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Case Name Laaman v. Helgemoe PC-NH-0002
Docket / Court 75-258 ( D.N.H. )
State/Territory New Hampshire
Case Type(s) Prison Conditions
Case Summary
On August 29, 1975, a prisoner at New Hampshire State Prison (NHSP) filed a lawsuit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against authorities at NHSP in the U.S. District Court for the District of New Hampshire, Concord Division. The Plaintiff, at first represented by himself and later by court appointed ... read more >
On August 29, 1975, a prisoner at New Hampshire State Prison (NHSP) filed a lawsuit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against authorities at NHSP in the U.S. District Court for the District of New Hampshire, Concord Division. The Plaintiff, at first represented by himself and later by court appointed counsel, asked the court for declaratory and injunctive relief, alleging an emergency lockup of the prison had been instituted without a basis in fact and in bad faith, that searches had been conducted in an illegal manner, that noncontraband property had been confiscated, and that he was being denied visits in violation of various Constitutional Amendments.

The case soon mushroomed into a broad-based attack on conditions at the prison, and the complaint was consolidated and amended to concern not only the lockup, but medical care, work, education and rehabilitation opportunities, visitation and mail privileges, harassment and a general attack on the conditions of confinement at NHSP. On June 15, 1976, the District Court (Judge Hugh Henry Bownes) certified a class consisting of all present and future prisoners at NHSP. The plaintiff class was represented by New Hampshire Legal Assistance and the American Civil Liberties Union.

On July 1, 1977, the District Court (Judge Bownes) issued an opinion and order requiring the defendants to implement certain terms and conditions. Laaman v. Helgemoe, 437 F.Supp. 269 (D.N.H. 1977). Judge Bownes held that prisoners were not being given adequate medical or mental health care and held unconstitutional a prison policy requiring the approval of a superior court judge or governor before a prisoner could be transferred. The Court also found that conditions at the facility creating a fire hazard were unacceptable and ordered the defendants to correct these unconstitutional conditions, as well as others relating to classification, staffing, vocational training, visitation, and mail. On July 8, 1977, and on August 1, 1977, Judge Bownes appointed Magistrate Judge William H. Barry, Jr., to serve as Master. The parties appealed various rulings and, on October 17, 1977, the Court issued a stay of its opinion pending an appeal by the defendants.

Apparently, the parties immediately began negotiations on a settlement agreement and on August 10, 1978, the District Court (Judge Bownes) approved a consent decree. The consent decree of 1978 contained provisions detailing reforms with respect to sanitation, physical facilities, segregation and isolation, food service, fire hazards, staff, medical and mental health care, classification, protection from violence, work opportunities, vocational training, services and programs, visitation, mail, harassment, and miscellaneous other deficiencies. The same day, Judge Bownes approved another consent decree in a parallel case, which was subsequently consolidated, Guay v. Powell.

On January 23, 1986, one member of the plaintiff class filed a motion to hold the defendants in contempt for multiple violations of the Laaman decree, as well as the contemporaneously approved Guay decree. And in July 1987, another prisoner, Sullivan, filed a pro se complaint, known as Sullivan v. Cunningham, challenging conditions of confinement at NHSP. On October 27, 1987, Laaman was consolidated with Guay and Sullivan.

On May 16, 1990, the parties to all three suits entered into a second consent decree, amending the previous one and further providing that the District Court would retain jurisdiction over the prison litigation until 1993. The consent decree of 1990 defined protocols with respect to health services, classification, work and programs, vocational training, the law library, food services and various other deficiencies at NHSP.

In June 1993, the plaintiffs filed another motion for contempt. The District Court (Judge Shane Devine) subsequently issued various orders regarding discovery. Laaman v. Powell, Nos. 75-258, 77-256, 87-301, 1994 WL 262779 (D.N.H. Jan. 10, 1994); Laaman v. Powell, No. 75-258-SD, 1995 WL 54417 (D.N.H. Feb. 9, 1995). In February 1994, the parties negotiated a further settlement agreement with respect only to vocational training.

And in December 1995, Judge Devine held a contempt trial, but never issued any conclusions of law or any findings of fact. Judge Devine died in February 1999 and, on April 5, 1999, the case was reassigned to Judge Paul Barbadoro.

On April 20, 1999, the District Court (Judge Barbadoro) responded to the plaintiffs' motion for contempt by ordering the plaintiffs to show cause why the consent decree should not be terminated pursuant to the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA). On June 15, 1999, Judge Barbadoro terminated the decree and the plaintiffs appealed.

On January 17, 2001, the First Circuit Court of Appeals (Judge Juan R. Torruella) vacated and remanded the District Court's termination of the consent decree. Laaman v. Warden, 238 F.3d 14 (1st Cir. 2001). The Court held that the District Court abused its discretion when it failed to provide the prisoners with an opportunity to demonstrate current and ongoing violations of their Constitutional rights such as to prevent termination of the consent decree.

