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Irvin v. Harris

United States Court of Appeals, Second Circuit

November 19, 2019

SAMUEL IRVIN, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
DAVID R. HARRIS, SUPERINTENDENT, GREEN HAVEN CORRECTIONAL FACILITY; THOMAS A. COUGHLIN, III, Defendants-Appellees, DANIEL MILLER, DEMETRIO LIFREIRI, EUGENE MAZZIO, Intervenors, LOUIS MILBURN, A. BROWN, FOR CLASS OF LOUIS MILBURN, Plaintiffs, HENRY S. DOGIN, ADMINISTRATOR LAW ENFORCEMENT ASSISTANCE ADMINISTRATION, UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE; PATRICIA HARRIS, SECRETARY OF HEALTH EDUCATION AND WELFARE, Defendants.

          Argued: February 7, 2019

         Samuel Irvin appeals from an order entered in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York (Preska, J.), denying Irvin's motion under Federal Rule of Procedure 60(b) to reconsider termination of the Milburn consent decree. We hold that Irvin has standing to invoke Rule 60(b) to challenge the termination because he is sufficiently connected with the underlying litigation and his interests are strongly affected by the termination. We also hold that the termination of the consent decree violated Rule 23(a)(4) and the Due Process Clause because the class was inadequately represented at the times relevant to the termination proceedings.

         Accordingly, we reverse the denial of relief under Rule 60(b) and remand to the district court for further proceedings.

          BRIAN MARC FELDMAN, Harter Secrest & Emerly LLP, Rochester, NY (Gregory M. Dickinson, on the brief), for Plaintiff-Appellant Samuel Irvin and Intervenors Daniel Miller, Demetrio Lifreiri, and Eugene Mazzio.

          MARC S. GRUBE, Assistant Solicitor General (Steven C. Wu, Deputy Solicitor General, on the brief), for Barbara D. Underwood, Attorney General, State of New York, New York, NY, for Defendants-Appellees David R. Harris and Thomas A. Coughlin, III.

          Before: POOLER, LOHIER, and CARNEY, Circuit Judges.

          POOLER, CIRCUIT JUDGE

         Samuel Irvin appeals from an order entered in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York (Preska, J.), denying Irvin's motion under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b) to reconsider termination of the Milburn consent decree. We hold that Irvin has standing to invoke Rule 60(b) to challenge the termination because he is sufficiently connected with the underlying litigation and his interests are strongly affected by the termination. We also hold that the termination of the consent decree violated Rule 23(a)(4) and the Due Process Clause because the class was inadequately represented at the times relevant to the termination proceedings.

         BACKGROUND

         This case stems from a termination of a consent decree in 2015 that was first entered by the district court in 1982. The consent decree's objective was to ensure that inmates at Green Haven Correctional Facility had access to adequate medical care. In September 1979, Louis Milburn, then an incarcerated inmate at Green Haven, filed a pro se complaint alleging deficiencies in its provision of health care services. In April 1980, Milburn, at this time represented, filed an amended complaint with 13 other co-plaintiff class representatives, alleging that Green Haven's health care services were so inadequate that they violated their Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment rights to be free from cruel and unusual punishment. The district court subsequently certified a class of "all persons who are or will be confined at the Green Haven Correctional Facility" in December 1980. Joint App'x at 105.

         Eventually the parties stipulated to an entry of final judgment whereby plaintiffs agreed to discontinue the action in exchange for certain reforms. In August 1982, the district court entered a consent decree providing injunctive relief to the class members.

          About seven years later, plaintiffs filed a motion to hold the Green Haven defendants in contempt for violating the 1982 consent decree and to modify the consent judgment to achieve its original purpose. In response the district court appointed a medical auditor, Dr. Robert Cohen, who determined that Green Haven was not in compliance with the consent judgment and recommended additional modifications to improve health care at the facility. In 1991, the parties entered a proposed stipulation for entry of a modified judgment, and plaintiffs withdrew their motion when defendants agreed to amend the 1982 consent decree. As with the 1982 consent decree, the court entered the 1991 consent decree after concluding that the settlement was "fair, adequate and reasonable to all members of the plaintiff class." Joint App'x at 200.

         Meanwhile, Dr. Cohen continued to audit Green Haven's health care system for the next 23 years. His three-year term was repeatedly extended because Green Haven was not in full compliance with the 1991 consent decree. In his most recent report in 2014, Dr. Cohen finally found that Green Haven was in compliance with the terms of the modified final judgment.

         In July 2014, defendants moved to terminate the consent decree under Section 802 of the Prison Litigation Reform Act ("PLRA") of 1995, 18 U.S.C. § 3626, on the basis that the consent judgment was no longer necessary "to correct a current and ongoing" violation of any constitutional right and that, even if some unconstitutional conditions persisted, the judgment was not the least intrusive means necessary to correct the violation. Joint App'x at 385-86.

         Initially, class counsel opposed and filed a cross-motion to modify the 1991 consent decree to address ongoing deficiencies. But on August 15, 2014, class counsel wrote a letter to certain inmates-specifically, "all class members with whom counsel had any contact in the preceding two years," Appellant's Reply Br. at 2 n.3-including Irvin and intervenor Demetrio Lifreiri, explaining why counsel believed that the risk of an adverse decision should be avoided. Class counsel also explained that they had not yet made a "final decision" on how to proceed but they would nonetheless continue with discovery. Joint App'x at 344.

         Without further notice to any class members, class counsel next informed the district court by letter dated March 2, 2015, that they would no longer oppose termination. The letter informed the court that "Plaintiffs have agreed to withdraw" their opposition to the motion to terminate, and that their opposition was "based on the representation by counsel for Defendants that [certain Green Haven officers] will promptly meet in person with Plaintiffs' expert . . . to enable [him] to present his expert findings and recommendations with respect to medical care and record keeping at Green Haven." Joint App'x at 288. On March 4, 2015, again without any notice to the class members, the district court noted the withdrawal, so-ordered class counsel's letter, and terminated the consent decree. It is undisputed that at the time of termination, neither Louis Milburn, nor any of the other ...


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