United States District Court, M.D. Alabama
OPINION AND ORDER
H. THOMPSON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
court previously found that severe correctional understaffing
contributes to constitutionally inadequate mental-health care
in Alabama prisons. Consequently, the court ordered the
defendants to increase correctional staffing. To this end,
the court required the defendants to implement
recommendations for recruitment and retention contained in an
expert report by the firm Warren Averett (WA). The plaintiffs
moved to unseal redacted portions of the WA report, including
the recommended correctional-officer compensation increases.
The plaintiffs contended that the public has a strong
interest in accessing them, given that they could impact
significant government spending. By contrast, the defendants
argued that unsealing the redacted sections would undermine
their ability to implement recommended compensation
increases. Last month, the court granted the plaintiffs'
motion to unseal the entire report, explaining that the
public's interest in accessing the redacted portions of
the report outweighs the defendants' interest in
confidentiality. This opinion elaborates on the reasons for
unsealing the report.
plaintiffs in this class-action lawsuit include a group of
mentally ill prisoners in the custody of the Alabama
Department of Corrections (ADOC). The defendants are the ADOC
Commissioner and Associate Commissioner of Health Services,
who are both sued in only their official capacities. In a
liability opinion entered in June 2017, this court found that
ADOC's mental-health care for prisoners in its custody
was, simply put, “horrendously inadequate.”
Braggs v. Dunn, 257 F.Supp.3d 1171, 1267 (M.D. Ala.
2017) (Thompson, J.). The court laid out seven factors
contributing to the Eighth Amendment violation. Id.
at 1267-68. Additionally, it found that “persistent and
severe shortages of mental-health staff and correctional
staff” constitute an “overarching issue[ ] that
permeate[s] each of the ... contributing factors of
inadequate mental-health care.” Id. at 1268.
court subsequently issued a remedial opinion on
understaffing, see Braggs v. Dunn, 2018 WL 985759,
at *1 (M.D. Ala. Feb. 20, 2018) (Thompson, J.), along with a
remedial order, see Braggs v. Dunn, 2018 WL 7106346,
at *1 (M.D. Ala. Feb. 20, 2018) (Thompson, J.). The order
required the defendants to increase correctional staffing.
See id.; Savages' Report (doc. no. 1813-1). The
order also adopted the defendants' proposal that they
employ two consultants--Dr. Stephen Condrey and the firm
WA--to determine how to recruit, hire, and retain more
correctional officers. See Braggs, 2018 WL 985759 at
*4. The defendants had already retained those two consultants
prior to the order. See id.
order required Dr. Condrey to submit to ADOC recommendations
related to correctional officer “compensation and
benefits, ” and for the defendants to file the
recommendations with the court by April 2, 2018.
Braggs, 2018 WL 7106346 at 1. It also required the
firm WA to submit recommendations to ADOC related to
correctional officer “recruitment and retention,
” and for defendants to file the recommendations with
the court by November 2, 2018. Id. By December 1,
2018, ADOC was required “to implement” the
recommendations of consultants Dr. Condrey and WA, as
modified by any agreement between the parties or orders of
the court. See id.
March 31, 2018, the defendants publicly filed Dr.
Condrey's recommendations, including recommended
compensation increases. See Condrey Report (doc. no.
1725-1). On November 2, 2018, the defendants filed the WA
report. See Redacted WA Report (doc. no. 2150-1).
Unlike Dr. Condrey's recommendations, portions of the WA
report--including the recommended compensation
increases--were filed under seal. See Id. The
plaintiffs moved to unseal the WA report in its entirety.
See Motion to Unseal (doc. no. 2157).
The public has a common-law right to inspect and copy
judicial records and documents. See Nixon v. Warner
Commc'ns, Inc., 435 U.S. 589, 597 (1978); see
also Newman v. Graddick, 696 F.2d 796, 802-04 (11th Cir.
1983) (applying the common-law right to access judicial
records in a class action brought by Alabama prisoners). The
“test for whether a judicial record can be withheld
from the public is a balancing test that weighs the competing
interests of the parties to determine whether there is good
cause to deny the public the right to access the
document.” F.T.C. v. AbbVie Prods., LLC, 713
F.3d 54, 62 (11th Cir. 2013) (internal quotation marks
omitted). This balancing test weighs “the public
interest in accessing court documents against a party's
interest in keeping the information confidential.”
Romero v. Drummond Co., 480 F.3d 1234, 1246 (11th
Cir. 2007). On the public's side of the scale is the
“presumption ... in favor of public access to judicial
records.” Nixon, 435 U.S. at 602.[*]
defendants conceded that certain portions of the report that
they originally redacted no longer need to remain under seal.
Those portions include data concerning correctional staffing
levels at ADOC facilities, as well as current and past
salaries for correctional staff.
redacted portions of the report that remain in dispute fall
into three categories. The first category is comprised of the
WA report's recommended compensation increases for
correctional officers, including salaries and bonuses. The
second includes comparisons between ADOC correctional
officers' current compensation and that of similar jobs
in the public and private sectors. The third includes
WA's estimated costs of implementing the recommended
each category, the dispositive question is whether the
public's interest in accessing the information outweighs
the defendants' interest in keeping it confidential. As
explained below, the answer is yes for each category. The
court will begin its analysis with the first
category--recommended compensation increases--which has been
the primary focus of the defendants' arguments, and thus
First Category: Recommended ...