Nichols v. Haley , 173 F.3d 820 ( 1999 )


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  •                                                                                     PUBLISH
    
    
                          IN THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS
    
                                  FOR THE ELEVENTH CIRCUIT
                                                                              FILED
                                                                      U.S. COURT OF APPEALS
                                          _______________               ELEVENTH CIRCUIT
                                                                             04/23/99
                                            No. 97-6818                  THOMAS K. KAHN
                                          _______________                     CLERK
    
                                  D. C. Docket No. CV-86-V-461-N
    
    
    JACKIE NICHOLS, CAROL REGISTER, et al.,
    
                                                                             Plaintiffs-Appellants,
    
    
                                                versus
    
    
    JOE S. HOPPER, Commissioner, Alabama
    Department of Corrections; WAYNE TEAGUE,
    Superintendent, Alabama Board of Education,
    et al.,
    
                                                                            Defendants-Appellees.
    
                                 ______________________________
    
                             Appeal from the United States District Court
                                 for the Middle District of Alabama
                                ______________________________
    
                                           (April 23, 1999)
    
    
    Before BIRCH and BARKETT, Circuit Judges, and ALAIMO*, Senior District Judge.
    
    __________________
    *Honorable Anthony A. Alaimo, Senior U.S. District Judge for the Southern District of Georgia,
    sitting by designation.
    BIRCH, Circuit Judge:
    
          In this case, we consider whether the immediate termination provisions of
    
    the Prison Litigation Reform Act (“PLRA”), codified at 18 U.S.C. § 3626(b),
    
    violate the separation of powers doctrine as articulated in United States v. Klein,
    
    80 U.S. (13 Wall.) 128, 
    20 L. Ed. 519
     (1871).
    
                                   I.   BACKGROUND
    
          On October 5, 1987, the district court entered a consent order, agreed upon
    
    by the parties, concerning the conditions of confinement at the Julia Tutwiler
    
    Prison for Women in Wetumpka, Alabama. The consent order remained in effect
    
    until the Attorney General of Alabama and the Alabama Department of Corrections
    
    filed a motion to terminate the order on July 2, 1997, pursuant to the immediate
    
    termination provision of the PLRA which provides:
    
          Immediate termination of prospective relief. – In any civil action
          with respect to prison conditions, a defendant or intervener shall be
          entitled to the immediate termination of any prospective relief if the
          relief was approved or granted in the absence of a finding by the court
          that the relief is narrowly drawn, extends no further than necessary to
          correct the violation of the Federal right, and is the least intrusive
          means necessary to correct the violation of the Federal right.
    
    
    
    
                                              2
    18 U.S.C. § 3626(b)(2). The district court granted the motion to terminate. On
    
    appeal, appellants challenge the constitutionality of section 3626(b)(2), arguing
    
    that the statute violates the separation of powers doctrine.1
    
            We addressed several constitutional issues concerning section 3626(b)(2) in
    
    Dougan v. Singletary, 
    129 F.3d 1424
     (11th Cir. 1997) (per curiam), cert. denied,
    
    ___ U.S. ___, 
    118 S. Ct. 2375
    , 
    141 L. Ed. 2d 743
     (1998). In Dougan, we held that
    
    the termination provision did not violate the Fifth Amendment's Due Process
    
    Clause, id. at 1426-27; did not violate the equal protection component of the Fifth
    
    Amendment, id. at 1427; and did not violate the separation of powers doctrine, id.
    
    at 1426. Our separation of powers analysis, however, concerned only the aspect of
    
    the doctrine that forbids legislation that “command[s] the federal courts to reopen
    
    final judgments.” See Plaut v. Spendthrift Farm, Inc., 
    514 U.S. 211
    , 219, 115 S.
    
    Ct. 1447, 1453, 
    131 L. Ed. 2d 328
     (1995). We upheld the statute in light of this
    
    particular separation of powers challenge, finding that a consent decree “does not
    
    undermine the finality of a final judgment in the separation of powers sense.”
    
    Dougan, 129 F.3d at 1426. We specifically left open, however, the rules of
    
    decision aspect of the separation of powers doctrine as articulated in United States
    
    
            1
              We note that appellants do not challenge the Attorney General's assertion that the consent order
    contained no findings concerning the scope of the consent decree. Appellants instead attack only the
    constitutionality of the statute itself.
    
                                                         3
    v. Klein, 80 U.S. (13 Wall.) 128, 
    20 L. Ed. 519
     (1871). See Dougan, 129 F.3d at
    
    1426 n.10.
    
