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MADRID v. GOMEZ

August 23, 1996

ALEJANDRO MADRID, et al., on behalf of themselves and all others similarly situated, Plaintiffs,
v.
JAMES GOMEZ, Director, California Department of Corrections, et al., Defendants.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: HENDERSON

 This matter comes before the Court on the issue whether section 802(a)(f)(4) of the recently enacted Prison Litigation Reform Act ("PLRA"), Pub.L. 104-134, 110 Stat. 1321 (amending 18 U.S.C. § 3626), applies retrospectively to this case. *fn1" After carefully considering the parties' initial and supplemental briefs, their oral arguments, and the record herein, we conclude that it does not for the reasons set forth below.

 DISCUSSION

 The PLRA imposes a number of new restrictions on actions seeking to redress unconstitutional conditions in prisons. The section presently before the Court, section 802(a)(f)(4), 18 U.S.C. § 3626(f)(4), provides that:

 
The compensation to be allowed to a special master under this section shall be based on an hourly rate not greater than the hourly rate established under section 3006A for payment of court-appointed counsel, plus costs reasonably incurred by the special master. Such compensation and costs shall be paid with funds appropriated to the Judiciary.

 Id.2 Defendants contend that this section applies retrospectively to this case. If so, this Court must modify that portion of its January 23, 1995 Order of Reference which (1) set the Special Master's compensation at $ 125 per hour *fn3" and (2) required defendants to bear the expense of the Special Mastership. January 23, 1995 Order at 6-7. Plaintiffs, on the other hand, argue that section 802(a)(f)(4) is not applicable to the case at bar.

 To resolve this dispute we turn to the Supreme Court's decision in Landgraf v. USI Film Products, Inc., 511 U.S. 244, 114 S. Ct. 1483, 128 L. Ed. 2d 229 (1994), which "signalled a significant shift in the manner in which federal courts should analyze questions involving the application of new civil statutes to conduct that has already occurred." U.S. ex rel. Lindenthal v. General Dynamics Corp., 61 F.3d 1402, 1407 (9th Cir. 1995), cert. denied, 134 L. Ed. 2d 472, 116 S. Ct. 1319 (1996). Under Landgraf, courts must first determine "whether Congress has expressly prescribed the statute's proper reach." Landgraf, 114 S. Ct. at 1505. If so, that ends the matter and we follow the Congressional command (assuming such command does not itself violate the Constitution). Id. at 1497-98, 1505.

 Where, however, no such express direction is provided, judicial default rules apply. Under these rules we first analyze whether application of the statute would operate "retroactively" by attaching new legal consequences to events completed before its enactment. Id. at 1499; Lindenthal, 61 F.3d at 1407. If the statute would have such effect, then a presumption exists against retrospective application. Landgraf, 114 S. Ct. at 1505. This "deeply rooted" presumption "embodies a legal doctrine centuries older than our Republic," id. at 1497, and can only be overcome by clear evidence of a contrary legislative intent. Id. at 1498, 1505. As the Supreme Court explained, such intent ensures "that Congress itself has determined that the benefits of retroactivity outweigh the potential for disruption or unfairness." Id. at 1498; see also id. at 1501. In short, once judicial default rules apply, "Landgraf teaches that courts should not apply 'retroactive' statutes 'retrospectively' absent clear congressional intent." Lindenthal, 61 F.3d at 1407. *fn4"

 In this case, Congress has expressly prescribed the retrospective reach of section 802 of the PLRA, 18 U.S.C. § 3626. In a separate section at the conclusion of the statute, section 802(b), titled "Application of Amendment," Congress states as follows:

 
(1) IN GENERAL - Section 3626 of title 18, United States Code, as amended by this section [i.e. the Prison Litigation Reform Act] shall apply with respect to all prospective relief whether such relief was originally granted or approved before, on, or after the date of the enactment of this title (emphasis added).

 Thus, Congress explicitly directed that the PLRA apply retrospectively, but only with respect to "all prospective relief" that had been previously granted. *fn5" Accordingly, we must determine whether that portion of the Court's January 23, 1995 order setting the Special Master's hourly rate and finding defendants responsible for the expense of the Special Mastership constitutes an order granting "prospective relief."

 We begin with the definitional section of the PLRA, section 802(g) which provides definitions for the terms "prospective relief" and "relief." As noted in Coleman v. Wilson, 912 F. Supp. 1282 (E.D. Cal. July 11, 1996) (1996 WL 405817), however, the PLRA's definitions of those terms are essentially circular and thus fail to resolve the issue before the Court. Specifically, the Act defines the phrase "prospective relief" to mean all "relief" other than compensatory monetary damages, and then defines "relief" to mean "all relief . . ." See 18 U.S.C. § 3626(g)(7) ("prospective relief" means "all relief other then compensatory monetary damages"); Id. at § 3626(g)(9) ("relief" means "all relief in any form that may be granted or approved by the Court . . ."); see also Coleman, 912 F. Supp. 1282 (statutory definition of relief "sheds no light on the disputed term's meaning since 'relief' is in essence defined as all relief"). Nor does the legislative history supply any useful clarification of the term "relief."

 The Court is not, however, left without other sources of guidance. Given that the term "relief" in section 802(b) is used in the context of relief that "is granted or approved" by a court, we agree with Coleman that it is appropriate to construe the term in light of its traditional legal meaning. That meaning focuses on the actual change in legal relations or in defendants' conduct or actions that cures the legal wrong and makes the plaintiff whole. See e.g. Black's Law Dictionary (6th Ed. 1991) (defining relief as "deliverance from oppression, wrong, or injustice. In this sense it is used as a general designation of the assistance, redress, or benefit which a complainant seeks at the hands of a court, particularly in equity. It may be thus used of such remedies as specific performance, injunction, or the reformation or recision of a contract").

 Thus, while the "relief" might be reformation or recision in a contract case, reinstatement in an employment case, or a plan for desegregation in a school discrimination case, the "relief" in the instant case consists of such things as defendants' new policies regarding the use of force, expansion of the medical and mental health staff, and deployment of a screening mechanism to prevent the placement of seriously mentally ill inmates in the Security Housing ...


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