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Florida Prison Isolation Suit Survives Dismissal Stage

by David M. Reutter

A Florida federal district court denied a motion to dismiss a lawsuit alleging that the Florida Department of Corrections’ (FDOC) policies and practices related to isolation are unconstitutional.

As PLN reported, the Southern Poverty Law Center filed this suit on behalf of five prisoners, and it intends to seek class-action status. The complaint alleged Florida has a statewide policy of isolation of over 10,000 prisoners for at least 22 hours per day in a cell no bigger than a parking space.

The conditions of that confinement are alleged to cause “a substantial risk of serious harm to (prisoners’) mental and physical health.” It also alleged FDOC discriminates against people with disabilities via these same policies. [See PLN, March 2018, p. 44.]

FDOC moved for dismissal. Among other issues, it argued the complaint was a “shotgun pleading.” The court’s order denying that motion shows that FDOC broke out the shotgun in its effort to dismiss the action. The court found the complaint provides it and FDOC “with a sufficient roadmap” to state the claims and it is not a pleading that runs afoul of rules of procedure.”

The court also rejected FDOC’s position that allegations that “show the substantial psychological and physiological harm caused from isolation” were “unnecessary and inflammatory.” FDOC then tried to argue the prisoners failed to identify the specific prisons and types of restrictive housing at issue.” The court found that argument demonstrates a “fundamental misunderstanding” of the claims.

The complaint does not challenge conditions of confinement at individual prisons; it alleges a “statewide policy and practice of isolation that applies to all prisoners and all types of confinement.” For example, the complaint provides general examples of the deprivation of exercise. The specifics of those policies and practices, the court said, will be revealed during discovery.

The court further rejected FDOC’s position that the prisoner’s standing should be limited to challenging specific types of isolation and certain prisons they are housed in. It also found that joining all the prisoners’ claims into a single complaint was proper. Finally, it found the complaint stated claims under the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments, and that the prisoners exhausted their administrative remedies before bringing suit. As such, it denied FDOC’s motion to dismiss. PLN will report future developments in this case. See: Harvard v. Inch, 408 F.Supp.3d. 1255 (N.D. Florida 2019). 

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Related legal case

Harvard v. Inch