Filed Date: June 29, 1994
Clearinghouse coding complete
On June 29, 1994, disabled prisoners and parolees in California filed this lawsuit in the U.S. District Court of the Northern District of California, charging that, on account of their disabilities, the two divisions of the California Youth and Adult Corrections Authority California, Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation ("CDCR") and Board of Prison Terms ("BPT"), were generally depriving disabled prisoners of benefits and accommodations provided to other prisoners or required by due process. The plaintiffs were represented by the Prison Law Office, the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund, and private attorneys. They sought declaratory and injunctive relief for violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), 42 U.S.C. § 12131-34, the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Rehab Act), 29 U.S.C. § 794, and the Due Process Clause of the Constitution. Judge Claudia Wilken presided over the case.
The district court certified the plaintiff class on January 13, 1995. On December 24, 1998, the parties stipulated to amend the class definition to include "all present and future California state prisoners and parolees with mobility, sight, hearing, learning, and kidney disabilities that substantially limit one or more of their major life activities." The class was further modified on January 5, 1999 to include prisoners and parolees with developmental disabilities, and plaintiffs filed an amended complaint according to this modified class on January 8, 1999.
CDCR Settlement Agreement (1994 through 2000)
By agreement of the parties, the claims against CDCR (prison claims) and BPT (parolee claims) were bifurcated and proceeded on two different litigation tracks. The plaintiffs and CDCR entered into a settlement agreement that agreed to liability for CDCR, if the district court found the ADA and Rehab Act applied to prisons. On September 20, 1996, the district court found that both statutes applied to state prisons. 942 F.Supp. 1252. The court also found that the State was not entitled to immunity under the Eleventh Amendment for its violations of the ADA and Rehab Act. The district court entered a remedial order and injunction directing CDCR to develop a plan for compliance with the statutes by improving access to prison programs for prisoners with physical disabilities at all of California's prisons and parole facilities. The State appealed, and in an opinion by Judge Alfred Goodwin, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed on August 27, 1997. 124 F.3d 1019. The U.S. Supreme Court denied certiorari on June 22, 1998. 524 U.S. 937.
Following negotiations between the parties regarding remedial plans, the district court ordered the CDCR to comply with the remedial plan on January 8, 1999. The CDCR appealed part of the plans, arguing that that the district court erred in (1) ordering the CDCR to include additional southern prisons in institutions selected to house inmates with disabilities (Disability Placement Plan), and (2) imposing on the CDCR a burden of persuasion with regard to the verification of inmates’ disabilities (Verification Process). The CDCR argued that in ordering these portions of the remedial plan, the district court violated the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA) by ordering the CDCR to comply without first finding these portions to be the least restrictive remedies necessary to comply with the ADA and Rehab Act. On April 11, 2000, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit vacated the district court’s injunction order to the extent that it applied to the Disability Placement Plan and Verification Process. 215 F.3d 1332. All other portions of the district court’s injunction remained in effect.
BPT Litigation and Settlement (1994 through 2002)
The claims against the BPT were litigated by the parties, and the district court held a bench trial in April 1999. The plaintiffs offered evidence including stories of a prisoner who used a wheelchair forced to crawl to a hearing, a deaf prisoner rendered unable to communicate with a sign language interpreter because he was shackled, and a blind inmate left without assistance to read complicated written materials. Following the trial, the court issued a permanent injunction on December 22, 1999 and ordered the State to come into compliance with the ADA and the Rehab Act by identifying disabled prisoners and providing them with accessible locations for parole hearings, assistance in communicating, and special aid in the screening, appeals, and grievance processes. The State appealed, asserting that the injunction regarding parole hearings was overbroad and violated the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA), and that the certified class was overly broad. On November 28, 2001, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, in an opinion by Judge Stephen Reinhardt, found that the class certified by the district court was overbroad, in that it included "sexually violent predators, mentally disordered offenders, and prisoners or parolees with renal impairments"--groups not represented by any named plaintiff. 275 F.3d 849. The injunction was upheld in all other respects, and the U.S. Supreme Court denied certiorari on October 7, 2002. 537 U.S. 812.
