Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

V.W. v. Conway

United States District Court, N.D. New York

February 22, 2017

V.W., a minor, by and through his parent and natural guardian DERECK WILLIAMS, R.C., a minor, by and through his parent and natural guardian SANDRA CHAMBERS, C.I., a minor, by and through his parent and natural guardian VERTELL PENDARVIS, M.R., a minor, by and through his parent and natural guardian KAREN RAYMOND, F.K., a minor, by and through his parent and natural guardian KASHINDE KABAGWIRA, and J.P., a minor, by and through his parent and natural guardian ALISSA QUIONES, Plaintiffs,
v.
EUGENE CONWAY, Onondaga County Sheriff in his official capacity, ESTEBAN GONZALEZ, Chief Custody Deputy of the Onondaga County Justice Center, in his official capacity, KEVIN M. BRISSON, Assistant Chief Custody Deputy, in his official capacity, and SYRACUSE CITY SCHOOL DISTRICT, Defendants.

          NEW YORK CIVIL LIBERTIES UNION, Attorneys for Plaintiffs, CHRISTOPHER T. DUNN, ESQ., MARIKO HIROSE, ESQ., PHILIP L. DESGRANGES, ESQ., AADHITHI PADMANABHAN, ESQ., MARIANA L. KOVEL, ESQ.

          LEGAL SERVICES OF CENTRAL NEW YORK Attorneys for Plaintiffs, JOSHUA T. COTTER, ESQ., SAMUEL C. YOUNG, ESQ., SUSAN M. YOUNG, ESQ.

          SANFORD, HEISLER LLP Attorneys for Plaintiffs, AIMEE KRAUSE STEWART, ESQ.

          ONONDAGA COUNTY DEPARTMENT OF LAW, Attorneys for defendants Eugene Conway, Esteban Gonzalez, and Kevin M. Brisson, CAROL L. RHINEHART, ESQ.

          BOND, SCHOENECK LAW FIRM, Attorneys for defendant Syracuse City School District One Lincoln Center, JONATHAN B. FELLOWS, ESQ.

          HON. RICHARD S. HARTUNIAN, United States Attorney for the Northern District of New York, JOHN D. HOGGAN, JR., ESQ., Ass't United States Attorney.

          UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE, KYLE SMIDDIE, ESQ., ATTICUS LEE, ESQ.

          NAACP - CNY CHAPTER LEGAL COMMITTEE Attorneys for Amici Curiae, LANESSA L. OWENS, ESQ.

          DAVID N. HURD UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         TABLE OF CONTENTS

         I. INTRODUCTION ..................................................... 4

         II. BACKGROUND ............................... ....................... 5

         A. The Justice Center. . ............................................ 6

         B. The School District. . ............................................ 7

         C. Discipline at the Jail. . ........................................... 8

         D. Education in Solitary Confinement. . ................................ 8

         E. Use of Solitary Confinement on Juveniles.. ........................... 9

         F. Plaintiffs' Experts.. ............................................. 10

         1. Dr. Krisberg ............................................. 10

         2. Warden Parker. . ......................................... 12

         3. Dr. Kraus ............................................... 14

         G. Government's Statement of Interest ................................ 16

         H. NAACP's Amici Brief . . ......................................... 17

         III. DISCUSSION.. ..................................................... 17

         A. Class Certification .............................................. 17

         1. Numerosity .............................................. 20

         2. Commonality. . .......................................... 22

         3. Typicality.. .............................................. 25

         4. Adequacy of Representation. . .............................. 26

5. Rule 23(b).. ............................................. 27

         6. Ascertainability ........................................... 28

         B. Summary Judgment. . .......................................... 28

         C. Preliminary Injunction. . ......................................... 34

         1. Substantial Likelihood of Success. . .......................... 35

i. Eighth Amendment. . ................................ 36
ii. Fourteenth Amendment.. ............................. 42
ii. Individuals with Disabilities Education Act ................. 44

