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Duran v. Grisham

United States District Court, D. New Mexico

September 5, 2019

DWIGHT DURAN et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
MICHELLE LUJAN GRISHAM et al., Defendants.

          ORDER GRANTING PRELIMINARY APPROVAL OF CLASS ACTION SETTLEMENT AGREEMENT, AND APPROVING AND DIRECTING THE ISSUANCE OF NOTICE TO PLAINTIFF CLASS MEMBERS

          KIRTAN KHALSA, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         THIS MATTER is before the Court on the parties' Joint Motion for Preliminary Approval of Settlement Agreement (Doc. 3067), filed August 21, 2019.[1] The Court, having reviewed the parties' submissions, the record, and the relevant law, having heard counsel's arguments at a hearing on August 28, 2019, and for the reasons stated on the record at the hearing, FINDS:

         1. The Court has jurisdiction over the parties and the subject matter herein.

         2. This is a class action originally brought in 1977 alleging violations of the federal constitutional rights of certain inmates in the State of New Mexico's custody. By the parties' agreement, the Court entered an order on July 15, 1980, noting that the Plaintiff class had been certified under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23(b)(1) and (2), and redefining it as:

all those inmates who are now, or in the future may be, incarcerated in the Penitentiary of New Mexico at Santa Fe or at any maximum, close, or medium security facility open for operation by the State of New Mexico after June 12, 1980.[2]

(Docs. 101, 405.)

         3. After extensive litigation, on June 10, 1991, the parties entered into a settlement agreement resolving all then-pending motions. (Doc. 2851-3.) The Court issued an order adopting the parties' agreement on September 20, 1991. (Doc. 1748.) By July 16, 1999, all of the remedial provisions in the settlement agreement and order had been satisfied and vacated, except for those in Section II of the settlement agreement regarding restrictions on overcrowding. (Doc. 2851-1.) Per the agreement, the restrictions on overcrowding were to remain in place indefinitely. (Doc. 2851-3.)

         4. The litigation was dormant from late 1999 to late 2015, when a class member revived it by filing pro se motions for an emergency injunction and a contempt order. (Docs. 2692, 2694.) Class counsel resumed active representation of the Plaintiff class and, on February 22, 2016, filed a Motion for Emergency Declaratory and Injunctive Relief, for a Finding of Contempt and for Orders Imposing Coercive and Compensatory Remedial Relief. (Doc. 2727.) On August 5, 2016, with the assistance of then-United States Chief Magistrate Judge Karen B. Molzen, the parties reached a settlement regarding the claims for relief raised in class counsel's emergency motion. (Doc. 2764.) The Court approved this settlement on August 31, 2016. (Doc. 2769.)

         5. Almost a year later, on July 5, 2017, class counsel filed a Motion for Declaratory, Injunctive, and Remedial Relief regarding Violations of the Court's Stipulated Orders, alleging that Defendants were violating the Court's Orders entered on September 20, 1991 and August 31, 2016. (Doc. 2837.) Class counsel later filed two additional motions for declaratory, injunctive, and remedial relief. (Docs. 2928, 2929.) Defendants opposed these motions, and also filed motions to dismiss seeking termination of all remedial relief and an automatic stay on December 5, 2018. (Docs. 2851, 2976, 2977, 3003, 3004.) Class counsel, in turn, filed a Motion for Order to Postpone Automatic Stay on December 20, 2018. (Doc. 3009.)

         6. In its motions, the Plaintiff class has alleged ongoing violations of the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution, including unreasonable risks to the health and safety of class members due to overcrowding, violence, misclassification, disproportionate discipline, understaffing, environmental conditions including vermin and constitutionally inadequate bathroom facilities and plumbing, constitutionally inadequate healthcare, and failure to timely release inmates upon completion of their sentences of incarceration, at prison facilities operated by the New Mexico Corrections Department (“NMCD”). (Doc. 3009 at 4-10.)

         7. The parties have conducted extensive investigation and discovery regarding the claims and defenses raised in their most recent set of motions. However, before all of these motions were fully briefed, the parties jointly sought and obtained a series of stays of the litigation to allow them to pursue settlement negotiations.[3] (Docs. 3019, 3031, 3035, 3038, 3043.)

         8. The parties participated in a settlement conference with United States Magistrate Judge Steven C. Yarbrough on February 25, 2019, March 29, 2019, and April 30, 2019. (Docs. 3029, 3034, 3040.) At a status conference on May 3, 2019, counsel advised the Court that the parties had reached a settlement in principle. (Doc. 3044.)

         9. On June 3, 2019, the parties filed a Joint Motion for Preliminary Approval of Settlement Agreement. (Doc. 3047.) In this motion, the parties sought the Court's preliminary approval of a settlement agreement signed on May 14, 2019. (Id. at 1; see Doc. 3047-1.) The Court held a hearing on the motion on June 11, 2019, after which the parties conferred and clarified language in the agreement. (Docs. 3055, 3067.)

         10. The parties incorporated their clarifications in a Revised Settlement Agreement, which they executed on August 14, 2019. (Doc. 3067.) The parties then filed a second Joint Motion for Preliminary Approval of Settlement Agreement on August 21, 2019. (Id.) In their August 21, 2019 motion, the parties seek the Court's preliminary approval of the Revised Settlement Agreement and represent that the revised agreement “is now the operative version of the Settlement Agreement and . . . supersedes the May 14, 2019 version of the Agreement.”[4] (Id. at 1.) The ...


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