Major Cases

In addition to federal impact cases, the office has won numerous state court actions concerning prisoners’ rights. These cases include petitions that have vindicated the right to marry, protected prison visits, and established rights to free expression and to refuse medical care.

Documents and information about many of the Prison Law Office’s major cases are available at the University of Michigan Law School’s Civil Rights Litigation Clearinghouse. Many of the links on this page are to that excellent resource.

The major cases successfully litigated by the Prison Law Office include cases in the following categories:

Collapse AllExpand All

County Jail Conditions

  • Gray v. County of Riverside

    In 2013, the Prison Law Office and co-counsel filed a lawsuit challenging unconstitutional medical and mental health care in the Riverside County Jail. As of early summer 2014, the court is considering the plaintiff’s motion to certify the case as a class action.

    More information about the case

  • Hall v. Mims

    In 2011, the Prison Law Office and co-counsel filed a class action lawsuit seeking to remedy cruel and unusual conditions in the Fresno County Jail. The suit describes how prisoners have been subjected to violence and denied mental health care and medical treatment for life-threatening illnesses. AS of early summer 2014, the parties are attempting to negotiate a consent decree to improve the jail conditions.

    More information about the case

  • Santa Clara County

    November 18, 2015— Attorneys for Santa Clara County jail inmates have filed a federal class action lawsuit challenging the inhumane placement of inmates in tiny solitary confinement cells for long periods of time with little human contact, activity or exercise. Read the Press Release and the Complaint.

Disability Rights

  • Armstrong v. Davis (BPT)

    A federal District Court judge issued an injunction, ordering the Board of Prison Terms to remedy its shocking and appalling failure to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act during parole hearings. The order came after a trial during which one prisoner told of having to leave his wheelchair behind to crawl upstairs to a hearing, a deaf prisoner told the judge he was shackled during his hearing and could not communicate with the sign language interpreter, and a blind inmate said he was offered no help with complicated written materials. The injunction was upheld by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in an opinion published at (2001) 275 F.3d 849.

    Opinion and additional information and documents concerning this on-going case

  • Armstrong v. Wilson

    After finding that the CDC was violating the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act, the Court issued an injunction to improve access to prison programs for prisoners with physical disabilities at all of California’s prisons and parole facilities. The case is reported at 942 F.Supp. 1252 (N.D. Cal. 1996) aff’d 124 F.3d 1019 (9th Cir. 1997). See also, Clark v. California, 123 F.3d 1267 (9th Cir. 1997) (ADA and Rehabilitation Act abrogated State’s 11th Amendment immunity).

    Additional information and documents concerning this on-going case

  • Clark v. California

    After extensive discovery in a class action lawsuit, prison officials agreed to develop and implement a plan to screen inmates for developmental disabilities, and to provide developmentally disabled prisoners with safe housing and supportive services.

    Court opinions, other documents and more information about this on-going case

  • Pennsylvania Dept. of Corrections v. Yeskey

    The U.S. Supreme Court held in a unanimous opinion that the Americans with Disabilities Act applies to state prisoners.

    See the opinion published at 524 U.S. 206

  • Thompson/Bogovich

    The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals held that a parole board may not exclude a class of disabled people (in this case, people with substance abuse histories) from consideration for parole based on the disability.

    See the opinion published at (2002) 295 F.3d 890

Excessive Force

  • Madrid v. Gomez

    The case, reported at 889 F.Supp. 1146 (N.D. Cal. 1995), was filed to remedy unconstitutional conditions at California’s “super-maximum” Pelican Bay State Prison. As a result of this case, the federal court issued injunctions aimed at eliminating excessive force, improving health care and removing prisoners with mental illness from the Security Housing Unit. Pelican Bay is currently being monitored by a court-appointed special master. In 2004, the special master issued a stinging summary of corruption among high level prison officials, who thwarted investigations into prison guard misconduct.

    Special Master's report, court opinions and other case documents, and more information about the case

General Conditions

  • Clement v. CDC

    In a First Amendment victory for prisoners and their correspondents, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a court order striking down a policy that prohibited many California prisoners from receiving mail containing printed material from the internet. The opinion is published at (2004) 364 F.3d 1148.

    More information and case documents

  • Farrell v. Cate

    California Youth Authority (CYA) officials signed a consent decree, agreeing to remedy serious on-going problems with many aspect of the conditions in the CYA’s facilities. For more information, read the discussion under Juvenile Facilities cases below.

  • Mitchell v. Felker

    This case, filed in 2008, challenges the CDCR’s practices of segregating prisoners by race and locking down an entire racial group based on the actions of some individual members of the group. As of 2014, the case is awaiting trial.