           The appellants here posit two arguments based on the separation of powers
    
    doctrine not considered in Dougan.2 First, they allege that the PLRA's termination
    
    provisions impose a rule of decision for pending cases in violation of Klein.
    
    Second, the appellants argue that the PLRA violates Article III of the United States
    
    Constitution by depriving the courts of their authority to fashion effective relief in
    
    constitutional cases involving prison inmates. We review questions of
    
    constitutional law de novo. Pleasant-El v. Oil Recovery Co., 
    148 F.3d 1300
    , 1301
    
    (11th Cir. 1998).
    
                                         II.    DISCUSSION
    
    A.     Separation of Powers Under Klein
    
           We review briefly the now-familiar facts of Klein. Klein, the administrator
    
    of the estate of Confederate sympathizer, V. F. Wilson, filed a petition pursuant to
    
    the Abandoned and Captured Property Act of 1863 to secure the proceeds of cotton
    
    that had been abandoned to federal treasury agents. To obtain reimbursement,
    
    petitioners were required to prove loyalty during the war. Wilson had taken an
    
    
           2
             The appellants have also argued here that section 3626(b)(2) of the PLRA violates the Due
    Process Clause and Equal Protection dimension of the Fifth Amendment. As appellants noted, however,
    we rejected those challenges in Dougan and we decline to revisit them here.
    
                                                     4
    oath in 1864 pursuant to President Lincoln's proclamation granting full pardon to
    
    those who took an oath of allegiance to the United States. Prior Supreme Court
    
    precedent held that those who took such an oath satisfied the loyalty provision of
    
    the 1863 act. In 1870, while Klein's case was pending, however, Congress passed
    
    legislation stating that a presidential pardon was proof of disloyalty and directing
    
    the dismissal for lack of jurisdiction any pending recovery action brought on behalf
    
    of a pardon recipient. The Supreme Court invalidated the statute, holding that
    
    Congress violates the separation of powers doctrine when a statute “prescribes a
    
    rule for the decision of a cause in a particular way.” See Klein, 80 U.S. at 146.
    
          In striking down the statute, the Klein Court distinguished the case of
    
    Pennsylvania v. Wheeling & Belmont Bridge Co., 59 U.S. (18 How.) 421 (1855).
    
    In Wheeling Bridge, Congress passed an act that legalized the structure of a bridge
    
    that the Supreme Court decreed in an earlier lawsuit to be a nuisance. When the
    
    Court was asked to enforce its prior nuisance decree, it held that the bridge had
    
    ceased to be a nuisance as defined by the legislation of Congress. As the Court
    
    later explained, “[n]o arbitrary rule of decision was prescribed in [Wheeling], but
    
    the court was left to apply its ordinary rules to the new circumstances created by
    
    the act.” See Klein, 80 U.S. at 146-47. The statute in Klein, on the other hand,
    
    
    
    
                                              5
    created “no new circumstances” and this “inadvertently passed the limit which
    
    separates the legislative from the judicial power.” Id. at 147.
    
          More recently, in Robertson v. Seattle Audubon Society, 
    503 U.S. 429
    , 
    112 S. Ct. 1407
    , 
    118 L. Ed. 2d 73
     (1992), the Supreme Court declined to decide whether
    
    an act of Congress was unconstitutional under Klein because the act merely
    
    amended underlying law and did not prescribe a rule of decision. See 503 U.S. at
    
    441, 112 S. Ct. at 1414. Recalling its holding in Wheeling Bridge, the Court held
    
    that the challenged legislation “replaced the legal standards” in an environmental
    
    statute “without directing particular applications under either the old or new
    
    standards.” Id. at 437, 112 S. Ct. at 1413. The Court noted that the legislation
    
    “expressly provided for judicial determination of the lawfulness” of activity under
    
    the statute and that the legislation did not instruct the courts whether any particular
    
    activity would violate the legislation. Id. at 438-39, 112 S. Ct. at 1413 (emphasis
    
    in original). See also Henderson v. Scientific-Atlanta, Inc., 
    971 F.2d 1567
    , 1573
    
    (11th Cir. 1992) (applying Seattle Audubon and finding the challenged legislation
    
    did “not require courts to make any particular findings of fact or applications of
    
    law to fact. Any effect on pending cases is solely a result of a change in the
    
    underlying law.”).
    
