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Prison Legal News v. Corrections Corporation of America (CCA - VT), Complaint 2013

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STATE OF VERMONT
SUPERIOR COURT
CIVIL DIVISION
Prison Legal News,
Plaintiff
Washington Unit
Docket No. 332-5-13 WNCV

v.
Corrections Corporation of America,
Defendant
Complaint

In this action, a periodical seeks to dislodge records showing a private corporation’s
performance of duties delegated to it by the Vermont Department of Corrections. When
providing for the custody of and care for inmates committed to the Department of Corrections by
this Court, the defendant stands in the shoes of the Department and is a “public agency” under
the Access to Public Records Act. Vt. Stat. Ann. tit. 1, §317(b)(1). Documents produced or
acquired during the defendant’s performance of delegated duties are public records, and must be
produced to the plaintiff.

Jurisdiction and Venue
1.

This Court has jurisdiction to hear public records enforcement actions in accordance with
Vt. Stat. Ann. tit. 1, § 319(a).

2.

This Court has personal jurisdiction over the defendant by virtue of the defendant’s
availing itself of the laws of Vermont, and purposefully directing commercial activities to
the State of Vermont.

3.

Venue is proper in this Unit because the public records act expressly provides for it. Id.
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Parties
4.

Plaintiff Prison Legal News is a nationwide, monthly publication dealing with prisoner
rights, prisoner litigation, and prison conditions. Prison Legal News also publishes and
sells books aimed at incarcerated people.

5.

Prison Legal News is published by the Human Rights Defense Center, a non-profit
corporation headquartered in West Brattleboro, Vermont.

6.

Defendant Corrections Corporation of America is a for-profit, publicly traded Maryland
corporation headquartered in Tennessee.

Facts
7.

For two hundred years, the Vermont Department of Corrections has been responsible for
the custody, control, and rehabilitation of those persons committed to it by the Vermont
judiciary. See 1808 Acts & Laws of Vermont 107-114 (establishing a state prison, and a
five-member prison commission); 1947 Acts & Resolves (replacing the prison
commission with the Department of Institutions and Corrections to oversee the state
prison, reformatories, and work camps); 1970 Acts & Resolves 352 (creating the modern
Department of Corrections within the Agency of Human Services “as the successor to
and the continuation of” the prior administrative oversight mechanisms).

8.

To fulfill some of its responsibilities, the Department of Corrections operates prisons in
Newport, Swanton, South Burlington, St. Johnsbury, Rutland, Windsor, and Springfield.

9.

For some time, however, more people have been committed to the Department’s custody
than it has space for in its prisons.

10.

From at least July 2007 until the present, the Department has delegated its responsibilities
of custody and care for some prisoners to the defendant. See State of Vermont Contract
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# 11660 [attached as Appendix A]; State of Vermont Contract # 11660, Am. # 1 [attached
as Appendix B]; State of Vermont Contract # 11660, Am. # 2 [attached as Appendix C];
State of Vermont Contract # 11660, Am. # 3 [attached as Appendix D]; State of Vermont
Contract # 19863 [attached as Appendix E].
11.

Under its contracts with the Department, the defendant has housed Vermont inmates in
prisons that it owns and/or operates in Beattyville, Kentucky; Sayre, Oklahoma; North
Tutwiler, Mississippi; Mason, Tennessee, App. A at 16, and Florence, Arizona. App. C at
2.

12.

Under the contracts, the Corrections Corporation of America has been, and is, required to
provide inmates sent to it
with care and treatment; furnishing subsistence and all necessary routine medical
care; providing for their physical needs; making programs of training and
treatment consistent with inmates’ needs available; retaining the inmates in safe,
supervised custody; maintaining proper discipline and control; [and] making
certain that sentences and orders of the committing court . . . are faithfully
executed.
App. A at 17; App. E at 18.

13.

To that end, the defendant has been, and is, responsible for providing Vermont inmates:
(a) uniform clothing to wear, App. A at 20; App. E at 20,
(b) work opportunities and occupational training, App. A at 21; App. E at 21;
(c) medical care “comparable to that available to inmates in Vermont,” App. A at 29;
App. E at 29,
(d) “a total pharmaceutical system” suitable for inmates’ needs, App. A at 34; App. E at
33,
(e) “preventive and restorative” dental care, App. A at 35; App. E at 34,
(f) “all services related to the mental health needs of State inmates,” App. A at 36; App.

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E at 34,
(g) suicide prevention screening, App. A at 37; App. E at 35,
(h) access to state and federal legal materials, App. A at 43; App. E at 40,
(i) “on-site facilities for all attorney calls,” App. A at 44; App. E at 41,
(j) mail service, App. A at 44; App. E at 41, and
(k) indoor and outdoor recreational equipment, among other items. App. A at 22; App. E
at 22.
14.

The Department of Corrections does not furnish the personnel necessary to perform the
defendant’s contractual duties.

15.

The defendant is obligated to provide the Department with extensive information about
the condition of Vermonters committed to its care under the contract.

16.

The Department has “the right at all reasonable times to inspect or otherwise evaluate the
work performed” by the defendant, App. A at 6; App. C at 5; App. D at 5; App. E at 6,
including by entering any of the prisons housing Vermonters “at all reasonable times,”
and by inspecting any documents “required for such evaluation purposes.” App. A at 19;
App. E at 19. It is also entitled to inspect any Vermont inmate’s health records, App. A at
37; App. E at 35.