In subsequent proceedings, on July 6, 2001, the District Court (Judge Barbadoro) approved the parties' joint motion for a settlement agreement and closed the case. We have no information regarding the details of the settlement agreement. This final chapter was procedurally complicated. The plaintiffs first moved to modify the consent decree. The parties then settled, and the Court entered the settlement as a modification of the decree. But, several days later, the parties filed a joint motion that stipulated that the plaintiff's earlier motion to modify the decree was mooted by the settlement. Apparently, then, their settlement was intended to be a non-consent decree resolution. The Court granted the stipulated motion, and closed the case.

We have no other information on this file.

Josh Altman - 06/22/2006

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Issues and Causes of Action
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Constitutional Clause
Cruel and Unusual Punishment
Due Process
Freedom of speech/association
Unreasonable search and seizure
Loss or damage to property
Search policies
Medical/Mental Health
Medical care, general
Plaintiff Type
Private Plaintiff
Type of Facility
Causes of Action 42 U.S.C. § 1983
Defendant(s) New Hampshire State Prison
Plaintiff Description all present and future inmates at
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 1977 - 2001
Filed 08/29/1975
Case Ongoing No reason to think so
Case Listing PC-NH-0003 : Sullivan v. Cunningham (D.N.H.)
PC-NH-0001 : Guay v. Powell (D.N.H.)
Additional Resources
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  See this case at (May provide additional documents and, for active cases, real-time alerts)
Court Docket(s)
PC-NH-0002-9001.pdf | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
PC-NH-0002-9002.pdf | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
PC-NH-0002-9000.pdf | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
General Documents
Opinion (437 F.Supp. 269)
PC-NH-0002-0007.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Source: Google Scholar
Consent Decree
PC-NH-0002-0002.pdf | Detail
Consent Decree
PC-NH-0002-0003.pdf | Detail
Order [ECF# 431] (1994 WL 262779)
PC-NH-0002-0010.pdf | WESTLAW | Detail
Stipulation of Settlement of Vocational Training Issues
PC-NH-0002-0005.pdf | Detail
Order [ECF# 444] (1995 WL 54417)
PC-NH-0002-0011.pdf | WESTLAW | Detail
U.S. Court of Appeals
Opinion (81 F.3d 147)
PC-NH-0002-0012.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Order [ECF# 498] (1999 WL 33486690)
PC-NH-0002-0009.pdf | WESTLAW | Detail
U.S. Court of Appeals
Brief of Appellants
PC-NH-0002-0006.pdf | Detail
U.S. Court of Appeals
Opinion (238 F.3d 14)
PC-NH-0002-0008.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Source: Google Scholar
Settlement Agreement
PC-NH-0002-0013.pdf | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
show all people docs
Judges Barbadoro, Paul J. (D.N.H.) show/hide docs
PC-NH-0002-0009 | PC-NH-0002-9000
Boudin, Michael (D.D.C., First Circuit) show/hide docs
Bownes, Hugh Henry (D.N.H., First Circuit) show/hide docs
PC-NH-0002-0002 | PC-NH-0002-0007
Devine, Shane (D.N.H.) show/hide docs
PC-NH-0002-0003 | PC-NH-0002-0010 | PC-NH-0002-0011 | PC-NH-0002-9001 | PC-NH-0002-9002
Stahl, Norman H. (D.N.H., First Circuit) show/hide docs
Torruella, Juan R. (D.P.R., First Circuit) show/hide docs
PC-NH-0002-0008 | PC-NH-0002-0012
Plaintiff's Lawyers Adams, Stuart H. Jr. (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
Berry, Elliot (New Hampshire) show/hide docs
PC-NH-0002-0003 | PC-NH-0002-0006 | PC-NH-0002-0008 | PC-NH-0002-0013
Bunnell, Thomas G. (New Hampshire) show/hide docs
Cohen, Richard A. (New Hampshire) show/hide docs
PC-NH-0002-0002 | PC-NH-0002-0007
Lange, Bjorn R. (New Hampshire) show/hide docs
Linder, Alan (Pennsylvania) show/hide docs
PC-NH-0002-0005 | PC-NH-0002-0006 | PC-NH-0002-0008 | PC-NH-0002-0009 | PC-NH-0002-0013 | PC-NH-0002-9000
Lopez, Mark J. (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
Macintosh, John D. (New Hampshire) show/hide docs
Morrill, Robert E.K. (New Hampshire) show/hide docs
Rosenberg, Karen L. (New Hampshire) show/hide docs
Defendant's Lawyers Brown, Michael A. (Maryland) show/hide docs
Honigberg, Martin P. (New Hampshire) show/hide docs
Howard, Jeffrey R. (New Hampshire) show/hide docs
Judge, Stephen J. (New Hampshire) show/hide docs
Kruse, James L. (New Hampshire) show/hide docs
McLaughlin, Philip T. (New Hampshire) show/hide docs
McNamara, Richard B. (New Hampshire) show/hide docs
Mullen, Daniel J. (New Hampshire) show/hide docs
PC-NH-0002-0003 | PC-NH-0002-0005 | PC-NH-0002-0006 | PC-NH-0002-0008 | PC-NH-0002-0009 | PC-NH-0002-0013 | PC-NH-0002-9000
Sargent, James C. Jr. (New Hampshire) show/hide docs

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