9th Circ. Upholds Contempt Order Against Prison Firm

     (CN) — A private-prison company that ran an understaffed Idaho jail and did not comply with a court order is on the hook for a class settlement and attorneys’ fees, the Ninth Circuit ruled.
     Inmates sued Correction Corporation of America (CCA) in April 2011, claiming the company staffed its Kuna, Idaho, facility with an inadequate number of security guards.
     The parties settled the lawsuit in September 2011, and the Nashville, Tenn.-based company agreed to staff the facility with a specified number of security personnel.
     The settlement was incorporated into a dismissal order, and ordered to stay in place for two years.
     In an April 2013 press release, CCA acknowledged that its employees falsified staffing reports over a seven-month post-settlement period.
     According to the Idaho Department of Corrections, workers falsified staffing records to show that officers were staffing mandatory security posts when the posts were actually vacant for 4,800 hours, in 2012.
     U.S. District Judge David Carter found CCA in contempt in September 2013, and awarded attorney’s fees and costs in the lawsuit.
     CCA, the court ruled, materially breached the settlement, and there was “serious doubt” whether the company ever substantially complied with it.
     The court added that CCA “had ‘compelling reasons to regularly and thoroughly check that’ it was in compliance, and that it knew or should have known it was in material breach of the settlement agreement,” the Ninth Circuit recounted this week.
     CCA hired more guards and sharpened its staffing records following an investigation into the lapse, upon several remedial measures ordered by the district court.
     The settlement, which was slated for two years, was extended an additional two years.
     CCA countered that the district court did not have subject matter jurisdiction to enforce the settlement, which was not enforceable in federal court.
     The Ninth Circuit on Monday disagreed and affirmed the contempt order.
     “When the district court and the parties approved the settlement agreement, there was no dispute that its remedies were narrowly drawn, necessary, and the least intrusive means to bring [Idaho Correctional Center] into compliance with the Eighth Amendment,” Judge William Fletcher wrote for the three-judge panel.
     CCA also argued that the awarded attorneys’ fees violated the Prison Litigation Reform Act, or PLRA.
     Counsel based their fees request at $213 per hour. At the time of the contempt proceedings, the amount was 150 percent of the hourly rate set for counsel appointed in criminal cases, the maximum base rate allowed under PLRA.
     The Ninth Circuit disagreed and found that a lodestar method used to determine the fees was appropriate.
     “CCA overstates the matter, ignoring important limitations on a district court’s determination of attorney’s fees awards and its discretion to enhance them,” Fletcher wrote in the 33-page ruling.
     Inmate Marlin Riggs separately sued CCA over its Idaho facility in 2009. The lawsuit, which was consolidated with a host of similar complaints, claimed the company failed to protect inmates from violence and was “indifferent” to their medical needs.
     Kuna has a population of 15,210, and is located 18 miles southwest of the Gem State’s capital of Boise.

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