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Articles by Derek Gilna

Minnesota Sheriff Hit with Attorney Fees Award in Civil Rights Case

by Derek Gilna

Martin County, Minnesota Sheriff Jeffrey Markquart has been ordered to pay $6,075 in attorney fees to former prisoner Erik Daniel Christianson in a federal civil rights action where the district court found Christianson was the “prevailing plaintiff.” 

As noted in the court’s July 19, 2018 order, “Plaintiff ... brought this action against ... Markquart for assessing pay-for-stay costs against Christianson during his stay at the Martin County Jail without considering whether [he] qualifies for a waiver of payment of the costs.” [See: PLN, Sept. 2018, p.29].

The district court had previously found that the sheriff had violated Minnesota Statute § 641.12, by failing to determine whether Christianson was eligible for a waiver of the fees, while sidestepping constitutional issues. The court turned aside Markquart’s argument that Christianson was not the prevailing plaintiff because he did not prevail on all of his claims, saying the sheriff was “utterly confused about the legal issues in this case.” 

Under 42 U.S.C. § 1988, the court explained, a “plaintiff prevails if he or she ‘succeed[s] on any significant issue in litigation which achieves some of the benefit the parties sought in bringing suit.’ Hensley v. Eckerhart ...

Lawsuit Against New York Jail, CCS Survives Motion to Dismiss

by Derek Gilna

A federal civil rights complaint brought by the estate of deceased Monroe County, New York pre-trial detainee Pedro Sanchez, Jr. has survived a motion to dismiss filed by the county jail’s medical provider, Correct Care Solutions (now known as Wellpath), and several of the company’s medical staff, according to a December 2018 ruling. The district court’s rejection of the defendants’ motion means that discovery can continue preparatory to a jury trial.

According to the court’s order, Sanchez was admitted to the Monroe County Jail around January 20, 2015, where he remained until he was taken to a hospital in an unresponsive state less than two weeks later. 

“On the morning of February 1, 2015, at or about 7:30 AM,” the court wrote, “Mr. Sanchez was assaulted by two inmates at the Monroe County Jail who repeatedly punched him, including in the abdominal region ... [and] he was discharged back to the jail at or around 12:00 PM with his arm in a sling.

“On February 2, 2015, Mr. Sanchez died after bleeding internally from a lacerated spleen,” the court continued. “In the twenty-seven (27) hours preceding his death, and with increasing frequency in the hours leading ...

PLRA Attorney Fee Award Discussed after Oklahoma Jail Prisoner Awarded $35,001

by Derek Gilna

James Jordanoff, a former pre-trial detainee at the Cleveland County Detention Center in Oklahoma, won a $35,001 judgment following a jury trial based on a First Amendment retaliation claim against ex-guard Josh Coffey. 

The May 9, 2018 judgment included $1 in nominal damages plus $35,000 in punitive damages, and also provided for attorney’s fees for Jordanoff’s counsel, J. Wes Billingsley.

Jordanoff filed his original complaint pro se, and Billingsley took his case after Coffey’s motion for summary judgment was denied. Following the successful conclusion of the lawsuit, Billingsley moved for $157,811.75 in fees under 42 U.S.C. § 1988 but the district court reduced the fee award based on the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA), 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(d), as well as § 1988(b)’s “reasonableness” requirement.

“The Court herein rejects Counsel’s challenges to the PLRA’s applicability and constitutionality before calculating the lodestar from Counsel’s billing records,” the district court wrote.

As noted by the court, the PLRA “imposes four potential limits on Counsel’s attorney’s fees award: (1) a reasonableness and tailoring requirement ensuring that fees are for work directly tied to the prisoner’s relief, id.; (2) ‘a portion of the judgment (not to exceed 25 ...

Two-Year Investigation, Litigation and Settlement Ends Segregation, Mistreatment of LGBTQ Prisoners at California Jail

by Derek Gilna

A federal class-action lawsuit against the sheriff of San Bernardino County, California, that alleged LGBTQ prisoners were confined in an “‘Alternative Lifestyle Tank’ at the West Valley Detention Center ... to which all inmates who self-identify as gay, bisexual, and/or transgender ... [were] automatically transferred and isolated ...

Wisconsin Pays Largest Civil Rights Settlement in State’s History –$18.9 Million – for Juvenile Offender’s Suicide Attempt

by Chad Marks and Derek Gilna

Sydni Briggs was 16 years old in July 2015 when she was remanded to a Wisconsin state youth prison for breaking into a store and stealing alcohol. She found herself alone in a cell at the Copper Lake School for Girls on November 9, ...

Human Rights Watch 2014 Report Set Goals to Reduce Human Costs of Excessive Incarceration

by Derek Gilna

 The nonprofit Human Rights Watch in 2014 published a 21-page report, “Nation Behind Bars: A Human Rights Solution,” which outlined the problems caused by mass incarceration and offered suggestions on how to reduce prisoner counts without endangering public safety.

This report helped set the stage for future ...

GEO Group, CoreCivic Face Class Actions Alleging Prisoner ‘Slave Labor’

by Derek Gilna

GEO Group, the Florida-based private prison behemoth, and Tennessee corporation CoreCivic, are the targets of several lawsuits alleging that “voluntary” work programs at their facilities violate state minimum-wage laws, as well as the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, and other labor protection statutes. These lawsuits alleged that many ...

New Jersey DOC Settles Sexual Abuse Suit, but More Cases are Pending

by Derek Gilna

The New Jersey Department of Corrections (DOC) agreed to settle a federal complaint that alleged multiple civil rights violations at the Edna Mahan Correctional Facility for Women. That same facility, located in Hunterdon County, is also the subject of several lawsuits in state court raising similar allegations, ...

San Bernardino County, California Sheriff’s Office Settles Civil Rights Suit

by Derek Gilna

The County of San Bernardino, California and Sheriff John McMahon have settled a federal civil rights lawsuit filed in February 2016, which alleged they had failed “to provide minimally adequate medical, dental and mental health care” to prisoners in the county’s jail system, and had failed “to ...

California Jail Settles Class-Action Lawsuit Over Conditions of Confinement

by Derek Gilna

A federal civil rights suit filed by the Prison Law Office against Santa Clara County, California after a mentally ill prisoner was beaten to death by guards at the county’s jail has settled for policy changes plus $1.6 million in attorneys’ fees and annual payments of $200,000 ...