2002 Revised Injunction and its Enforcement (2002 through 2007)
The court entered a Revised Permanent Injunction on February 11, 2002, which required that the State create and maintain a system for tracking prisoners and parolees with disabilities, take reasonable steps to identify prisoners and parolees with disabilities prior to parole proceedings, and provide reasonable accommodations to prisoners and parolees with disabilities at all parole proceedings, including parole revocations and revocation extensions, life prisoner hearings, mentally disordered offender proceedings, and sexually violent predator proceedings.
The State failed to fully comply with the provisions of the 2002 Revised Permanent Injunction. Specifically, the State failed to create a sufficient system for tracking prisoners and parolees with disabilities and failed to provide appropriate accommodations during parole hearings. The plaintiffs filed an enforcement motion, which the court granted on May 30, 2006.
In June 2007, the plaintiffs again moved to enforce the 2002 Revised Permanent Injunction, arguing that the State continued to fail to comply with the May 2006 enforcement order. On September 11, 2007, the Court issued another enforcement order. Specifically, the Court ordered that the State (1) ensure routine maintenance of the system for tracking prisoners and parolees with disabilities, (2) provide appropriate accommodations during parole hearings, (3) ensure that all attorneys contracted by the state to represent prisoners and parolees in parole hearings receive ADA and effective communication training, and (4) establish an accountability system to track the compliance of each parole system and staff member.
2006 Prison Population Cap Dispute
In November 2006, the plaintiffs sought imposition of a population cap in California state prisons. Many of the plaintiffs' complaints about disabled prisoners being denied their rights stemmed from the fact that prisons were dramatically overcrowded, resulting in disabled prisoners often being placed in administrative segregation due to lack of space. However, at this time there were several ongoing class action lawsuits having to do with prison conditions in California. In this case, the district court appointed an expert on June 11, 2007 to facilitate the coordination of remedial processes in this case with three other pending class actions: Coleman v. Brown (E.D. Cal.), Plata v. Brown (N.D. Cal.), and Perez v. Tilton (N.D. Cal.). The district court also decided that issues relating to the sought population cap would be addressed in the other lawsuits.
2007 Injunction for Further Remedy and its Enforcement (2007 through 2015)
On January 18, 2007, Judge Wilken issued a separate Injunction. She found that despite extensive monitoring of CDCR institutions by plaintiffs' counsel, the State was continuing to severely violate the rights of prisoners with disabilities under the ADA and Rehab Act. She found the State was not compliant with the law, the Revised Permanent Injunction, or its own Remedial Plan (first put forth in 1998, and amended in 2002, 2006, and 2007). The violations were occurring with regard to inaccessible housing, denial of sign language interpreters to prisoners who need them, confiscation of medically prescribed assistive devices, late and inadequate disability grievance responses, and inadequate disability tracking. Judge Wilken ordered that the State increase the number of staff on its compliance and grievance response teams, develop and implement a statewide computerized tracking system and integrate it with the tracking system previously ordered in February 2002, generate an inventory of accessible housing, develop a system to hold wardens and prison medical administrators accountable for compliance with the Remedial Plan and other court orders, provide proper training to health care staff and correctional officers, and establish permanent salaried positions for sign language interpreters.
Following the 2007 injunction, Judge Wilken issued several orders to enforce compliance with the injunction and remedy plaintiffs’ grievances:
On February 26, 2008, the court ordered the state to construct a medical center at San Quentin State Prison, add clinical and office space at existing CDCR adult prisons, and construct approximately 5,000 additional CDCR medical beds and 5,000 CDCR mental health beds.
