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Third Circuit Denies Intervention in CRIPA Class-Action Suit

Third Circuit Denies Intervention in CRIPA Class-Action Suit

by Mark Wilson

On April 11, 2014, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals rejected a prisoner’s motion to intervene in a 28-year-old class-action case on the eve of settlement.

In 1986, the United States filed suit against the Virgin Islands under the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act (CRIPA), 42 U.S.C. § 1997. The lawsuit alleged that conditions at the Golden Grove Adult Correctional Facility on St. Croix violated the Eighth Amendment. The parties entered into a consent decree later that year, designed to ensure prisoners were safe from “‘unreasonable fire safety risks to their lives and safety’ and ‘wanton and reckless physical violence by other inmates or staff,’ as well as providing ‘minimally adequate sanitation to protect inmates from unreasonable risks to their physical health’ and ‘minimally adequate medical care for the serious medical needs of inmates.’”

The litigation continued when conditions at the prison did not improve, resulting in several additional court orders, including a 1990 compliance plan, a 2003 stipulated agreement, a 2007 remedial order and additional orders in December 2009, February 2010 and December 2010.

In July 2011, the defendants moved to terminate prospective relief under 18 U.S.C. § 3626(b) and (e) of the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA). The parties later entered into settlement negotiations.

On February 8, 2012, the district court held that the PLRA covered all but one order entered after the 1986 consent decree, but those orders lacked the required PLRA findings. Therefore, an evidentiary hearing was held to ensure compliance with § 3626(b)(3).

Prisoner Robert Gillette was incarcerated at Golden Grove, serving a 300-month sentence. He appealed his conviction but subsequently attempted to voluntarily dismiss the appeal over his counsel’s objections. The court ultimately concluded that he was not competent to do so.

On July 21, 2012, Gillette moved to intervene in the CRIPA action pursuant to FRCP 24(a) and (b), quoting extensively from the United States’ original complaint.

Less than two months after Gillette filed his motion, the parties submitted a proposed settlement agreement in the lawsuit that addressed issues related to medical and mental health care, fire safety, environmental health conditions, staff training, and prisoner safety and supervision. The district court then issued a November 7, 2012 order denying Gillette’s motion to intervene, as he had failed to show that the United States would not adequately represent his interests, and because the parties would be prejudiced by intervention on the eve of settlement. Gillette appealed.

The Third Circuit affirmed in a detailed decision, agreeing that the parties would be prejudiced by intervention. Additionally, Gillette’s “reliance upon the United States’ pleadings belies [his] argument that his interests diverge from those of the United States.” Gillette’s “grievances dovetail with the terms of the Settlement Agreement,” the appellate court found. “To that end, Gillette’s interests not only overlap with those of the United States, they are essentially identical.” See: United States v. Territory of the Virgin Islands, 748 F.3d 514 (3d Cir. 2014).

Following remand, in December 2014 the district court held the defendants in contempt for failing – for the third time – to pay the court-appointed monitor overseeing the consent decree in a timely manner. The district court imposed a $1,000 fine and held that future noncompliance, without good cause, “will subject Defendants to a fine of $250.00 per day for each day that Defendants are noncompliant, plus payment to the Monitor of any reasonable fees and expenses incurred as a result of the untimely payment.” Due to the late payments, the monitor had suspended his services prior to the court’s contempt ruling. See: United States v. Territory of the Virgin Islands, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 178548 (D.V.I. Dec. 30, 2014).


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Related legal cases

United States v. Territory of the Virgin Islands

United States v. Territory of the Virgin Islands