    More information and case documents

  • Parsons v.Ryan

    A federal class action lawsuit filed in 2012 by the Prison Law Office, the ACLU, and other attorneys against the Arizona Department of Corrections (ADC) regarding the inadequate medical, mental health, and dental care provided to prisoners, as well as the conditions in maximum custody units.  On October 14, 2014, the parties settled the case.

    On February 18, 2015, the federal judge approved the settlement agreement after reviewing more than 300 comments from prisoners, and the settlement went into effect.  Under the settlement agreement, ADC must fix its health care system and meet more than 100 health care outcome measures, covering issues such as health care for prisoners with chronic medical conditions; care for mentally ill prisoners; and dental care.  ADC also must overhaul the rules for isolation units.  The settlement calls for ongoing monitoring by the prisoners’ lawyers to make sure ADC complies with the settlement agreement.

    Case documents

  • Thompson v. Enomoto

    A consent decree to improve conditions and establish rights for condemned prisoners at San Quentin was in effect from 1980 to 2009.

    More information and case documents

  • Toussaint v. McCarthy

    Conditions in the segregated lock-up units at San Quentin, Folsom, Soledad, and Deuel Vocational Institute were declared unconstitutional by a federal court. The case is reported at 597 F.Supp. 1388 (N.D. Cal. 1984) aff’d 801 F.2d 1080 (9th Cir. 1986).

  • Wilson v. Deukmejian

    A state court found that the conditions in the general population units at San Quentin were cruel and unusual punishment and issued an injunction to ensure that conditions improved.

Juvenile Facilities

  • County Juvenile Hall Cases

    A statewide drive to end illegal and inhumane conditions in California county juvenile halls started in 2006 with the filing of several lawsuits. The suits sought court orders requiring the state authority responsible for being a watchdog over juvenile halls—the Corrections Standards Authority (CSA)—to fulfill its duties and take action to correct intolerable conditions. Such conditions include severe overcrowding, lack of access to school programs, endemic violence, excessive use of force by staff, and virtually non-existent mental health care.

    In 2008, officials responsible for San Joaquin County’s juvenile hall agreed to make numerous improvements in conditions to ensure the safety and humane treatment of wards housed in that facility. The agreement is set forth in a Consent Decree.

    In 2009, Sacramento County officials signed two agreements to provide a blueprint for transforming juvenile detention from a punitive environment to one where the focus is on protection and rehabilitation. Pursuant to a Consent Decree, the Probation Department will make various changes including putting reasonable limits on the population levels in its facilities and adopting policies to end the illegal use of excessive force. In a separate Settlement, the Office of Education agreed to make improvements in the juvenile halls’ education programs.

    Senate Bill 81, which became law in August 2007, made sweeping changes to California’s juvenile justice system by imposing strict eligibility requirements for commitment to state juvenile facilities and channeling resources into county juvenile systems. A 2009 Report examines how counties are adapting to the changes, ways in which implementation could be improved and shortcomings in the legislation.

  • Farrell v. Harper

    In 2003, California Youth Authority (CYA) officials signed a consent decree, agreeing to remedy serious on-going problems with conditions in the CYA’s facilities. The decree requires the CYA to provide wards with adequate and effective care, treatment and rehabilitation services, including reducing violence and the use of force, improving medical and mental health care, reducing the use of lock-ups and providing better education programs. Subsequently, a series of expert reported were filed discussing the many abuses faced by CYA wards. In 2005, the Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ), the agency now in charge of California’s youth facilities, adopted plans to correct problems with the system: the Disabilities Remedial Plan, the Education Remedial Plan, the Medical Care Remedial Plan, the Sexual Behavior Treatment Remedial Plan, the Safety & Welfare Remedial Plan, and the Mental Health Remedial Plan. The on-going case is overseen by a Special Master who issues quarterly reports. View documents filed in the case through 2006 (including the first three Special Master reports).

    In August 2011, a federal judge issued an Order finding that the DJJ was still in violation of its duties to provide education and programming to wards housed in its facilities. The Court granted a motion for enforcement, set deadlines for the DJJ to comply with its obligations under the Remedial Plan.

    The Special Master in the Farrell case has continued to file periodic reports detailing the changes in conditions for wards at Department of Juvenile Justice facilities:

  • Stanislaus County Girls Juvenile Justice Initiative

    Since December 2009, the Prison Law Office has been working with the Stanislaus County Probation Department on the Girls Juvenile Justice Initiative. The goal of the Initiative is two-fold:

    — To better serve young women in Stanislaus County who are at-risk of being involved in the juvenile justice system, are currently in out-of-home placements, or have recently been released from such placements; and
    — To document the process and outcomes of the initiative to assist other counties to identify the most effective ways to meet the needs of their young women at-risk of being involved, currently involved, and previously involved in the juvenile justice system.