         2. Strong Showing of Irreparable Harm. . ........................ 48

         3. Public Interest ........................................... 49

         4. Balance of Hardships ...................................... 49

         IV. CONCLUSION.. .................................................... 50

         MEMORANDUM-DECISION and ORDER

         I. INTRODUCTION

         The named plaintiffs[1] seek relief on behalf of themselves and a putative class of fellow 16- and 17-year-olds ("juveniles") being detained at the Onondaga County Justice Center (the "Justice Center" or "Jail") by defendants Onondaga County Sheriff Eugene Conway ("Sheriff Conway"), Chief Custody Deputy Esteban Gonzalez ("Deputy Gonzalez"), and Assistant Chief Custody Deputy Kevin Brisson ("Deputy Brisson") (collectively the "Onondaga County defendants"), each of whom is being sued here in their respective official capacities.

         First, plaintiffs' class action complaint alleges declaratory and injunctive relief under 28 U.S.C. §§ 2201-02 and 42 U.S.C. § 1983 is necessary to put an end to the Onondaga County defendants' routine imposition of solitary confinement on juveniles at the Justice Center, a practice which allegedly violates the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments.

         Second, plaintiffs seek class relief against the Onondaga County defendants and defendant Syracuse City School District (the "School District"), which has contracted with the Justice Center to provide educational services, for allegedly denying juveniles in solitary confinement the minimum educational instruction guaranteed by state law in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment.

         Third, plaintiffs seek relief against both the Onondaga County defendants and the School District (collectively "defendants") on behalf of a subclass of juvenile inmates with disabilities who are allegedly being systematically deprived of the procedural protections and special education services guaranteed to them by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, 20 U.S.C. §§ 140 et seq.

         The parties have filed three motions: (1) plaintiffs have moved for class certification under Fed.R.Civ.P. 23 and (2) a preliminary injunction under Fed.R.Civ.P. 65, while the School District has moved for (3) summary judgment under Fed.R.Civ.P. 56 on the basis that it is the Onondaga County defendants, not the School District, who bear sole responsibility for any of the constitutional or statutory violations alleged by plaintiffs.

         In addition, the United States of America (the "Government") has submitted a statement of interest in this litigation under 28 U.S.C. § 517, and the Central New York Chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (the "NAACP") has moved for leave to appear as amici curiae in support of plaintiffs' request for a preliminary injunction.

         The parties exchanged limited discovery and the three motions were fully briefed, although the Onondaga County defendants did not submit an opposition to plaintiffs' motion for class certification. Oral argument was heard on Wednesday, February 15, 2017 in Utica, New York, where plaintiffs' motion for class certification and the NAACP's motion for leave to appear as amici were granted. Decision was reserved on plaintiffs' motion for a preliminary injunction and on the School District's motion for summary judgment.

         II. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiffs have submitted a mountain of evidence in support of their request for the entry of a preliminary injunction. See Pls.' Mem. Supp. Prelim. Inj., ECF No. 46-33, 7-8 & nn.1-7 (detailing evidentiary submissions).[2] In response, the Onondaga County defendants have submitted an affidavit from Deputy Gonzalez, ECF No. 62, and the School District has submitted declarations from David Tantillo, ECF No. 28-2, John A. Dittmann, Jr., ECF No. 28-3, and Signe Nelson, ECF No. 28-5.

         All of these materials have been considered and the particularly relevant portions will be summarized below. Notably, the parties did not press the need for an evidentiary hearing at oral argument, and an independent review of the submissions did not reveal any genuine disputes over the essential facts. Matter of Defend H2O v. Town Bd. of the Town of E. Hampton, 147 F.Supp.3d 80, 96-97 (E.D.N.Y. 2015) (discussing circumstances where an evidentiary hearing on a preliminary injunction is unnecessary). Accordingly, while a few disputes over factual matters have been noted, their resolution is unnecessary in order to decide the present issues.

