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Case Name Pargo v. Elliott PC-IA-0027
Docket / Court 4:92-cv-20781 ( S.D. Iowa )
State/Territory Iowa
Case Type(s) Prison Conditions
Attorney Organization Legal Services/Legal Aid
Case Summary
On November 19, 1992, women incarcerated at Iowa Correctional Institute for Women (“ICIW”) filed this class-action lawsuit in the Southern District of Iowa. Represented by Legal Services of Iowa, the plaintiffs (suing on behalf of a class of all women at ICIW) sued Iowa Department of ... read more >
On November 19, 1992, women incarcerated at Iowa Correctional Institute for Women (“ICIW”) filed this class-action lawsuit in the Southern District of Iowa. Represented by Legal Services of Iowa, the plaintiffs (suing on behalf of a class of all women at ICIW) sued Iowa Department of Corrections officials under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging that the defendants violated the Fourteenth Amendment Equal Protection Clause by maintaining policies, programs, and facilities that were not “substantially equivalent” to those at the men’s state penal institutions. They sought declaratory judgment, injunctive relief, and attorneys’ fees and costs.

The plaintiffs alleged that women were unconstitutionally treated in comparison with their male counterparts: women prisoners were classified in a different manner, lived in more confined housing, had fewer furlough and off-ground work opportunities, enjoyed less library time and yard privileges, participated in different substance abuse programs, and saw visitors in more restrictive settings. A six-day trial was held in March and April 1994. The plaintiffs argued that, since the classification differences were based on sex discrimination, they should be subject to traditional heightened scrutiny requiring that the classification be substantially related to an important governmental interest.

The district court found in favor of the defendants on September 23, 1994 in an opinion written by Judge Bremer. Pargo v. Elliott, 894 F. Supp. 1239 (S.D. Iowa 1994). Instead of the traditional equal protection analysis sought by the plaintiffs, the court applied a deferential standard laid out in Turner v. Safley, 482 U.S. 78, 84 (1987). Under the Turner standard, the court afforded “great deference to the prison officials’ discrimination.” Judge Bremer found that ICIW female prisoners were not similarly situated to male inmates in Iowa because of ICIW’s small population. Additionally, although there were differences in the programming between the men’s and women’s prisons, Judge Bremer found that the plaintiffs failed to establish a discriminatory animus for the difference.

The plaintiffs appealed to the Eighth Circuit. There, the court found that the district court did not provide sufficient factual findings upon which to review the legal standards applied to the discrimination. Pargo v. Elliott, 69 F.3d 280 (8th Cir. 1995). Judge Diana Murphy wrote the opinion and noted that the deferential Turner standard is not always applicable, but could not determine whether it should be applied in the case at bar due to the insufficient record. After examining the transcript and discussing the record with both parties, the Eighth Circuit remanded the case to the district court to make detailed factual findings and formulate conclusions based on such findings.

Upon remand, the district court greatly expanded on its factual findings, but still found in favor of the defendants on July 14, 1995. Pargo v. Elliott, 894 F. Supp. 1243 (S.D. Iowa 1995). Judge Bremer again wrote the opinion. The court considered population, average security levels, types of crimes, and average length of sentence as key factors in determining that ICIW’s female prisoners were not similarly situated to male prisoners in other Iowa state prisons. ICIW held fewer prisoners for shorter sentences, and the female prisoners there were not grouped in as large or as divided of classifications as male prisoners.

Although the groups were not sufficiently similarly situated for purposes of an equal protection analysis, the court proceeded to consider whether the differential treatment had a rational basis to a legitimate state interest. Judge Bremer determined that the challenged discrimination should not be subject to heightened scrutiny because the plaintiffs did not establish that the policies were motivated by discriminatory intent.The court did not find any indications of invidious discrimination, but rather any differences between male and female state prisons were rationally related to legitimate penological interests.

The plaintiffs again appealed the district court’s decision to the Eighth Circuit. On November 8, 1995, the Eighth Circuit affirmed the decision. Pargo v. Elliott, 69 F.3d 280 (8th Cir. 1995). After the Supreme Court denied certiorari in October 1996, the case closed. 519 U.S. 831 (1996).

Justin Hill - 06/08/2020


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Issues and Causes of Action
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Issues
Affected Gender
Female
Constitutional Clause
Equal Protection
Defendant-type
Corrections
Discrimination-basis
Sex discrimination
General
Classification / placement
Plaintiff Type
Private Plaintiff
Type of Facility
Government-run
Causes of Action 42 U.S.C. § 1983
Defendant(s) Chief Administrative Officer
Plaintiff Description All women incarcerated at Iowa Correctional Institute for Women.
Indexed Lawyer Organizations Legal Services/Legal Aid
Class action status sought Yes
Class action status outcome Granted
Filed Pro Se No
Prevailing Party Defendant
Public Int. Lawyer Yes
Nature of Relief None
Source of Relief None
Filed 11/19/1992
Case Closing Year 1996
Case Ongoing No
Additional Resources
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  See this case at CourtListener.com (May provide additional documents and, for active cases, real-time alerts)
Court Docket(s)
S.D. Iowa
07/23/1999
4:92-cv-20781
PC-IA-0027-9000.pdf | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
General Documents
S.D. Iowa
09/23/1994
Opinion and Judgment [ECF# 140] (894 F.Supp. 1239)
PC-IA-0027-0003.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Source: Google Scholar
U.S. Court of Appeals
03/15/1995
Opinion [Ct. of App. ECF# 18] (49 F.3d 1355)
PC-IA-0027-0002.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Source: Google Scholar
S.D. Iowa
07/14/1995
Opinion on Remand [ECF# 151] (894 F.Supp. 1243)
PC-IA-0027-0004.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Source: Google Scholar
U.S. Court of Appeals
11/08/1995
Opinion [Ct. of App. ECF# 32] (69 F.3d 280)
PC-IA-0027-0005.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Source: Google Scholar
U.S. Supreme Court
10/07/1996
Opinion (519 U.S. 831)
PC-IA-0027-0001.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Source: Westlaw
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Judges Arnold, Richard Sheppard (E.D. Ark., W.D. Ark., Eighth Circuit) show/hide docs
PC-IA-0027-0002 | PC-IA-0027-0005
Bremer, Celeste F. (S.D. Iowa) [Magistrate] show/hide docs
PC-IA-0027-0003 | PC-IA-0027-0004 | PC-IA-0027-9000
Murphy, Diana E. (D. Minn., Eighth Circuit) show/hide docs
PC-IA-0027-0002 | PC-IA-0027-0005
Piester, David L. (D. Neb.) [Magistrate] show/hide docs
PC-IA-0027-9000
Ross, Donald Roe (Eighth Circuit) show/hide docs
PC-IA-0027-0002 | PC-IA-0027-0005
Plaintiff's Lawyers Frerichs, C A (Iowa) show/hide docs
PC-IA-0027-9000
Frerichs, Thomas (Iowa) show/hide docs
PC-IA-0027-0002 | PC-IA-0027-0005 | PC-IA-0027-9000
Gosnell, Emily L (Iowa) show/hide docs
PC-IA-0027-9000
Defendant's Lawyers Ensign, Kristin W. (Iowa) show/hide docs
PC-IA-0027-9000
Lindebak, Layne M. (Iowa) show/hide docs
PC-IA-0027-0002 | PC-IA-0027-0005

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