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Case Name Cain v. Michigan Department of Corrections PC-MI-0027
Docket / Court 88-61119-AZ ( State Court )
State/Territory Michigan
Case Type(s) Prison Conditions
Attorney Organization Legal Services/Legal Aid
Case Summary
In 1988, a group of male Michigan prisoners filed this class-action lawsuit under state law in the Michigan Court of Claims against the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC). The lawsuit grew out of the 1983 riots at Marquette Branch Prison, the Michigan Reformatory, and the Central Complex of ... read more >
In 1988, a group of male Michigan prisoners filed this class-action lawsuit under state law in the Michigan Court of Claims against the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC). The lawsuit grew out of the 1983 riots at Marquette Branch Prison, the Michigan Reformatory, and the Central Complex of the State Prison of Southern Michigan. The plaintiffs, initially proceeding pro se, claimed that many actions that MDOC took in the wake of the unrest violated Michigan state law and the U.S. Constitution. Their complaints included changes in MDOC policy regarding the quantity of personal property prisoners could posses, new security measures taken after them, and lack of access to amenities like phone calls. After the case was filed, a group of female prisoners successfully moved to intervene in the case.

The plaintiffs convinced Circuit Judge James R. Giddings to enjoin changes the changes in MDOC's personal property that they complained of. However, soon after, the Michigan legislature passed a statute imposing similar limitations. Judge Giddings enjoined that statute. This injunction led to extensive litigation by prisoners across the state about the status of their personal property.

Judge Giddings' rulings also attracted the ire of then Governor John Engler, who called him a "lunatic" who attended a "mail order law school." (Engler later apologized to Wayne State University Law School - but not to Judge Giddings.) The Judge responded by making a complaint about the Governor's (who was also a licensed attorney) statements to the Michigan State Bar's Attorney Grievance Committee. That body "cautioned" the Governor, but ultimately dismissed the investigation. Judge Giddings and executive branch lawyers continued to tussle, with Judge Giddings ordering the government to forward press releases regarding the litigation to the plaintiffs and the Governor accusing the Judge of preventing MDOC from taking necessary safety measures.

On September 12, 1994, after Judge Giddings discussed the possibility of holding some state defendants in criminal contempt, the state moved to have him disqualified from the litigation. After two years of litigation, the Michigan Supreme Court found that his disqualification was not warranted. 548 N.W.2d 210.

At the suggestion of the Supreme Court, which stressed the need to quickly resolve the litigation, Prison Legal Services of Michigan (PLSM) was appointed to represent the plaintiffs. The organization moved into a trailer on prison grounds in order to be close to their clients, but were ordered to leave in late 2002 by the Michigan Court of Appeals in 2002. 657 N.W.2d 799.

After a protracted legal battle that moved slowly through the Michigan state court system, in March of 2003, the Michigan Supreme Court again suggested "that the trial court bring this fifteen-year-old suit promptly to final judgment." 657 N.W.2d 718. Within a year of that order, the parties reached a settlement on November 4, 2003. The settlement covered five areas: Classification, Personal Typewriters, Access to the Courts, Security Threat Group Claims, and Miscellaneous Issues. Under the terms of the settlement, the parties agreed on appropriate classification and psychiatric services, plus restrictions on administrative segregation that exacerbates serious psychological illness. In addition to retaining personal word processors, prisoners also attained expanded law libraries with 25 hour/week access and adequate photocopies, prompt legal mail processing, longer attorney phone calls, and protective winter clothing.

All provisions of the Agreements were subject to dispute resolution under the auspices of Judge Michael G. Harrison. Monitoring appeared to be ongoing in early 2009, however, as of September 2021, the case appears to be closed.

