Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Braggs v. Dunn

United States District Court, M.D. Alabama

May 13, 2019

EDWARD BRAGGS, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
JEFFERSON S. DUNN, in his official capacity as Commissioner of the Alabama Department of Corrections, et al., Defendants.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          MYRON H. THOMPSON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This 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.

         I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         The 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.

         The 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.

         The 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.

         On 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).

         II. DISCUSSION

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.[*]

         The 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.

         The 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 compensation increases.

         For 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 this dispute.

         A. First Category: Recommended ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.