         A. The Justice Center

         Opened in 1995, the Justice Center is a 671-bed correctional facility located in downtown Syracuse, New York and operated by the Onondaga County defendants. It houses pre-trial detainees, convicted individuals serving prison sentences, and technical parole violators. Although its primary function is to hold an adult inmate population, the Jail is also used to house approximately 30 juveniles at any one time. Approximately 90% of these juveniles are pre-trial detainees, though some are already serving sentences.

         The Justice Center operates under a "direct supervision" method, which places a single deputy in charge of a "housing pod" of 32 to 60 inmates. Juvenile inmates are typically housed in Pod 2A or 5A and, as a general matter, have access to "television, commissary, law library, a quest room or mini library, telephones, recreation, religious services, various programs including education, and visitation, which may include two one-hour contact visits per week." Gonzalez Aff. ¶¶ 9-12.

         B. The School District

         The School District bears primary responsibility for educating eligible inmates housed at the Justice Center in accordance with New York State law as well as for ensuring that juveniles with qualifying disabilities receive the special education services and other procedural protections to which they are entitled under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act ("IDEA").

         To effect these responsibilities, the School District operates an "Incarcerated Education Program" at the Justice Center, which is staffed by 16 certified general education teachers, 4 certified special education teachers, and 1 school psychologist. According to School District personnel, new juvenile inmates who arrive at the Jail are screened with a basic educational assessment test and a disability questionnaire.

         Beginning in 2013, the School District and the Onondaga County defendants entered into a Memorandum of Understanding ("MOU") intended to lay out the mechanics of how the School District's education program would operate inside the Justice Center. Under the MOU, the School District agreed to administer and supervise the required educational programming and, in turn, the Onondaga County defendants agreed to assume responsibility for security matters and to provide School District personnel with access to appropriate space for classroom instruction. The parties recently extended the MOU through June 2017.

         C. Discipline at the Jail

         The Justice Center's disciplinary policies draw no distinction between adult and juvenile inmates. An inmate who does not behave in accordance with the rules and regulations published in the Jail's Inmate Handbook is subject to disciplinary action that includes several forms of "solitary confinement, " a blanket term used here to include: (1) "lock-in, " where an inmate is confined to either their own cell or to a cell in the Jail's Segregated Housing Unit ("SHU"); (2) "administrative segregation, " where an inmate is placed in "lock-in" or the SHU in response to alleged misbehavior pending a disciplinary hearing, which can take up to 15 days to occur; or (3) "punitive segregation, " an additional period of lock-in or SHU time imposed after a disciplinary hearing finally takes place.

         Regardless of the label applied, solitary confinement at the Justice Center amounts to being locked in a minimally furnished cell measuring about 8 by 10 feet for approximately 23 hours a day. Juveniles in solitary confinement at the Jail are denied human contact-they must eat alone in their cells, are not permitted to talk to each other through the doors or in passing, and recreation, if any, is limited to 1 hour per day. They are also denied mental stimulus-they have no access to the radio or television and only limited access to reading materials. And they are deprived of meaningful mental health treatment-typically, "treatment" is limited to Jail staff occasionally asking juveniles whether they are feeling homicidal or suicidal, and a juvenile who admits to such thoughts is simply placed under a suicide watch.

         D. Education in Solitary Confinement

         Juveniles in solitary confinement are not permitted to attend even the limited educational instruction provided by on-site School District personnel as part of the Incarcerated Education Program. Instead, teachers prepare and distribute "cell packets" to juveniles in solitary confinement. These cell packets typically include newspaper clippings, crossword puzzles, and problem worksheets. According to the School District, the contents of these packets are sometimes modified for juveniles who need special education services. However, the School District admits that the Onondaga County defendants often block teachers from directly accessing juveniles being held in solitary confinement. Consequently, no direct instruction is provided, cell packets are distributed only sporadically, and students in solitary confinement "rarely return completed cell packets" for grading, follow-up, or other meaningful evaluation.