On March 10, 2008, in coordination with Coleman, Plata, and Perez, the court approved an agreement between plaintiffs and the State, under which the State was to establish an Electronic Medical Record (EMR) for each inmate, to which clinicians and physicians would have easy access. The goal of the EMR was to facilitate a clinical data warehouse, patient and clinician portals and reports, integrated patient care at a regional level, case management outcome and reporting, chronic disease registries, enterprise-wide scheduling, supported clinical decisions, cost effective and timely patient-centered care, and telemedicine delivery.
On October 7, 2008, in coordination with Coleman, Plata, and Perez, the court ordered that all office space planning be managed by a single unit rather than multiple. By placing the responsibility under one unit, the court aimed to ensure that the planning, acquisition, and management of necessary space would better support the requirements of the mental health and dental programs in a cost efficient manner.
On October 20, 2009, the court issued an enforcement order, mandating the State provide appropriate wheelchair accessible beds for wheelchair users who required medium security and provide sign language interpreters to prisoners who needed them in education and substance abuse programs.
On March 28, 2011, the court entered a stipulation order requiring the parties to file periodic joint statements describing the status of the litigation every other month, beginning on May 16, 2011. As of January 17, 2023, the parties continue to file bi-monthy joint case management statements.
Also following the 2007 injunction, a disagreement arose between parties as to whether the State was responsible for complying with the injunction as it pertained to the class members housed in county facilities. The defendants argued that when they sent class members to county facilities, they were not responsible for any ADA noncompliance that occurred. On September 16, 2009, the district court summarily rejected this argument and ordered the State to remedy ADA noncompliance within the county facilities. 261 F.R.D. 173. On appeal, on September 7, 2010, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, in an opinion by Judge Stephen Reinhardt, similarly rejected the State’s argument, stating that “a state cannot avoid its obligations under federal law by contracting with a third party to perform its functions. The rights of individuals are not so ethereal or so easily avoided.” 622 F.3d 1058. However, it did remand to the district court for further hearings on whether system-wide relief was necessary on the grounds that the evidentiary record as presented was not sufficient. Once remanded, the plaintiffs submitted additional evidence as to the nature and extent of violations, and the district court issued an order granting the renewed system-wide enforcement motion on April 11, 2012.
On August 22, 2012, the district court modified the 2007 injunction to clarify what was expected of the State in terms of tracking and reporting ADA noncompliance by State employees. 2012 WL 3638675. Specifically, the order required that defendants track all noncompliance allegations in a spreadsheet provided to plaintiffs monthly, investigate all allegations of noncompliance as promptly as possible, and initiate disciplinary proceedings or corrective action against non-compliant employees where appropriate. The modified injunction also provided that the court-appointed expert would solve disputes between the parties. The State appealed, and on September 26, 2014, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, in an opinion written by Judge Tashima, vacated the provisions in the modified injunction relating to the dispute resolution mechanism, finding that it was an impermissible delegation of authority to an expert. 768 F.3d 975. On December 5, 2014, the district court amended the dispute resolution mechanism to make administrative recommendation from the expert reviewable by the district court on motion by any dissatisfied party. The district court entered its finalized order amending the 2007 injunction–including both the provisions on how the State was to manage noncompliance by employees and the revised dispute resolution mechanism–on December 29, 2014.
On February 3, 2015, the district court again granted a motion for further enforcement of the 2007 injunction. Judge Wilken found the State was still routinely housing class members in administrative segregation because of lack of housing in violation of the ADA and the court's prior orders. She ordered that if the State placed class members in administrative segregation, they needed to fully document their reason for doing so and submit the report to plaintiffs’ counsel. 103 F.Supp.3d 1070.
