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Case Name Williamson v. Maciol JC-NY-0082
Docket / Court 9:20-cv-00537 ( N.D.N.Y. )
State/Territory New York
Case Type(s) Jail Conditions
Attorney Organization Legal Services/Legal Aid
Case Summary
This is a class action about the unequal treatment of female general custody prisoners in the Oneida County Jail (“the Jail”). On May 12, 2020, three female general custody prisoners filed this lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York on behalf of themselves and ... read more >
This is a class action about the unequal treatment of female general custody prisoners in the Oneida County Jail (“the Jail”). On May 12, 2020, three female general custody prisoners filed this lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York on behalf of themselves and the jail's female general custody prisoners (present or future). The plaintiffs sued the Oneida County Sheriff and the Chief Deputy of the Oneida County Jail under the Declaratory Judgment Act for violations of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment; they also alleged violations of Article I § 11 of the New York State Constitution. Represented by the Legal Services of Central New York, the plaintiffs sought declaratory and injunctive relief to prevent the Jail from denying female general custody prisoners equal access to the housing and program benefits that male general custody prisoners receive. The case was assigned to Judge Mae A. D'Agostino.

Plaintiffs claimed that the Jail discriminated against female general custody prisoners on the basis of gender by restricting these prisoners to “linear housing units” as opposed to “podular housing units” (pods), where male general custody prisoners are held, and by denying them equal access to programming and benefits. For men, the complaint explained, linear housing units were typically used to isolate prisoners with behavioral and disciplinary issues. But for women, they were used more generally.

The plaintiffs set out many allegations about the problems with linear units, which were smaller than pods and severely restricted prisoner movement. In particular, it said, some of the units had not been updated since 1965 and were covered in dirt and human excrement that female prisoners were forced to remove using limited cleaning supplies. At best, linear units had small common spaces with four picnic tables, no air conditioning and frosted windows that did not open. At worst, linear units did not have hot water, television or books. The plaintiffs’ unit (at the time of the complaint) had one shower and one phone, only one of which could be used at a time. Plaintiffs alleged inconsistent access to hot water and clean cold water and could only watch television every other day. When they did, plaintiffs could only choose from a small selection of DVDs. Plaintiffs were allowed only one hour of outdoor recreation a day, and they did not have access to exercise equipment.

In contrast, pods, where male general custody prisoners were housed, allowed prisoners to move freely unless they were mandated to lock-in. Pods resembled small high school cafeterias and were connected to recreation areas with exercise equipment, basketball hoops and a large window to let in fresh air. Pods also had small libraries with games and reading materials for the prisoners, a separate room for prisoners to video call their loved ones, cable televisions, hot water dispensers, microwaves and air conditioning. Finally, pods contained eight showers (one for every seven prisoners) and seven telephones (one for every eight prisoners), which were in separate areas. Male general custody prisoners’ cells were bigger than the women's cells and had windows, unlike women's housing.

In addition to having more humane housing, plaintiffs alleged that male general custody prisoners who exhibited good behavior were given access to programming and benefits that similar female general custody prisoners were denied, including free video calls and extra commissary items. Female general custody prisoners were also limited to laundry work programs, whereas male general custody prisoners had access to numerous work programs, including food service, car wash, general library, print shop, grounds maintenance, building maintenance and janitorial services.

The plaintiffs moved for class certification a week after filing their complaint, and also moved for a preliminary injunction on June 10, 2020, asking the court to provide the plaintiffs the same housing privileges and benefits as male prisoners. On August 3, 2020, Judge D'Agostino granted the plaintiffs’ Motion for Class Certification but denied the plaintiffs’ Motion for Preliminary Injunction. 2020 WL 4449527. In denying plaintiffs' Motion for Preliminary Injunction, Judge D'Agostino held that the plaintiffs were not sufficiently likely to succeed on the merits, because they probably could not demonstrate that female general custody prisoners were not receiving substantially equivalent treatment to their male counterparts. Furthermore, Judge D'Agostino held that the balance of equities tipped in the defendants' favor because the public interest is best served when courts do not interfere with the daily operations of local jails.

On August 8, 2020, plaintiffs appealed to the Second Circuit. No further action has been docketed at this time. The case is ongoing.

Becca Rogers - 09/25/2020


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Issues and Causes of Action
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Issues
Affected Gender
Female
Constitutional Clause
Equal Protection
Content of Injunction
Preliminary relief denied
Defendant-type
Corrections
Discrimination-basis
Sex discrimination
General
Classification / placement
Conditions of confinement
Food service / nutrition / hydration
Recreation / Exercise
Sanitation / living conditions
Totality of conditions
Plaintiff Type
Private Plaintiff
Type of Facility
Government-run
Causes of Action 42 U.S.C. § 1983
Declaratory Judgment Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2201
Ex parte Young (federal or state officials)
State law
Defendant(s) County Sheriff and Chief Deputy of the County Jail
Plaintiff Description Three female general custody prisoners, on behalf of all female general custody prisoners who are or will be incarcerated at the Oneida County Jail.
Indexed Lawyer Organizations Legal Services/Legal Aid
Class action status sought Yes
Class action status outcome Granted
Filed Pro Se No
Prevailing Party None Yet / None
Public Int. Lawyer Yes
Nature of Relief None yet
Source of Relief None yet
Filed 05/12/2020
Case Ongoing Yes
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)
N.D.N.Y.
08/27/2020
9:20-cv-00537-MAD-DJS
JC-NY-0082-9000.pdf | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
General Documents
N.D.N.Y.
05/12/2020
Class Action Complaint [ECF# 1]
JC-NY-0082-0001.pdf | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
N.D.N.Y.
08/03/2020
Memorandum Decision and Order [ECF# 28] (2020 WL 4449527)
JC-NY-0082-0002.pdf | WESTLAW | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
show all people docs
Judges D'Agostino, Mae Avila (N.D.N.Y.) show/hide docs
JC-NY-0082-0002 | JC-NY-0082-9000
Stewart, Daniel J. Court not on record [Magistrate] show/hide docs
JC-NY-0082-9000
Plaintiff's Lawyers Adams, Sara (New York) show/hide docs
JC-NY-0082-0001 | JC-NY-0082-9000
Cotter, Joshua T. (New York) show/hide docs
JC-NY-0082-0001 | JC-NY-0082-9000
Heins, Maurie G. (New York) show/hide docs
JC-NY-0082-0001 | JC-NY-0082-9000
Young, Samuel C (New York) show/hide docs
JC-NY-0082-0001 | JC-NY-0082-9000
Defendant's Lawyers Cartwright, Daniel (New York) show/hide docs
JC-NY-0082-9000
Walsh, David H. IV (New York) show/hide docs
JC-NY-0082-9000

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