LOCATION: Beth Israel Hospital
DOCKET NO.: 76-1660
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1975-1981)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit
CITATION: 437 US 678 (1978)
ARGUED: Feb 21, 1978
DECIDED: Jun 23, 1978
Garner L. Taylor, Jr. - Argued the cause for the petitioners
Philip E. Kaplan - Argued the cause for the respondents
Facts of the case
Litigation challenging the conditions in the Arkansas prison system began in 1969. In evaluating the diet and sleeping arrangements of the inmates, the physical condition of cells, and the behavior of prison guards (some of whom were inmates who had been issued guns), a District Court called the conditions which inmates were forced to face "a dark and evil world completely alien to the free world." This case involved a challenge to the practice of "punitive isolation" in Arkansas prisons which was often done for indiscriminate periods of time in crowded windowless cells.
Did punitive isolation for more than thirty days in the Arkansas prison system constitute cruel and unusual punishment as prohibited by the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments?
Media for Hutto v. FinneyAudio Transcription for Oral Argument - February 21, 1978 in Hutto v. Finney
Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - June 23, 1978 in Hutto v. Finney
Warren E. Burger:
The judgment and opinion of the Court in Hutto against Finney will be announced by Mr. Justice Stevens.
John Paul Stevens:
This case comes to us from the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit.
It is hopefully the last chapter in a protected piece of litigation, involving present conditions in the Arkansas penal system.
Three questions are presented in this case.
The first is whether it was permissible for the trial judge as a part of the comprehensive relief he granted to for the benefit of the prisoners who challenged the conditions in that system to include a requirement that sentences to punitive solitary isolation not exceed 30 days.
The Court holds that this was within the trial judge's discretion.
On this part of the case, eight members of the Court agree, there is a dissenting opinion on this point filed by Mr. Justice Rehnquist.
The second question presented was whether it was appropriate for the trial judge to allow an attorney’s fee of $20,000 to counsel for the plaintiffs for services in the trial court to be paid out of the funds of the department of corrections.
The Court holds on this issue that since there was a finding of bad faith in the failure of the correction officials to abide by prior decrees and make corrections as promptly as the Court had indicated they should be made that the fee award is justified and is not prohibited by the Eleventh Amendment to the United States Constitution.
On this issue, seven members of the Court are in agreement.
Mr. Justice Rehnquist is joined by Justice White in dissenting on this point.
The third issue is whether it was appropriate for the Court of Appeals to add a further fee award of $2500 for services to counsel on appeal.
This award was made after Congress had passed a statute, providing for the award of fees in cases of this kind and the question that was presented by the statute is whether it applies to litigation where the fee will be paid by the state even though the award, even though the parties to the litigation are persons sued in their official capacities.
On this issue the Court also sustains the award, but the Court is more closely divided.
It is five to four on this issue.
Mr. Justice Powell has written a dissenting opinion on this question in which he has joined by the Chief Justice and also again Justice White and Justice Rehnquist dissent on this issue, so that net result of the case is that the entire judgment is affirmed.
Warren E. Burger:
Thank you, Mr. Justice Stevens.