Injunctions re Retaliation by State Employees against Disabled Inmates (2020 through 2023)
On February 28, 2020, the plaintiffs filed a sealed motion for an injunction stopping defendants from assaulting, abusing and retaliating against people with disabilities at R.J. Donovan Correctional Facility (RJD). In support of their motion, 54 incarcerated people submitted declarations. Some of the declarants alleged instances in which correctional officers at RJD retaliated against them or others for, among other things, submitting or threatening to submit complaints regarding staff misconduct or failures to provide disability accommodations. Some of the declarants also alleged instances in which correctional officers at RJD retaliated against incarcerated people by charging incarcerated people with false rules violations reports. On March 17, 2020, the court entered a stipulated order in which defendants agreed to prohibit RJD staff members from retaliating against declarants (or others involved in the February 28 motion) and to implement procedures to assess allegations of retaliation.
The plaintiffs filed a motion for a temporary restraining order on July 1, 2020, requesting that the court move two of the class members from RJD who had been victims of retaliation for their participation in the enforcement motions. On July 2, 2020, the court issued the temporary restraining order, requiring that the State transfer the two class members to an alternative facility with equivalent security level and access to programming opportunities within four days of the order.
The court heard arguments on the February and June injunction motions on July 16, 2020. On July 30, the court issued a preliminary injunction, finding that the defendants had retaliated against the two class members who were the subjects of the temporary restraining order and again ordering the defendants to move them to a different facility. In reaching this conclusion, the court noted that another class member had died at the hands of his cellmate, after a corrections officer ignored his requests to be moved for his safety.
On September 8, 2020, the court issued a lengthy opinion granting much of the relief requested by the plaintiffs in the February 28, 2020 motion. After describing numerous instances of unpunished staff violence on class members at RJD, the court found that the defendants violated the class members' rights under the ADA and the Rehab Act. In one such instance, one of the class members who the court had ordered transferred to another facility on July 30 received a threatening note signed by a "correctional officer gang" the night before his transfer. Finding that the defendants' failure to investigate and discipline staff was the "root cause" of the violations, the court ordered the defendants to work with the plaintiffs to create a modified remedial plan for the RJD including: (1) installing surveillance cameras in areas of RJD accused by class members, (2) equipping RJD corrections officers with body cameras and creating policies for their use, (3) revamping the staff complaint, investigation and discipline process, (4) establishing third-party expert monitoring, (5) enforcing information sharing with the plaintiffs' counsel, (6) increasing supervisory staff (7) establishing increased supervision and training of staff, (8) developing mechanisms to prevent retaliation against class members, and (9) modifying pepper-spray policies. 484 F.Supp.3d 808.
On June 3, 2020, the plaintiffs had filed a second motion for an injunction, alleging similar abuse to the February 28, 2020 motion through CDCR's many facilities and requesting statewide relief. The district court left the June 3, 2020, motion for statewide injunctive relief pending in its decision on September 8, 2020, because the issue had not been fully briefed. A hearing on this motion was held on December 12, 2020. On March 11, 2021, the district court granted the motion in part, requiring new remedial procedures at five of the seven prisons named in the motion. The court set another schedule for a remedial plan for these five prisons and required measures including: (1) installing surveillance cameras in areas to which disabled inmates had access, (2) equipping corrections officers with body cameras and creating policies for their use, (3) revamping the staff complaint, investigation and discipline process, (4) establishing third-party expert monitoring, (5) developing an electronic system for tracking all staff misconduct incidents involving disabled inmates, (6) enforcing information sharing with the plaintiffs' counsel, (7) increasing supervisory staff (8) increasing staff training, (9) developing mechanisms to prevent retaliation against class members, and (10) modifying pepper-spray policies. 2021 WL 933106.
The State appealed both remedial orders to the Ninth Circuit. The September 2020 injunction was appealed on September 25, 2020, and the March 2021 injunction was appealed on April 2, 2021.
