APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA D.C. Civil No. 78-cv-00538 District Judge: The Honorable Berle M. Schiller
Before: BECKER,*fn1 Barry and BRIGHT,*fn2 Circuit Judges
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Barry, Circuit Judge
At issue in this appeal is whether a permanent injunction, currently in effect and requiring that the Para-Professional Law Clinic ("Clinic") at the State Correctional Institute at Graterford, Pennsylvania ("Graterford") remain open, is necessary to correct "current and ongoing" violations of the inmates' constitutional right of access to the courts. The plaintiffs — the Clinic and 22 inmates all but one of whom are members of the Clinic — concede that the rights of inmates at Graterford are not currently being violated. They argue, instead, that those rights will be violated if the injunction is lifted, because they predict that the defendant state officials will then proceed to abolish the Clinic. A prediction, however, is not enough to forestall the termination of the injunction because the defendants' future plans, if plans they be, do not constitute a current and ongoing violation of the inmates' rights as required by the Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1995 ("PLRA"). Moreover, even if the defendants do abolish the Clinic, the inmates' constitutional right to access the courts will not necessarily be violated. We, therefore, will affirm the order of the District Court granting defendants' motion to terminate the injunction.
The Para-Professional Law Clinic at the State Correctional Institute at Graterford was founded by a group of inmates in 1971 to provide other inmates, primarily those who were illiterate, with legal assistance. It was incorporated in 1976 as a non-profit corporation under Pennsylvania law for the purpose of providing legal services to Graterford inmates.
The Clinic is governed by a board of directors composed largely of inmate officers elected by the Clinic's inmate members. The twenty-one inmates who currently work for the Clinic assist other inmates with legal matters including post-conviction relief and habeas petitions, parole matters and civil rights actions. They are compensated for this work as they would be for any other Department of Corrections work assignment.
In December of 1977, state officials decided to close the Clinic, effective February 15, 1978. In the interim, the Clinic was to accept no new cases and its work was to be phased out. The then-plaintiffs, inmates at Graterford, went to federal court to challenge the closing and, on February 17, 1978, Chief Judge Joseph S. Lord, III issued a preliminary injunction ordering that the Clinic be reopened. Wade v. Kane, 448 F.Supp. 678, 685 (D.C. Pa. 1978). On July 31, 1986, in a case consolidated with Wade, Judge Lord held an evidentiary hearing and, on March 25, 1987, permanently enjoined the closing of the Clinic or any of its facilities or offices. United States of America ex rel. Para-Professional Law Clinic v. Kane, 656 F. Supp. 1099, 1108 (E.D. Pa. 1987). Judge Lord based the injunction on his conclusion that the Clinic was integral to inmates' access to the courts, in particular inmates who were functionally illiterate or housed in administrative or disciplinary custody.
Just over ten years later, on April 26, 1996, the Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1995 was signed into law as Title VIII of the Omnibus Consolidated Rescissions and Appropriations Act of 1996. Omnibus Consolidated Rescissions and Appropriations Act of 1996, Pub. L. No. 104-134, §§ 801-810, 110 Stat. 1321 (1996). Congress enacted the PLRA in an apparent effort (1) to discourage prisoners from filing frivolous lawsuits which strain the judiciary's scarce resources and (2) to end the federal courts' perceived micro-management of our nation's prisons. Imprisoned Citizens Union v. Ridge, 169 F.3d 178, 189 (3d Cir. 1999). The provision of the PLRA at issue in this case, and we turn to that shortly, reduces the federal courts' oversight role by limiting the courts' authority to award prospective relief in cases challenging conditions at prison facilities, as well as the courts' continued ability to enforce previously entered consent decrees and injunctions in such cases. Miller v. French, 530 U.S. 327, 347 (2000); Cason v. Seckinger, 231 F.3d 777, 780 (11th Cir. 2000). According to the relevant House Conference Report, the purpose of the provision is to ensure that "prison condition remedies do not go beyond the measures necessary to remedy federal rights violations and that public safety and criminal justice needs are given appropriate weight in framing such remedies." H.R. Conf. Rep. No. 104-378, at 166 (1995).
On February 14, 2001, the defendants moved to terminate Judge Lord's 1987 injunction pursuant to Section 802 of the PLRA, codified at 18 U.S.C. § 3626, which provides in relevant part that "[i]n any civil action with respect to prison conditions in which prospective relief is ordered, such relief shall be terminable upon the motion of any party or intervenor... in the case of an order issued on or before the date of enactment of the Prison Litigation Reform Act, 2 years after such date of enactment." 18 U.S.C. § 3626(b)(1)(A)(iii).
Plaintiffs opposed the motion, arguing that the following exception applied: "Prospective relief shall not terminate if the court makes written findings based on the record that prospective relief remains necessary to correct a current and ongoing violation of the Federal right, extends no further than necessary to correct the violation of the Federal right, and that the prospective relief is narrowly drawn and the least intrusive means to correct the violation." 18 U.S.C. § 3626(b)(3). Plaintiffs did not claim that there was a current and ongoing violation of their right of access to the courts; indeed, they conceded there was not because, in their view, the Clinic prevented such a violation from occurring. They argued that Section 3626(b)(3) nevertheless applied, because if the injunction were lifted, defendants would close the Clinic and would fail to replace it with an adequate substitute.*fn3
District Court Judge Berle M. Schiller held an evidentiary hearing on the motion to terminate the injunction and, in a Memorandum and Order dated May 29, 2002, rejected plaintiffs' argument that the contemplated closure of the Clinic established that there was a "widespread, current, and ongoing" violation of inmates' right of access to the ...