    
    
    
                                               6
            Finally, in Plaut v. Spendthrift Farm, Inc., 
    514 U.S. 211
    , 
    115 S. Ct. 1447
    ,
    
    
    131 L. Ed. 2d 328
     (1995), the Court once again attempted to clarify the meaning of
    
    Klein. “Whatever the precise scope of Klein, . . . later decisions have made clear
    
    that its prohibition does not take hold when Congress 115 S. Ct. 1452
     (quoting Seattle Audubon, 503 U.S. at 441).
    
            These cases illustrate that the separation of powers doctrine is not a model of
    
    clarity. The Supreme Court, however, has articulated certain boundaries. The
    
    legislation considered in Wheeling Bridge is permissible, that in Klein is not. We
    
    conclude that the PLRA more closely resembles the legislation involved in
    
    Wheeling Bridge because it amends the applicable law. Here, Congress has
    
    enacted new standards, but has left to the courts the judicial functions of applying
    
    those standards.3 See Seattle Audubon, 503 U.S. at 437, 112 S. Ct. at 1413. If the
    
    court finds that the consent order in question has been narrowly drafted, extends no
    
    further than necessary, and is the least intrusive means necessary to correct the
    
    
    
    
            3
             The appellants argue that this defense of the PLRA is inapplicable because the PLRA purports to
    amend underlying constitutional law and Congress does not have “the power to determine what
    constitutes a constitutional violation.” City of Boerne v. Flores, 
    521 U.S. 507
    , 
    117 S. Ct. 2157
    , 2164, 
    138 L. Ed. 2d 624
     (1997). The applicable law, however, is not constitutional in nature. The PLRA addresses
    the authority of the district court to grant relief greater than that required by federal law, but does not
    determine what conduct constitutes a violation of the Eighth Amendment. See Plyler v. Moore, 
    100 F.3d 365
    , 372 (4th Cir. 1996), cert. denied, ___ U.S. ___, 
    117 S. Ct. 2460
    , 
    138 L. Ed. 2d 217
     (1997).
    
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    violation, then the order will not terminate.4 Section 3626(b)(2) of the PLRA thus
    
    “provides only the standard to which district courts must adhere, not the result they
    
    must reach,” Plyler v. Moore, 
    100 F.3d 365
    , 372 (4th Cir. 1996), cert. denied, ___
    
    U.S. ___, 
    117 S. Ct. 2460
    , 
    138 L. Ed. 2d 217
     (1997), and does not violate the
    
    separation of powers principles set out in Klein. We note that other circuits
    
    have reached the same conclusion. See Hadix v. Johnson, 
    133 F.3d 940
    ,
    
    943 (6th Cir.), cert. denied, ___ U.S. ___, 
    118 S. Ct. 2368
    , 
    141 L. Ed. 2d 737
     (1998)
    
    (the “interpretation and application of law to fact and the ultimate
    
    resolution of prison condition cases remain at all times with the
    
    judiciary”); Inmates of Suffolk County Jail v. Rouse, 
    129 F.3d 649
    , 658 (1st Cir.
    
    1997), cert. denied, ___ U.S. ___, 
    118 S. Ct. 2366
    , 
    141 L. Ed. 2d 735
     (1998) (the
    
    PLRA “does not tamper with the courts' decisional rules – that is, courts
    
    remain free to interpret and apply the law to the facts as they discern
    
    them. Because the PLRA leaves the courts' adjudicatory processes
    
    intact, it does not transgress the Klein doctrine.”); Gavin v. Branstad, 
    122 F.3d 1081
    , 1089 (8th Cir. 1997), cert. denied, ___ U.S. ___, 
    118 S. Ct. 2374
    , 141
    
    
    
            4
             The appellants further argue that the statute at question in Klein was also rejected because it
    guaranteed that the government would win every case. See United States v. Sioux Nation of Indians, 
    448 U.S. 371
    , 404, 
    100 S. Ct. 2716
    , 2735, 
    65 L. Ed. 2d 844
     (1980). Here, there is no prescribed answer for all
    motions to terminate that come before the court. If the district court finds that the consent decree meets
    the requirements of the PLRA, the decree may not be terminated. See 18 U.S.C. § 3626(b)(3).
    