17.

Additionally, the Corrections Corporation of America provides Vermont with extensive
and frequent information about the Vermont prisoners in its care. Among other things,
the defendant has been, and is, obligated to report:
(a) all inmate discipline within seventy-two hours of its occurrence, App. A at 22; App. E
at 23;
(b) a summary of all inmate grievances in a monthly report, App. A at 23; App. E at 24;
(c) a detailed monthly report on all inmates once a month, App. A at 24; App. E at 42;
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(d) inmate injuries, escapes, or deaths within two hours of their occurrences, App. A at
24; App. E at 25;
(e) results of a random urinalysis program that tests inmates for controlled substances,
App. E at 42;
(f) results of a “shakedown” program that requires the contractor to empty and search the
cells of ten percent of all Vermont inmates per month, id.; id. at 28;
(g) prison rape statistics, id. at 42;
(h) information about educational programs and participation, id.;
(i) information about work programs and participation, id.; and
(j) information about the religious services offered in each prison. Id.
18.

The defendant must also keep the state apprised of lawsuits filed by Vermont inmates. It
is required to notify the state “within 10 days of receiving any claim for damages, notice
of claims, pre-claims, or service of judgments or claims, for any act or omission”
occurring in the performance of the contract. App. A at 5; App. C at 4; App. D at 4; App.
E at 5. And, it is required to provide the state with a monthly report on new and pending
lawsuits by Vermont inmates. App. E at 42.

19.

For its performance of these and other contractual duties, the Department of Corrections
has paid the defendant at least $72.6 million since July 1, 2007.

Prison Legal News’s Records Request
20.

Prison Legal News has reported extensively on the growth of private prison industry, and
on conditions in private prisons.

21.

Prison Legal News frequently reports about the occurrence of lawsuits against private
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prison operators, and about the resolution of those suits, whether by settlement or
judgment.
22.

Prison Legal News reports the resolution of prisoner suits against private prison operators
in part to enable the public to assess the merit of the claims, and the wisdom of private
prison use by government agencies.

23.

In furtherance of its reporting on the subject, Prison Legal News tendered a request to the
defendant seeking:
All records related to any payments made by any entity to any claimants or their
attorneys pursuant to judgments against, or settlements with, the State of Vermont
(or any of its agencies) and/or the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) in
connection with services provided to the Vermont Department of Corrections by
CCA. Your response should include, but not be limited to: (a) for each judgment
and/or settlement, the most recent claim or complaint or amended complaint
detailing the legal demand; (b) all settlement agreements, releases and documents
related to disbursement of settlement funds; (c) any record of the imposition of
sanctions by a court, and payment thereof; and (d) if payment was made pursuant
to a judgment, the jury verdict and/or findings of fact and conclusions of law
forming the basis for the judgment.
Letter from Prison Legal News to Corrections Corp. of Am. 1 (Sep. 10, 2012)
(attached as Appendix F).

24.

The defendant ignored the Prison Legal News request.

25.

Prison Legal News construed the defendant’s failure to respond as a constructive denial,
and appealed the denial in writing. Letter from Prison Legal News to Corrections Corp.
of Am. (Oct. 23, 2012) (attached as Appendix G).

26.

The defendant ignored the Prison Legal News appeal.

27.

Both the plaintiff’s request and appeal were sent to Corrections Corporation of America
by postage-prepaid, certified mail.

28.

The United States Postal Service’s tracking system confirmed that both the plaintiff’s
request and appeal were delivered to the defendant. See Screenshot, USPS Track &
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Confirm for Item 7011 2970 0000 2452 4604,
https://tools.usps.com/go/TrackConfirmAction_input (Sep. 13, 2012) (attached as
Appendix H); Screenshot, USPS Track & Confirm for Item 7009 2250 0000 9564 7804,
https://tools.usps.com/go/TrackConfirmAction_input (Oct. 26, 2012) (attached as
Appendix I).

Prison Legal News’s Count Against the Defendant
29.

By substituting for the Department of Corrections in housing and caring for Vermont
prisoners, the defendant is a “public agency” as that term is defined by Vt. Stat. Ann. tit.
1, § 317(b).

30.

The information requested by Prison Legal News comprises public records as that term is
defined by Vt. Stat. Ann. tit. 1, § 317(b).

31.

By failing to provide Prison Legal News with copies of public records, the defendant has
contravened the Access to Public Records Act.

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Request for Relief
32.

Accordingly, Prison Legal News is entitled to have this Court:
(a) declare that the defendant is a public agency inasmuch as it substitutes for the
Department of Corrections;
(b) declare that the data sought are public records;
(c) declare that the defendant’s continued withholding of the requested records is
unlawful;
(d) enjoin the defendant from continuing to withhold the requested records; and
(e) award Prison Legal News reimbursement of its costs and attorney fees reasonably
incurred in bringing this action as provided by Vt. Stat. Ann. tit. 1, § 319(d)(1).

The American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Vermont

____________/s/___________
Dan Barrett
ACLU Foundation of Vermont
137 Elm Street
Montpelier, VT 05602
(802) 223-6304
e-filings@acluvt.org

Counsel for Prison Legal News
May 31, 2013

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