Case: Neal v. Michigan Department of Corrections

96-06986 | Michigan state trial court

Filed Date: 1996

Clearinghouse coding complete

Case Summary

In 1996, Tracey Neal and five other female prisoners filed a class action lawsuit against the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) and individual officials in the Circuit Court of Washtenaw, Michigan. The plaintiffs alleged a pattern of systematic sexual misconduct, sexual harassment, and abuse by the MDOC in violation of Michigan's Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act ("ELCRA" or the "Civil Rights Act"), M.C.L. § 37.2101 et seq.; M.S.A. § 3.548(101) et seq.Specifically, the plaintiffs' complai…

In 1996, Tracey Neal and five other female prisoners filed a class action lawsuit against the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) and individual officials in the Circuit Court of Washtenaw, Michigan. The plaintiffs alleged a pattern of systematic sexual misconduct, sexual harassment, and abuse by the MDOC in violation of Michigan's Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act ("ELCRA" or the "Civil Rights Act"), M.C.L. § 37.2101 et seq.; M.S.A. § 3.548(101) et seq.

Specifically, the plaintiffs' complaint alleged that the MDOC assigned male officers to supervise the female prisoners; that the women were forced to dress, undress, and perform basic hygiene and bodily functions in the open with male officers observing, often pruriently; that the MDOC allowed male officers to observe during gynecological and other intimate medical care; that the MDOC required male officers to perform body searches of women prisoners that included pat-downs of their breasts and genital areas; that women prisoners were routinely subjected to offensive sexual harassment, offensive touching, and requests for sexual acts by male officers; and that there was a pattern of male officers' coercing sexual acts from women prisoners as a condition of retaining good-time credits, work details, and educational and rehabilitative program opportunities.

The plaintiffs sought injunctive and declaratory relief as well as compensatory damages. The plaintiffs' request for class certification was granted by the trial court (Judge Timothy P. Connors). In response to the plaintiffs' complaint, the defendants moved for summary disposition which was denied. The defendants appealed.

The Michigan Court of Appeals initially affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded for further proceedings. The appeals court held that, as a matter of first impression, Michigan's Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act ("ELCRA") did not apply as correctional facilities were not places of "public service,'' under the Act, in their dealings with prisoners. Neal v. MDOC, 583 N.W.2d 249 (Mich. App. 1998) (Neal I). On rehearing, the appeals court analyzed the U.S. Supreme Court's recent decision in Pennsylvania Dep't of Corrections v. Yeskey, 524 U.S. 206, 118 S.Ct. 1952, 141 L.Ed.2d 215 (1998), and concluded that the MDOC facilities were places of "public service" within the meaning of the Act. Neal v. MDOC, 592 N.W.2d 370 (Mich.App. 1998) (Neal II). The defendants' application to appeal Neal II to the Michigan Supreme Court was denied. Neal v. MDOC, 649 N.W.2d 82 (2002). In response to the Neal II decision, the Michigan legislature on March 10, 2000, amended ELCRA to explicitly exclude prisoners from the Act's protection against discrimination. M.C.L. §37.2102(1).

When the case returned to the trial court, the plaintiffs amended the complaint to substitute representative class members as plaintiffs. The defendants moved for summary disposition on various grounds, including arguing that the plaintiffs' civil rights claims accruing after March 10, 2000, were barred by the amendment to the Civil Rights Act. The defendants also moved to de-certify the class and filed a separate motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. Before any ruling on the defendants' motions, the plaintiffs filed a second amended complaint.

Trial Judge Connors granted in part the defendants' motion on the jurisdictional issue, finding that the court had jurisdiction only over the plaintiffs' claims under the Civil Rights Act. Judge Connors dismissed the plaintiffs' remaining claims as they had to be filed before the Court of Claims. The defendants' other motions were denied. The defendants appealed.

The plaintiffs then filed a separate complaint in the Court of Claims, styled Anderson v. MDOC, LC No.03-000162-MZ, alleging the same claims that were dismissed from Neal. The Anderson plaintiffs were granted class certification. The defendants appealed the certification order. The Neal and Anderson cases were consolidated on appeal.

