granted, they were often told a “task force would study the issue” with no further changes.

On April 5, 1995, the Eleventh Circuit summarily affirmed the District Court’s decision. 52 F.3d 1071.

According to the Florida Justice Institute, the case ultimately culminated in a settlement which “completely changed the Florida Department of Corrections’ protective custody procedures and the conditions for those being held there.” Unfortunately, the specific terms of this settlement were not publicly available.

We were not able to find any further public record of what occurred in this case.

Summary Authors

Eric Gripp (2/20/2022)

People


Judge(s)

Paine, James Carriger (Florida)

Attorney for Plaintiff

Berg, Randall Challen Jr. (Florida)

Attorney for Defendant

Butterworth, Robert A. (Florida)

Maher, Susan Adams (Florida)

Peters, James Aaron (Florida)

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Documents in the Clearinghouse

Document

2:88-cv-14178

Complaint- Class Action

Sept. 30, 1988

Sept. 30, 1988

Complaint

2:88-cv-14178

Plaintiffs' Motion for Class Certification

Stapleton v. Dugger

March 30, 1989

March 30, 1989

Pleading / Motion / Brief

2:88-cv-14178

Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law

Stapleton v. Singletary

Jan. 1, 1993

Jan. 1, 1993

Order/Opinion

2:88-cv-14178

Plaintiffs' Proposed Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law, and Order

Jan. 20, 1993

Jan. 20, 1993

Pleading / Motion / Brief

93-05305

Initial Brief of Appellants

U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit

April 4, 1994

April 4, 1994

Pleading / Motion / Brief

93-05305

Answer Brief/Initial Brief of Cross-Appellant

U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit

June 3, 1994

June 3, 1994

Pleading / Motion / Brief

93-05305

Reply and Answer Brief of Appellants/Cross Appellees

U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit

June 20, 1994

June 20, 1994

Pleading / Motion / Brief

93-05305

Reply Brief of Cross-Appellant

U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit

July 13, 1994

July 13, 1994

Pleading / Motion / Brief

2:88-cv-14178

Opinion

U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit

April 5, 1995

April 5, 1995

Order/Opinion

52 F.3d 52

Docket

Last updated March 31, 2024, 3:02 a.m.

Docket sheet not available via the Clearinghouse.

Case Details

State / Territory: Florida

Case Type(s):

Prison Conditions

Prison Conditions

Key Dates

Filing Date: Sept. 30, 1988

Case Ongoing: No reason to think so

Plaintiffs

Plaintiff Description:

Eleven incarcerated persons under the custody of the Florida Department of Corrections.

Plaintiff Type(s):

Private Plaintiff

Public Interest Lawyer: Unknown

Filed Pro Se: No

Class Action Sought: Yes

Class Action Outcome: Granted

Defendants

Florida Department of Corrections (Tallahassee, Leon), State

Defendant Type(s):

Corrections

Facility Type(s):

Government-run

Case Details

Causes of Action:

42 U.S.C. § 1983

Constitutional Clause(s):

Equal Protection

Cruel and Unusual Punishment

Available Documents:

Complaint (any)

Any published opinion

Outcome

Prevailing Party: Mixed

Nature of Relief:

Injunction / Injunctive-like Settlement

Source of Relief:

Settlement

Litigation

Issues

General/Misc.:

Bathing and hygiene

Classification / placement

Education

Recreation / Exercise

Sanitation / living conditions

Jails, Prisons, Detention Centers, and Other Institutions:

Grievance procedures

Protective custody