                                                        
    8 L. Ed. 2d 741
     (1998) (“Congress has left the judicial functions of interpreting
    
    the law and applying the law to the facts entirely in the hands of the
    
    courts. The PLRA leaves the judging to judges, and therefore it does
    
    not violate the Klein doctrine.”); Plyler, 100 F.3d at 372 (Section
    
    3626(b)(2) “provides only the standard to which district courts must
    
    adhere, not the result they must reach”). We thus join Hadix, Inmates of
    
    Suffolk County Jail, Gavin, and Plyler, in upholding the constitutionality of the
    
    PLRA on this ground.5
    
    B.      Separation of Powers Under Article III
    
            The appellants next allege that the PLRA strips courts of their power and
    
    duty, enunciated in Marbury v. Madison, 5 U.S. (1 Cranch) 137, 177 (1803), to
    
    enforce effective remedies in constitutional litigation. The PLRA, they argue, does
    
    not simply regulate procedure in federal courts, but rather regulates the judicial
    
    enforcement of the Constitution generally – a power not granted to Congress. The
    
    
    
    
            5
              In Benjamin v. Jacobson, 
    124 F.3d 162
     (2d Cir. 1997), the Second Circuit upheld the
    constitutionality of the PLRA against a separation of powers challenge. We have previously expressed
    disagreement with the rationale articulated by the Benjamin court. See Dougan, 129 F.3d at 1426 n.4.
    On December 23, 1997, the Second Circuit granted rehearing en banc in Benjamin, and oral argument
    was held on February 25, 1998.
             We also note that in Taylor v. United States, 
    143 F.3d 1178
     (9th Cir. 1998) a panel of the Ninth
    Circuit held the PLRA unconstitutional as a violation of the separation of powers doctrine. On November
    3, 1998, the Ninth Circuit vacated the panel opinion and will hear the case en banc. See Taylor v. United
    States, 
    158 F.3d 1059
     (9th Cir. 1998).
    
                                                       9
    purpose of the PLRA, appellants contend, is to place undue burdens upon the
    
    litigation of prison conditions in order to make such litigation impractical.
    
          The PLRA does not deprive courts of their authority to decide constitutional
    
    challenges to prison conditions. The PLRA requires only that the relief be
    
    “narrowly drawn,” go “no further than necessary to correct the violation of the
    
    Federal right,” and “be the least intrusive means necessary to correct the violation
    
    of the Federal right.” 18 U.S.C. §§ 3626(a)(1)(A), (b)(2), (b)(3). Tailoring
    
    remedies to address the constitutional wrong is not an unusual practice. Congress
    
    has the authority to require a court in equity to make certain findings before issuing
    
    injunctive relief, see Gavin, 122 F.3d at 1087, and has previously legislated
    
    restrictions on the manner in which courts may grant prospective relief. See
    
    Missouri v. Jenkins, 
    515 U.S. 70
    , 88, 
    115 S. Ct. 2038
    , 2049, 
    132 L. Ed. 2d 63
    
    (1995) (“the nature of the . . . remedy is to be determined by the nature and scope
    
    of the constitutional violation”) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted);
    
    Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Bd. of Educ., 
    402 U.S. 1
    , 16, 
    91 S. Ct. 1267
    ,
    
    1276, 
    28 L. Ed. 2d 554
     (1971) (same). Here, Congress has stated that the relief may
    
    not be broader than that which is necessary to protect the federal right.
    
          Importantly, the court may not terminate an existing decree if it finds that the
    
    decree satisfies the conditions set forth in section 3626(b)(3) at the time of the
    
    
                                              10
    motion to terminate. See Dougan, 129 F.3d at 1425. The district court, therefore,
    
    still has the ability to remedy constitutional violations. See Tyler v. Murphy, 
    135 F.3d 594
    , 597 (8th Cir. 1997) (“Section 3626(b)(3) expressly permits the district
    
    court to continue appropriately tailored prospective relief that the court finds
    
    necessary to remedy a current violation of federal rights. Thus, the statute
    
    preserves a court's ability to remedy constitutional violations.”); Thompson v.
    
    Gomez, 
    993 F. Supp. 749
    , 763 (N.D. Cal. 1997) (“PLRA does not substantively
    
    limit the power of courts to remedy constitutional violations.”). Accordingly, we
    
    hold that the PLRA does not deprive courts of their authority to enforce effective
    
    remedies in constitutional litigation.
    
                                   III.      CONCLUSION
    
          In sum, we hold that the PLRA does not abrogate the separation of powers
    
    doctrine because Congress has not prescribed a rule of decision. We further hold that
    
    the PLRA does not strip courts of their power to decide constitutional challenges to
    
    prison conditions. We, therefore, AFFIRM the decision of the district court upholding
    
    the constitutionality of section 3626(b) of the PLRA.
    
    
    
    
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