On February 10, 2005, the appeals court held in pertinent part that the claims of the Neal plaintiffs that arose after the effective date of the ELCRA amendment were no longer viable, as the amendment excluded prisoner claims from the Act's protection. Neal v. MDOC, 2005 WL 326883 (Mich. App. Feb. 10, 2005). The defendants applied to the Michigan Supreme Court for leave to appeal that opinion on a separate issue. The plaintiffs in turn filed a new class-action lawsuit pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 1981 and 1983 in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan against MDOC, styled Mason v. Granholm, Case No. 5:05-cv-73943-JCO-DAS. (In that case, in 2007, the U.S. District Court held the amendment to ELCRA unconstitutional. Mason v. Granholm, 2007 WL 201008 (E.D. Mich. Jan. 23, 2007).)

On December 27, 2005, the Michigan Supreme Court remanded the Neal case back to the appeals court for consideration of the defendants' argument regarding the applicability of the Prison Litigation Reform Act, MCL 600.5501 et. seq., to prisoners' claims that accrued after the effective date of the Act. Neal v. MDOC, 707 N.W.2d 193 (2005). On February 23, 2006, the Court of Appeals issued its opinion and reversed the portion of the trial court's decision that denied summary disposition to defendants on the ground that the Prison Litigation Reform Act was inapplicable. Neal v. MDOC, 2006 WL 448712 (Mich. App. Feb. 23, 2006).

The Neal case was remanded again to the trial court. Two trials were held during 2007, for a portion of the plaintiffs, and they won jury verdicts of more than $30 million. The defendants appealed, and the Michigan Court of Appeals denied their appeal on January 27, 2009. Neal v. Department of Corrections, 2009 WL 187813 (Mich. App. Jan 27, 2009).

The case then proceeded to class action settlement negotiations. On July 15, 2009, the parties reached a tentative settlement, granted preliminary approval by the court, for $100 million to be distributed to the class members and to their lawyers. The agreement resolved several cases together: this one (Neal v. Michigan Department of Corrections, Washtenaw County Circuit Court Case No. 96-6986-CZ); the joined case of Anderson v. Michigan Department of Corrections, Court of Claims No. 03-162-MZ; LaCross v. Zang, Washtenaw County Circuit Court Case No. 05944-CZ; and Mason v. Granholm, U.S. Dist. Ct. for the Eastern District of Michigan, No. 5:05-cv-73943.

The class members who went to trial received two-thirds of the amount awarded by the juries; other class members were eligible for a portion of the total damages pool, based on the seriousness of their injury (e.g., more to those raped than to those who were groped or forced to touch the genitals of a correctional staff member, and more to those groped than to those "subjected to prurient viewing while nude." The awards were to be payable over a period of 5 years, and to be administered by a "claims master."

In addition, the preliminary settlement allocated to the plaintiffs' lawyers $571,000 to reimburse their costs, and 28% of the total fund, to pay them for 30,000 hours devoted by 10 lawyers over 13 years of litigation.

Finally, the settlement included substantial injunctive relief relating to the MDOC's response to claimed sexual abuse. The MDOC would inform female prisoners of the results of sexual abuse investigations, even if the prisoner had been transferred or released from custody. Upon a female prisoner's release from custody, the MDOC would advise the female prisoner that any claims of sexual abuse during the prisoner's incarceration could be filed with the Michigan State Police. The MDOC would also establish a Retaliation Review Committee at each female correctional facility, and not cite female prisoners for misconduct upon filing a claim of sexual abuse or retaliation. Grievances alleging sexual abuse would be referred to the MDOC's Internal Affairs for review and action, and Internal Affairs would conduct semi-annual reviews of complaints alleging staff sexual misconduct. The MDOC also agreed to facilitate outside, ongoing independent counseling and psychological treatment paid for by the plaintiffs, and to create a counseling group for female prisoners that were victims of custodial sexual abuse. Lastly, the MDOC director agreed to appoint a member of her staff to make recommendations to MDOC policy to improve the MDOC's response to staff sexual misconduct.