    In March 2010, the Girls Juvenile Justice Initiative Planning Team developed and disseminated two online surveys to stakeholders in the fields of criminal justice, education, child development, public and mental health in Stanislaus County. In July 2010, the Stanislaus County Probation Department and the Prison Law Office convened a meeting of service providers who were concerned about the services available to the young women in their community who were at risk of becoming or were already involved in the juvenile justice system. The Stanislaus County Girls Juvenile Justice Initiative Strategic Plan was completed in December 2010 and is organized around a set of focus areas:

    • Assessment of policies and practices negatively impacting girls at-risk of being or currently involved in the juvenile justice system
    • Improvement of gender-responsive, including trauma-informed, services for these girls
    • Provision of gender-responsive training for juvenile justice staff and other service providers
    • Improvement of collaboration between stakeholders to meet the needs of these girls
    • Implementation of assessment and data collection systems to understand girls’ profiles and trends.

    A taskforce was created and began meeting in February 2011 to determine priorities, develop strategies, and assign responsibility to stakeholders committed to implementing the Plan.

    The Stanislaus County Girls Juvenile Justice Initiative was highlighted in the report Improving the Juvenile Justice System for Girls: Lessons from the States from the Georgetown Center on Poverty, Inequality and Public Policy.

    Read the October 2014 Executive Summary of the Evaluation Report and full Evaluation Report.

Lifer Parole Rights

  • In re Rosenkrantz (BPT)

    An on-going battle against the Board of Prison Terms’ and Governor Davis’s lifer parole policies resulted in a California Supreme Court 2002 opinion. The case is published at (2002) 29 Cal.4th 616.

  • In re Rutherford/Luego

    In 2006, a state court found that lifers were being denied their rights to annual parole consideration hearings (under the law in effect at the time) due to delays caused by a backlog of cases. The courts continued monitoring the case. Eventually, the backlog was eliminated and the case was dismissed by a Court Order in 2011.

    More information and case documents

  • In re Smith

    A state Court of Appeal overturned a Governor’s parole recission that was not based on “some evidence” and an individualized consideration of the case factors.

  • Thompson/Bogovich v. Davis

    The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals held that a parole board may not exclude a class of disabled people (in this case, people with substance abuse histories) from consideration for parole based on a disability.

Medical and Mental Health Care

  • Budd v. Cambra

    San Francisco Superior Court Case No. 319578

    In May 2002 the San Francisco Superior Court ruled that the California Department of Corrections violated the law by failing to license health care facilities that provide inpatient treatment to the almost 160,000 prisoners throughout the state. The Court granted plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment and issued a permanent injunction ordering the CDC to comply with the law.

    More information and case documents

  • Coleman v. Wilson

    In 1995, a federal court found that the mental health system operated by the California Department of Corrections was unconstitutional and that prison officials were deliberately indifferent to the needs of mentally ill inmates. All tCDCR institutions are still being monitored by a court-appointed special master. The case is reported at 912 F.Supp. 1282 (E.D. Cal. 1995).

    Opinion and other case documents

  • Farrell v. Cate

    California Youth Authority (CYA) officials signed a consent decree, agreeing to remedy serious on-going problems with many aspect of the conditions in the CYA’s facilities. For more information, read the discussion under Juvenile Facilities cases below.

  • Gates v. Deukmejian

    Prison officials agreed to a consent decree to improve medical care, psychiatric care, the treatment of HIV+ prisoners and to reduce crowding at the California Medical Facility. The consent decree resulted in monitoring of CMF for many years by a special master. The case resulted in published opinions at (9th Cit. 1993) 987 F.2d 1392, (9th Cir. 1994)39 F.3d 1439, and (9th Cir. 1995) 60 F.3d 525.

    Opinions and other case documents

  • Madrid v. Gomez

    Conditions at California’s “super-maximum” Pelican Bay State Prison have been subject to injunctions aimed at eliminating excessive force, improving health care and removing prisoners with mental illness from the Security Housing Unit. As a result of this case, Pelican Bay is currently being monitored by a court-appointed special master. The case is reported at (N.D. Cal. 1995)889 F.Supp. 1146.

    Opinion and other case documents

  • Marin v. Rushen

    A settlement agreement was in effect for many years that is designed to improve medical and psychiatric care at San Quentin.

  • Parsons v.Ryan

    A federal class action lawsuit filed in 2012 by the Prison Law Office, the ACLU, and other attorneys against the Arizona Department of Corrections (ADC) regarding the inadequate medical, mental health, and dental care provided to prisoners, as well as the conditions in maximum custody units.  On October 14, 2014, the parties settled the case.

