Porter v. Clarke, No. 16-7044 (4th Cir. 2017)Annotate this Case
Plaintiffs, three death row inmates in Virginia, filed suit alleging that their conditions of confinement amounted to cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment. Death row inmates, among other things, spent 23 hours a day alone; had only non-contact visits and contact visitations with immediate family members were subject to unspecified "extreme circumstances" with the warden maintaining unconstrained discretion to grant or deny such requests; and were barred from joining general population inmates for vocational, educational, or behavioral programming. After plaintiffs filed their complaint, defendants substantially changed the policies governing the conditions of confinement for inmates on Virginia's death row, addressing virtually all of the issues raised in plaintiffs' complaint. The district court concluded that plaintiffs' action was moot. The court agreed with plaintiffs that defendants' voluntary cessation of the challenged practice has not yet mooted this action because defendants failed to meet the Supreme Court's requirement of showing that it was absolutely clear the allegedly wrongful behavior could not reasonably be expected to recur. In this case, nothing bars the Corrections Department from reverting to the challenged policies in the future. Accordingly, the court reversed and remanded.