On August 7, 2012, the Michigan Court of Appeals ruled that the Michigan Department of Corrections must collect all outstanding victim's restitution, court costs, and fees before payment of any settlement funds to individuals who have these outstanding obligations. Additionally, any outstanding obligations for child support must be deducted from settlement funds. 824 N.W.2d 285.

The last payment contemplated by the settlement was scheduled to be completed in 2014. The case is now over.

Summary Authors

Margo Schlanger (2/28/2014)

Lauren Yu (9/4/2021)

Related Cases

Nunn v. Michigan Department of Corrections, Eastern District of Michigan (1996)

Everson v. Michigan Department of Corrections, Eastern District of Michigan (2000)

Mason v. Granholm, Eastern District of Michigan (2005)

Anderson v. Dept of Corrections, Michigan state trial court (2003)

People


Judge(s)

Cavanagh, Michael F. (Michigan)

Connors, Timothy P. (Michigan)

Donofrio, Pat M. (Michigan)

Gage, Hilda R. (Michigan)

Hoekstra, Joel P. (Michigan)

Jansen, Kathleen (Michigan)

Kelly, Marilyn (Michigan)

MacKenzie, Barbara B. (Michigan)

Meter, Patrick M. (Michigan)

Murray, Christopher M. (Michigan)

Judge(s)

Cavanagh, Michael F. (Michigan)

Connors, Timothy P. (Michigan)

Donofrio, Pat M. (Michigan)

Gage, Hilda R. (Michigan)

Hoekstra, Joel P. (Michigan)

Jansen, Kathleen (Michigan)

Kelly, Marilyn (Michigan)

MacKenzie, Barbara B. (Michigan)

Meter, Patrick M. (Michigan)

Murray, Christopher M. (Michigan)

O'Connell, Peter D. (Michigan)

Saad, Henry William (Michigan)

Sawyer, David H. (Michigan)

Taylor, Clifford W. (Michigan)

Weaver, Elizabeth A. (Michigan)

Attorneys(s) for Plaintiff

Grieger, Gail A. (Michigan)

Labelle, Deborah A. (Michigan)

McGehee, Cary S. (Michigan)

Minnet, Mary R. (Michigan)

Pitt, Michael L. (Michigan)

Reno, Molly H. (Michigan)

Reosti, Ronald J. (Michigan)

Sirlin, Ralph J. (Michigan)

Soble, Richard (Michigan)

Streeter, Patricia A. (Michigan)

Attorneys(s) for Defendant

Casey, Thomas L. (Michigan)

Colbeck, J. Richard (Michigan)

Kelley, Frank J. (Michigan)

Soros, Allan J. (Michigan)

Thurber, John L. (Michigan)

Ward, Lisa C. (Michigan)

Documents in the Clearinghouse

Document

Docket (Court of Appeals)

Neal v. Department of Corrections

Michigan state appellate court

May 30, 2006 Docket

Disposition Order: Leave to appeal DENIED.

Michigan state supreme court

562 N.W.2d 201

March 28, 1997 Order/Opinion

Opinion

Neal v. Department of Corrections

Michigan state appellate court

583 N.W.2d 249

June 5, 1998 Order/Opinion

Opinion - On Rehearing

Michigan state appellate court

592 N.W.2d 370

Nov. 24, 1998 Order/Opinion

Disposition Order

Michigan state supreme court

630 N.W.2d 332

May 29, 2001 Order/Opinion

Disposition Order: Application for leave to appeal from the November 24, 1998 decision of the Court of Appeals is DENIED.