    On February 18, 2015, the federal judge approved the settlement agreement after reviewing more than 300 comments from prisoners, and the settlement went into effect.  Under the settlement agreement, ADC must fix its health care system and meet more than 100 health care outcome measures, covering issues such as health care for prisoners with chronic medical conditions; care for mentally ill prisoners; and dental care.  ADC also must overhaul the rules for isolation units.  The settlement calls for ongoing monitoring by the prisoners’ lawyers to make sure ADC complies with the settlement agreement.

    Case documents

  • Perez v. Tilton

    An Amended Stipulation and Order filed in this federal class action lawsuit in 2006 requires the CDCR to provide adequate dental care for state prisoners. Compliance was monitored by the prisoners’ attorneys and their consultants, as well as independent court-appointed experts.

    More information and case documents

  • Plata v. Davis/Schwarzenegger

    In the largest ever prison class action lawsuit, prisoners alleged that California officials inflicted cruel and unusual punishment by being deliberately indifferent to serious medical needs. A settlement agreement filed in 2002 required the California Department of Corrections to completely overhaul its medical care policies and procedures, and to pump significant resources into the prisons to ensure timely access to adequate care. In 2005, the federal judge who oversees the case described medical treatment in the prisons as still “horrifying” and “shocking.” Subsequently, in October 2005, the judge ordered that California’s prison medical care system be placed under the control of a court-appointed Receiver. In March 2009, the federal judge issued an Order denying the State’s motion to terminate the appointment of the Receiver. The judge expressed a lack of confidence that the State would provide constitutionally-adequate medical care or maintain improvements made under the Receiver’s supervision. In April 2010, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the lower court order and rejected California’s attempt to end judicial control of its prison health care system.

    In 2013 and 2014, the medical experts in the Plata case issued a series of reports on conditions at some of the state’s prisons:

    More information and case documents

Overcrowding

  • Plata v. Brown

    In a landmark decision in May 2011, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that overcrowding in California’s prisons resulted in cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The Court affirmed a January 2010 order made by a three-judge federal court directing California officials to reduce the state’s severe prison overcrowding down to 137.5 percent of design capacity. The order was issued after the judges found that overcrowding is the primary cause of unconstitutional conditions in California’s prisons, such as the system’s inability to provide competent and timely medical and mental health care for prisoners. As of spring 2014, the three-judge court has granted California’s request for a two year extension of time to fully reduce prison overcrowding to the 137.5 percent level required by the U.S. Supreme Court. Read the Opinion and Order.

    Older pleadings and court orders filed in the case

Parolee Rights

  • Armstrong v. Davis (BPT)

    A federal District Court judge issued an injunction, ordering the Board of Prison Terms to remedy its shocking and appalling failure to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act during parole hearings. The order came after a trial during which one prisoner told of having to leave his wheelchair behind to crawl upstairs to a hearing, a deaf prisoner told the judge he was shackled during his hearing and could not communicate with the sign language interpreter, and a blind inmate said he was offered no help with complicated written materials. The injunction was upheld by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals (2001) 275 F.3d 849.

    Ninth Circuit opinion, the remedial plan adopted in 2002, and other case documents

  • Valdivia v. Davis

    In 2002, a federal court found that that delays in the parole revocation process violated due process protections. (Valdivia v. Davis (E.D. 2002) 206 F.Supp.2d 1068.) The California Department of Corrections and Board of Prison Terms agreed to a stipulated permanent injunction to improve the timeliness of parole revocation proceedings, provide for probable cause hearings and appoint attorneys to represent all parolees facing revocation proceedings. The injunction remained in place until 2013, when parole revocation proceedings were turned over to the county courts and the federal court issued an Order dismissing the case as moot.

    Other case documents

Policy & California Legislation

  • CO-SPONSOR

    SB 1157 (Mitchell)  – This bill would preserve meaningful visitation rights for the families of incarcerated people in local correctional and juvenile facilities and ensure that those rights are the same regardless of who owns the facility.  More Info

    SB-1157 – The California Senate approved a bill authored by Sen. Holly Mitchell (D- Los Angeles) to prohibit California jails from eliminating in-person visits. SB 1157, the Strengthening Family Connections: In-Person Visitation bill, would preserve visitation rights for people in California county jails, juvenile facilities, and private facilities by clarifying that video technology cannot replace in-person visits. After passing the Senate 32-6 with bipartisan support, SB 1157 now heads to the Assembly.  More Info

     

  • SUPPORT

    AB 2195 (Bonilla) – This bill would require the Department of Justice (DOJ), in consultation with the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) to collect data on the number of individuals convicted for and sentenced under the felony murder rule.  More Info

    SB 759 (Anderson and Handcock) – This bill will promote good behavior and incentivize participation in rehabilitation programs by restoring eligibility for earning credits for prisoners housed in Security Housing Units (SHU’s), Psychiatric Services Units and Administrative Segregation Units.  More Info

     

MAIN MENU