Filed Date: June 2, 2020
Closed Date: Dec. 11, 2020
Clearinghouse coding complete
COVID-19 Summary: This is a class action petition brought by a group of medically vulnerable people and people with disabilities detained at the Orange County Jail seeking writs of habeas corpus and mandate, as well as declaratory relief. The individual petitioners sought immediate release or transfer and an order requiring the Orange County Jail to take steps to mitigate the risk of harm from COVID-19. The Superior Court of California, County of Orange, agreed with the petitioners and declared that the respondent’s deliberate indifference to the substantial risk of harm from COVID-19 infection violated the petitioners’ rights under the California Constitution. The court granted the petitions for writ of habeas corpus and writ of mandate, ordering the Orange County Jail to create a release plan to reduce jail population by 50%, enforce proper social distancing, and impose and maintain a strict policy of facemask wearing compliance by all staff. On May 6, 2021, the defendant filed a motion to discharge the writs of mandate and habeas corpus and to dismiss the entire action. The plaintiffs filed a notice of non-opposition and a statement of clarification on May 27 and on June 18, the court dismissed the amended petition.
On June 2, 2020, six individuals in the custody the Orange County Jail filed a class action Verified Petition for Writs of Mandate and Habeas Corpus and Complaint for Injunctive Relief on behalf of themselves and all others situated against Don Barnes, in his official capacity as Sheriff of Orange County, California. The case was reassigned several times to different judges, who recused themselves, and was eventually reassigned to Judge Peter Wilson.
In August, five of the original six petitioners filed an amended petition and complaint, submitting four volumes of documentary evidence, including expert declarations, to the court for its consideration.
Noting that the Orange County Jail was a large and crowded facility, the petitioners alleged that detained individuals could not isolate nor maintain safe social distance in the Jail and that the dangerous conditions at the Jail posed a particular threat to the petitioners and approximately 500 other medically vulnerable detainees at a heightened risk of serious infection and death from COVID-19. The petitioners asserted that the placement of detained persons in group barracks or multi-person cells, the continued use of communal spaces, and inadequate ventilation facilitated the transmission of COVID-19 throughout the Jail and that jail officials failed to provide for adequate contact tracing and testing to limit the spread of the virus. They further alleged that they were at times denied adequate medical care or held in disciplinary isolation due to the spread of COVID-19 within the Jail.
Although the respondent did not challenge the majority of the petitioners’ factual allegations, he contended that he had taken reasonable and adequate steps to mitigate the risk posed by COVID-19.
The plaintiffs filed an amended petition, some of which was conditionally under seal, on September 9. The defendant filed a motion to dismiss and a demurrer to the amended complaint in response on October 8.
On October 29, 2020, the court denied the respondent’s motion to dismiss, finding that the petitioners had made a prima facie showing that they were entitled to relief and ordered the respondent to show cause. The court heard oral argument on December 7, 2020. Four days later, on December 11, the court found that the petitioners had proven both deliberate indifference and disability discrimination and granted the writs of habeas corpus and mandate.
The court specifically found that “the measures taken [to mitigate the risk of COVID-19] lack the very cornerstone of a successful abatement plan, namely a sufficient reduction in Jail population to enable proper social distancing” and that “the current conditions in the Jail place [medically vulnerable incarcerated people] at substantially greater risk of and from a COVID-19 infection.”
The court ordered the immediate release or transfer of the two petitioners still incarcerated. It further ordered the Sheriff to create a Release Plan and reduce the Orange County Jail population by approximately 50%; to maintain proper social distancing; and to impose and maintain a strict policy of facemask wearing compliance by all staff.
On May 6, 2021, the defendant filed a motion to discharge the writs of mandate and habeas corpus and to dismiss the entire action. The plaintiffs filed a notice of non-opposition and a statement of clarification on May 27 and on June 18, the court dismissed the amended petition.
The parties engaged in briefing and hearings regarding attorneys fees from late summer through the winter of 2021.
Rachel Harrington (10/18/2021)
Wilson, Gordon Peter (Louisiana)
Wilson, Gordon Peter (Louisiana)
Last updated May 11, 2022, 8 p.m.Docket sheet not available via the Clearinghouse.
State / Territory: California
Filing Date: June 2, 2020
Closing Date: Dec. 11, 2020
Case Ongoing: No
Medically vulnerable individuals in the custody of Orange County Jail.
Public Interest Lawyer: Yes
Filed Pro Se: No
Class Action Sought: Yes
Class Action Outcome: Mooted before ruling
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Prevailing Party: Plaintiff
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