Michigan state supreme court

649 N.W.2d 82

July 30, 2002 Order/Opinion

Disposition Order

Michigan state supreme court

689 N.W.2d 228

Nov. 29, 2004 Order/Opinion

Opinion

Neal v. Department of Corrections

Michigan state appellate court

2005 WL 326883

Feb. 10, 2005 Order/Opinion

Disposition Order

Neal v. Department of Corrections

Michigan state supreme court

707 N.W.2d 193

Dec. 27, 2005 Order/Opinion

Per Curiam Opinion

Neal v. Department of Corrections

Michigan state appellate court

2006 WL 448712, 2006 Mich.App.LEXIS 487

Feb. 23, 2006 Order/Opinion

Resources

Title Description External URL

“The Judge Didn't Sentence Me to Be Raped”: Tracy Neal v. Michigan Department of Corrections: A 15-Year Battle Against the Sexual Abuse of Women Inmates in Michigan

Rachel Culley

This research traces the history of Tracy Neal v. Michigan Department of Corrections, a class action lawsuit against the Michigan Department of Corrections that alleged the sexual abuse of women pris… July 9, 2012 https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/08974454.2012.687955?journalCode=wwcj20

"The Judge Didn't Sentence Me to Be Raped": Tracy Neal v. Michigan Department of Corrections: A 15-Year Battle Against the Sexual Abuse of Women Inmates in Michigan

Rachel Culley

This research traces the history of Tracy Neal v. Michigan Department of Corrections, a class action lawsuit against the Michigan Department of Corrections that alleged the sexual abuse of women pris… July 9, 2012

Bars to Justice: The Impact of Rape Myths on Women in Prison

Hannah Brenner et al.

This article stems from a National Science Foundation-funded interdisciplinary research project that addresses a major gap in understanding the reporting of sexual victimization in prison and the con… Jan. 1, 2016 https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2850598

Sexual Violence as an Occupational Hazard & Condition of Confinement in the Closed Institutional Systems of the Military and Detention

Hannah Brenner, Kathleen Darcy & Sheryl Kubiak

Women in the military are more likely to be raped by other service members than to be killed in combat. Female prisoners internalize rape by corrections officers as an inherent part of their sentence… Jan. 1, 2017 https://digitalcommons.pepperdine.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=2452&context=plr

Rhetorical Evil and the Prison Litigation Reform Act

Terri LeClercq

This article exposes the misleading presumptions and rhetorical devices that allowed a bad bill to become law. How? The rhetorical performances of the four senators who proposed and passed the Prison… Jan. 1, 2018 https://www.alwd.org/lcr-archives/fall-2018-volume-15/479-rhetorical-evil-and-the-prison-litigation-reform-act

Processes and Practices Associated With Reporting and Investigation of Sexual Misconduct Within Prison: A Novel Case Study Constructed Through Litigation Documents

Sheryl Kubiak, Deborah Bybee, Rebecca Campbell, Gina Fedock, Kathleen Darcy, Christy Cummings

The reporting and investigation of sexual assault within prison is complex. Although prevalence data are available, there is little known about the processes and case attrition within prison that mir… Nov. 27, 2018 https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/0887403418812997

Docket

Last updated May 12, 2022, 8 p.m.

Docket sheet not available via the Clearinghouse.

State / Territory: Michigan

Case Type(s):

Prison Conditions

Key Dates

Filing Date: 1996

Case Ongoing: No reason to think so

Plaintiffs

Plaintiff Description:

All women prisoners under the jurisdiction of the MDOC past, present and future who during their incarceration have been or will be subjected to sexual misconduct, sexual harassment or physical abuse.

Plaintiff Type(s):

Private Plaintiff

Public Interest Lawyer: Yes

Filed Pro Se: No

Class Action Sought: Yes

Class Action Outcome: Granted

Defendants

Michigan Department of Corrections, State

Defendant Type(s):

Corrections

Case Details

Causes of Action:

State law

Availably Documents:

Trial Court Docket

Monetary Relief

Injunctive (or Injunctive-like) Relief

Any published opinion

Outcome

Prevailing Party: Plaintiff

Nature of Relief:

Injunction / Injunctive-like Settlement

Damages

Source of Relief:

Settlement

Litigation

Form of Settlement:

Court Approved Settlement or Consent Decree

Amount Defendant Pays: 100,000,000

Order Duration: 2009 - None

Content of Injunction:

Implement complaint/dispute resolution process

Issues

General:

Assault/abuse by staff

Sex w/ staff; sexual harassment by staff

Affected Gender:

Female

Type of Facility:

Government-run