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Associated Press Loses Bid to Unseal Settlement in Suit Against CCA

On December 14, 2011, an Idaho federal court ruled that it would not unseal the sealed settlement agreement between Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and a prisoner who was allegedly assaulted in a private prison operated by CCA.

Marlin Riggs was a prisoner at the CCA-run Idaho Correctional Center (ICC) near Boise which bears the nickname "Gladiator School." Riggs filed suit in federal court under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging that guards at ICC knew that he was about to be attacked by other prisoners, yet did nothing to prevent it. He requested $55 million in damages. A lawsuit filed by other prisoners at ICC complained of similar civil rights violations, but did not ask for monetary damages. CCA settled that lawsuit, agreeing to make fundamental changes in how the prison was operated, relief Riggs had also requested.

The case was referred to a visiting judge from another judicial district for him to conduct a settlement conference. The parties agreed to settle. To do so did not require the approval of the visiting judge or for the court to adopt the agreement as part of a judgment or retain jurisdiction to enforce it. After the settlement was made, the case was dismissed with prejudice and the settlement agreement was sealed.

After the sealed agreement was placed on the court's electronic docket, the Associated Press filed a motion to intervene seeking to have the settlement declared a public document and unsealed. The court granted the motion in part, allowing the intervention, but denied the part asking that the agreement be unsealed. In doing so, the court noted that both parties opposed the unsealing and that unsealing the agreement could lead to prisoners filing frivolous lawsuits, discourage parties from entering into negotiations in similar lawsuits and endanger the plaintiff, placing him at risk for intimidation or assault in prison. The court did not explain how exactly revealing the amount of the monetary settlement would lead to frivolous lawsuits or endanger the plaintiff any more than knowing he received some amount that CCA desperately wanted to keep secret.

The court also reasoned that, since the terms of the settlement in the "companion" lawsuit that led to changes in prison operations had been made public, the Riggs case "now involves only a single person seeking monetary damages for an assault. The public's interest in knowing the precise terms of his agreement with CCA is outweighed by the parties' interest in confidentiality as a means of minimizing the serious risks that the Court has found to exist." The court ordered the agreement, which it said had been accidentally placed on the docket, stricken from the docket. See: Riggs v. CCA, U.S.D.C.(D.Idaho), Case No. 1:09-cv-00010-EJL; 2011 WL 3902776.

Additional source: Associated Press

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Related legal case

Riggs v. CCA