Case: Cantell v. Commissioner of Correction et al.

1284-cv-0250 | Massachusetts state trial court

Filed Date: Jan. 20, 2012

Closed Date: March 30, 2022

Clearinghouse coding complete

Case Summary

On January 20, 2012, prisoners incarcerated in Massachusetts administrative segregation filed this class action in state court in Massachusetts. Represented by the Prisoners Legal Services of Massachusetts, the plaintiffs sued the Commissioner of Correction and superintendents of various correctional facilities for violations of their federal and state due process rights. Specifically, the plaintiffs alleged that the prison held the plaintiffs in segregation without informing them of a release …

On January 20, 2012, prisoners incarcerated in Massachusetts administrative segregation filed this class action in state court in Massachusetts. Represented by the Prisoners Legal Services of Massachusetts, the plaintiffs sued the Commissioner of Correction and superintendents of various correctional facilities for violations of their federal and state due process rights. Specifically, the plaintiffs alleged that the prison held the plaintiffs in segregation without informing them of a release date or opportunities to obtain release. The plaintiffs received only one hour out of their cell each weekday, ate their meals alone in their cells, and were allowed only non-contact visits with family members. The proposed class included “all prisoners held in non-disciplinary segregation in an SMU [special management units].” The plaintiffs sought declaratory and injunctive relief alongside their request for class certification.

On January 31, 2013, Judge Elizabeth Fahey of the Superior Court of Massachusetts granted the defendant’s motion to dismiss and denied the plaintiff’s motion for class certification. That opinion argued that LaChance v. Commissioner, a 2013 case regarding administrative segregation, resolved the claim. 2013 WL 9925512 (Mass. Super.).

The plaintiffs appealed. The appeals court, however, on July 22, 2015, dismissed the case as moot; all but one of the named plaintiffs had been released from administrative segregation and the remaining plaintiff had been released while the appeal was pending. According to that decision, forthcoming guidance from the Department of Corrections in response to LaChance would “frame unresolved issues.” 87 Mass. App. Ct. 629. The dissent argued that the case was not moot as the alleged wrongful conduct continued to impact the putative class. Moreover, the dissent continued that the court should not wait for the still unissued regulations required by LaChance; those new regulations were not anticipated to address all the claims alleged in Cantell.

On December 7, 2015, the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts—the state's highest court—granted leave to appeal. On March 10, 2016, the court heard oral arguments. Then, on October 21, 2016, the court reversed and remanded the appellate decision. In its opinion, the court held that the regulations and procedural rights afforded people incarcerated in the Departmental Segregation Unit [DSU] applied to this class held in administrative segregation. Thus, the plaintiffs were entitled to file their motion to certify a class in Superior Court.

On remand, the plaintiffs amended their complaint to add new plaintiffs and to allege noncompliance with the federal due process procedures that the Supreme Judicial Court established in LaChance. The court accepted the Second Amended Complaint on February 2, 2017. On June 23, 2017, the court granted the motion for class certification. The class comprised all prisoners who were then or would be in the future confined in Non-Disciplinary Restrictive Housing status (formerly known as SMUs) within the Massachusetts Department of Corrections.

On May 21, 2019, the parties moved to approve a settlement agreement. The agreement included programmatic relief such as mandated reviews of restricted housing placements for each person incarcerated there, an expectation that a prisoner should not be confined in nondisciplinary restrictive housing for more than 30 days, provisions for an appeals process, and educational and other rehabilitative-related programming. Since initiation of the litigation, the Massachusetts Legislature had passed the Act Relative to Criminal Justice Reform, which took effect on December 31, 2018. The parties incorporated the reforms into the agreement that pertained to solitary confinement. The agreement also included a provision on quarterly reporting to Class Counsel. Furthermore, according to the agreement, the court’s jurisdiction would terminate at the end of the two-year settlement period and the agreement included provisions to manage potential non-compliance. The defendants agreed to pay attorneys’ fees and costs to Prisoners’ Legal Services in total of $60,000. Superior Court Justice Christine M. Roach approved the settlement in June of 2019. 

After the settlement was approved, there was no action in the case until May 15, 2020, when the parties moved to extend the settlement for an additional three months. This extension was supposed to make up for suspensions of the monitoring and reporting requirements in the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic. The court granted the parties motion shortly after it was filed.

After an additional year and a half of inaction on the docket, the parties filed a joint motion asking the court to terminate the case because the Department of Correction was in substantial compliance with the settlement on February 22, 2022. Justice Roach granted that motion on March 30 and the case is now closed.