         E. Use of Solitary Confinement on Juveniles

         According to plaintiffs, the Justice Center routinely imposes solitary confinement regardless of a juvenile's mental health history and even for minor misbehavior expected of juveniles, such as yelling or refusing to stop talking. In fact, the Jail appears to rely primarily on isolation as the preferred method of discipline, with lesser sanctions being imposed in addition to, rather than in lieu of, solitary confinement.

         Between October 19, 2015 and October 19, 2016, the Onondaga County defendants sanctioned 79 of the 131 juveniles held at the Justice Center with solitary confinement on at least one occasion. Nearly half (44%) of the juveniles who received this sanction (including all six named plaintiffs) served 20 or more days.[3] And of the 48 juveniles who were held at the Jail for longer than the 59-day average, nearly all (96%) were punished with solitary confinement at least once.

         Notably, Deputy Gonzalez asserts "minor inmates" are "never subject to any form of solitary confinement." But this appears to be a semantic distinction of his own creation, since the remainder of his affidavit details safety- and security-based justifications for imposing on the named plaintiffs and other juvenile inmates the various forms of disciplinary isolation contemplated by the Justice Center's Inmate Handbook and challenged by plaintiffs here. See, e.g., Gonzalez Decl. ¶ 38 (explaining that his review of disciplinary records confirmed punishment was necessary "in all instances . . . for the safety of the inmates and staff and to retain institutional control"). For its part, School District personnel acknowledge in their declarations that disciplinary isolation of juveniles is a regular occurrence at the Jail.

         F. Plaintiffs' Experts

         Plaintiffs have submitted detailed declarations from three experts: Barry Alan Krisberg, Ph.D., Louis J. Kraus, M.D., and Leander Parker, a W arden at the Central Mississippi Correctional Facility. Each expert has visited the Justice Center, interviewed juveniles detained there, and reviewed relevant disciplinary policies and other documentation. Neither the Onondaga County defendants nor the School District have submitted evidence to rebut any of these experts' findings.

         1. Dr. Krisberg[4]

         Dr. Krisberg has extensive experience as an authority on juvenile justice and adult corrections. A four-time published author in those fields, he holds a Ph.D. in Sociology as well as a Master's degree in Criminology from the University of Pennsylvania. In terms of relevant academic experience, Dr. Krisberg is currently employed as a Visiting Scholar at the University of California, Berkeley. He has also taught and researched corrections-related topics at Berkeley's law school, the University of Hawaii, and the University of Minnesota.

         Beyond these academic settings, Dr. Krisberg has served in an expert capacity or as a court monitor in cases seeking to reform the conditions applied to youth in correctional settings in California and Illinois. He has also consulted on Government investigations into the use of disciplinary isolation in the states of Indiana, Washington, and California. Notably, Dr. Krisberg has also consulted for various New York state and local entities, including conducting a review of the disciplinary isolation practices at the Rikers Island Correctional Facility at the behest of the New York City Department of Corrections.

         According to Dr. Krisberg, there is an emerging consensus among professional organizations in the corrections field that disciplinary isolation of juveniles should be eliminated because research shows that isolation is an ineffective disciplinary technique for restoring facility security and is in fact counterproductive to facility discipline and security.

         As Dr. Krisberg explains, the prevailing professional opinion is that disciplinary isolation programs for juveniles should be replaced with a behavior management system that includes meaningful rewards for good behavior as well as a graduated system of sanctions for misbehavior. He points out that facilities around the country have eliminated disciplinary isolation of juveniles without compromising facility discipline and security.

         Dr. Krisberg visited the Justice Center in October of 2016, where he observed the male juvenile pod, other general population pods, the SHU, the mental health unit, the infirmary, and the school. He also interviewed named plaintiffs R.C., C.I., and V.W. Among other things, Dr. Krisberg notes that the Jail frequently imposes disciplinary isolation on juveniles in many instances that have nothing to do with "physically assaultive behavior." Dr. Krisberg further notes that even in instances where Justice Center staff appeared to be responding to a risk of imminent danger, the current disciplinary policies permit staff to detain juveniles ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.