Schultz v. Wells, et al.

A plaintiff prisoner entered into a settlement agreement in 1991 under which the department agreed to house the plaintiff in a cell with a non-smoking inmate.  Ten years later, the prisoner complained that he was being housed with a smoker.  The department moved to terminate prospective relief.  Five years after the settlement, Congress passed the Prison Litigation Reform Act, which provides that: “In any civil litigation with respect to prison conditions in which prospective relief is ordered, such relief shall be terminable upon the motion of any party or intervener.” The Court granted the defendants’ motion to terminate prospective relief, ruling that “Defendants unquestionably have substantially complied with the Court’s 1991 order, with only very few, short-term violations.”  The Court also noted that the Plaintiff “currently is not being exposed to secondhand smoke” and that the “defendants remain obligated under the Constitution to assure that they are not deliberately indifferent to Plaintiff’s serious medical needs.”

On appeal, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, at 73 Fed. Appx. 794, 2003 U.S. App. LEXIS 16378, vacated the motion for termination of prospective relief and remanded the case.  The Court of Appeals ruled that the parties’ 1991 settlement agreement was not subject to the termination provision of 18 U.S.C.S. sec. 3626 and that Congress had intended that the Prisoner Litigation Reform Act require the termination of consent decrees, not private settlements.

2002 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 24624 (U.S.D.C. W.D. Mich., So. Div. 2002).