Summary Authors

Lily Sawyer-Kaplan (11/13/2019)

Jonah Hudson-Erdman (4/1/2022)

People


Judge(s)

Botsford, Margot (Massachusetts)

Fahey, Elizabeth (Massachusetts)

Gants, Ralph D (Massachusetts)

Hines, Geraldine S. (Massachusetts)

Lenk, Barbara A. (Massachusetts)

Milkey, James R (Massachusetts)

Attorneys(s) for Plaintiff

Sugerman-Brozan, Alexander (Massachusetts)

Tenneriello, Bonita (Massachusetts)

Attorneys(s) for Defendant

Grant, Sheryl (Massachusetts)

Saltzman, William D (Massachusetts)

Judge(s)

Botsford, Margot (Massachusetts)

Fahey, Elizabeth (Massachusetts)

Gants, Ralph D (Massachusetts)

Hines, Geraldine S. (Massachusetts)

Lenk, Barbara A. (Massachusetts)

Milkey, James R (Massachusetts)

Attorneys(s) for Plaintiff

Sugerman-Brozan, Alexander (Massachusetts)

Tenneriello, Bonita (Massachusetts)

Attorneys(s) for Defendant

Grant, Sheryl (Massachusetts)

Saltzman, William D (Massachusetts)

Other Attorney(s)

Bourquin, Ruth A (Massachusetts)

Fetttig, Amy (District of Columbia)

Harris, Deborah (Pennsylvania)

Kassel, Phillip J (Massachusetts)

Kassel [inactive], Phillip (Massachusetts)

Monsell, Margaret (Massachusetts)

Sabino, Jamie Ann (Massachusetts)

Segal, Matthew (Massachusetts)

Documents in the Clearinghouse

Document

Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts Docket

Cantell v. Commissioner of Correction

Massachusetts state supreme court

Jan. 31, 2018 Docket

Memorandum of Decision and Order on Plaintiff's Motion for Class Certification and Defendant's Motion to Dismiss

Cantell v. Spencer

July 31, 2013 Order/Opinion

Opinion

Cantell v. Commissioner of Correction

Massachusetts state appellate court

33 N.E.3d 1255

July 22, 2015 Order/Opinion

Brief of the Plaintiffs' Appellants

Cantell v. Spencer

Massachusetts state appellate court

Jan. 15, 2016 Pleading / Motion / Brief

Opinion

Cantell v. Commissioner of Correction

Massachusetts state supreme court

60 N.E.3d 1149

Oct. 21, 2016 Order/Opinion

Joint Motion for Approval of Settlement Agreement

Cantell v. Commissioner of Correction

May 21, 2019 Settlement Agreement

Joint Motion for Approval of Amendment to Settlement Agreement

Cantell v. Commissioner of Correction

May 15, 2020 Pleading / Motion / Brief

Joint Status Report

Cantell v. Commissioner of Correction

Feb. 22, 2022 Pleading / Motion / Brief

Docket

Docket sheet not available via the Clearinghouse.

State / Territory: Massachusetts

Case Type(s):

Prison Conditions

Special Collection(s):

Solitary confinement

Key Dates

Filing Date: Jan. 20, 2012

Closing Date: March 30, 2022

Case Ongoing: No

Plaintiffs

Plaintiff Description:

All prisoners held in non-disciplinary segregation in an SMU [special management units].

Plaintiff Type(s):

Private Plaintiff

Attorney Organizations:

Prisoners' Legal Services of Massachusetts

Public Interest Lawyer: Yes

Filed Pro Se: No

Class Action Sought: Yes

Class Action Outcome: Granted

Defendants

Commissioner of Correction, None

Defendant Type(s):

Corrections

Case Details

Causes of Action:

42 U.S.C. § 1983

State law

Constitutional Clause(s):

Due Process

Due Process: Procedural Due Process

Availably Documents:

Trial Court Docket

Injunctive (or Injunctive-like) Relief

Any published opinion

Outcome

Prevailing Party: Plaintiff

Nature of Relief:

Injunction / Injunctive-like Settlement

Attorneys fees

Source of Relief:

Settlement

Amount Defendant Pays: $60,000

Order Duration: 2019 - 2020

Content of Injunction:

Implement complaint/dispute resolution process

Recordkeeping

Reporting

Issues

General:

Administrative segregation

Classification / placement

Conditions of confinement

Disciplinary procedures

Protective custody

Recreation / Exercise

Solitary confinement/Supermax (conditions or process)

Suicide prevention

Type of Facility:

Government-run