Kristen Sagar - 03/03/2009
Anna Dimon - 05/14/2015
Jonah Hudson-Erdman - 09/05/2021

compress summary

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Issues and Causes of Action
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Access to lawyers or judicial system
Administrative segregation
Classification / placement
Law library access
Loss or damage to property
Medical/Mental Health
Mental health care, general
Plaintiff Type
Private Plaintiff
Type of Facility
Causes of Action State law
Defendant(s) Michigan Department of Corrections
Plaintiff Description People incarcerated in Michigan state prisons.
Indexed Lawyer Organizations Legal Services/Legal Aid
Class action status sought Yes
Class action status outcome Granted
Filed Pro Se Yes
Prevailing Party Plaintiff
Public Int. Lawyer Yes
Nature of Relief Injunction / Injunctive-like Settlement
Source of Relief Litigation
Form of Settlement Court Approved Settlement or Consent Decree
Order Duration 2003 - n/a
Filed 1988
Case Ongoing No reason to think so
Court Docket(s)
No docket sheet currently in the collection
General Documents
State Trial Court
Agreement to Resolve Plaintiffs' Claims Regarding Classification
PC-MI-0027-0001.pdf | Detail
W.D. Mich.
Plaintiffs' Third Amended Complaint [ECF# 214-2]
PC-MI-0027-0009.pdf | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
State Supreme Court
Disposition (500 N.W.2d 471)
PC-MI-0027-0008.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Source: Westlaw
State Supreme Court
Disposition (527 N.W.2d 517)
PC-MI-0027-0007.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Source: Westlaw
State Supreme Court
Decision (534 N.W.2d 521)
PC-MI-0027-0006.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Source: Westlaw
State Supreme Court
Opinion (548 N.W.2d 210)
PC-MI-0027-0005.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Source: Westlaw
State Supreme Court
Decision (584 N.W.2d 922)
PC-MI-0027-0004.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Source: Westlaw
State Supreme Court
Decision (584 N.W.2d 736)
PC-MI-0027-0003.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Source: Westlaw
State Supreme Court
Decision (618 N.W.2d 766)
PC-MI-0027-0002.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Source: Westlaw
State Court of Appeals
Opinion (657 N.W.2d 799)
PC-MI-0027-0011.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Source: Westlaw
State Supreme Court
Opinion (657 N.W.2d 718)
PC-MI-0027-0010.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Source: Westlaw
show all people docs
Judges Boyle, Patricia Jean Ehrhardt Pernick (E.D. Mich.) show/hide docs
Brickley, James (State Supreme Court) show/hide docs
Cavanagh, Michael F. Court not on record show/hide docs
PC-MI-0027-0002 | PC-MI-0027-0005
Giddings, James R. (State Trial Court) show/hide docs
PC-MI-0027-0001 | PC-MI-0027-0009
Kelly, Marilyn (State Supreme Court) show/hide docs
Levin, Charles L. (State Supreme Court) show/hide docs
Mallett, Conrad L. (State Supreme Court) show/hide docs
Riley, Dorothy (State Supreme Court) show/hide docs
Weaver, Elizabeth A. (State Supreme Court) show/hide docs
Plaintiff's Lawyers Ewing, John Chandler (Michigan) show/hide docs
Girard, Sandra (Michigan) show/hide docs
Labelle, Deborah A. (Michigan) show/hide docs
Mizell, Elton Floyd (Michigan) show/hide docs
Moore, C. Pepper (Michigan) show/hide docs
Snow, Charlene M. (Michigan) show/hide docs
PC-MI-0027-0005 | PC-MI-0027-0009
Walen, Raymond C. Jr. (Michigan) show/hide docs
Defendant's Lawyers Casey, Thomas L. (Michigan) show/hide docs
Govorchin, A. Peter (Michigan) show/hide docs
PC-MI-0027-0001 | PC-MI-0027-0005 | PC-MI-0027-0009
Kelley, Frank J. (Michigan) show/hide docs
Soros, Allan J. (Michigan) show/hide docs
Other Lawyers Adkins, James D (Michigan) show/hide docs
Baird, Thomas A. (Michigan) show/hide docs
Boyle, Kathleen Corkin (Michigan) show/hide docs
Bush, Neal (Michigan) show/hide docs
Granzotto, Mark (Michigan) show/hide docs
Meyers, Jeffrey T. (Michigan) show/hide docs
Minock, John R. (Michigan) show/hide docs
Shaw, Richard E (Michigan) show/hide docs

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