With both remedial orders on appeal, the parties submitted a remedial plan but continued to negotiate over contentious portions between March 2021 and January 2022. The defendants promulgated emergency regulations to make changes to employee discipline, handling of staff misconduct allegations, and budget changes in accordance with the remedial order in December 2021. On January 21, 2022, the court granted a revised schedule for a second remedial plan for the six of the seven prisons named in the June 3, 2020 motion. The order gave the prisons until September 30, 2022 to implement processes ensuring that any claims made by class members or disabled people are properly screened by a new Centralized Screening Team (CST) at the Office of Internal Affairs.
On March 23, 2022, the court stipulated that the defendants had finalized two remedial plans in accordance with all prior orders for six of the seven prisons. The first remedial plan (“RJD Remedial Plan”) focused on the reforms required by the RJD injunction at the RJD prison, including policies for body-worn and surveillance cameras, training, processes for staff complaints, and third-party monitoring through the court-appointed expert. The RJD remedial plan also included a section on anti-retaliation mechanisms and a modified policy for use of pepper spray. The Five Prisons Court Ordered Remedial Plan (“Five Prisons Remedial Plan”) addressed the five prisons specified by the court on March 11, 2021 and specified substantively the same reforms as the RJD Remedial Plan. Attachments to the remedial plans included copies of the updated policies at the prisons.
On February 2, 2023, the Ninth Circuit issued two opinions pertaining to the September 2020 and March 2021 injunctions. The Ninth Circuit affirmed all parts of the September 2020 injunction order except the provisions requiring defendants to increase supervisory staff and to modify pepper-spray policies, which the Ninth Circuit vacated. 58 F.4th 1283. The Ninth Circuit affirmed the March 2021 injunction order in its entirety. 2023 WL 1468771.
Status as of March 2023
The Clearinghouse estimates that the State has awarded defendants $84,085,438.17 in attorneys fees as of December 15, 2022. According to the latest join case management statement, defendants and the State continue to negotiate regarding the treatment of disabled inmates in California prisons. As of January 17, 2023, the parties are negotiating over (1) accommodation housing in conjunction with COVID-19 restrictions, (2) retaliation against disabled inmates who report their mistreatment, especially in the form of false Rule Violations Reports, (3) accommodations for deaf class members, (4) accommodations for blind class members, (5) access of disabled inmates to work programs, (6) accuracy of disability tracking, (7) parole planning for class members, and (8) construction of ADA-accessible emergency exit routes. This case is ongoing.
Kristen Sagar (11/13/2008)
Anna Dimon (3/19/2015)
Jessica Kincaid (11/4/2015)
Jennifer Huseby (10/26/2018)
Elena Malik (5/18/2020)
Jonah Hudson-Erdman (10/22/2020)
Hannah Juge (6/20/2022)
Sarah Portwood (3/8/2023)
Sarah Portwood (3/9/2023)
For PACER's information on parties and their attorneys, see: https://www.courtlistener.com/docket/4165405/parties/armstrong-v-newsom/
Abely, William F. (California)
Abendroth, Robert Chase (California)
Abrams, Noah (California)
Ackerman, Daniel (California)
Adam, Gregg Mclean (California)
Alarcón, Arthur Lawrence (California)
Berzon, Marsha Siegel (California)
Berzon [DUPLICATE], Marsha Siegel (California)
Goodwin, Alfred Theodore (California)
Hamilton, Phyllis Jean (California)
Henderson, Thelton Eugene (California)
Karlton, Lawrence K. (California)
Nelson, Dorothy Wright (California)
Reinhardt, Stephen Roy (California)
Silverman, Barry G. (Arizona)
Tashima, Atsushi Wallace (California)
Trott, Stephen S. (Idaho)
Van Graafeiland, Ellsworth Alfred (New York)
White, Jeffrey Steven (California)
Wilken, Claudia Ann (California)
See docket on RECAP: https://www.courtlistener.com/docket/4165405/armstrong-v-newsom/
Last updated Aug. 30, 2023, 9:24 p.m.
State / Territory: California
Filing Date: June 29, 1994
Case Ongoing: Yes
All present and future California state prison inmates and parolees with mobility, sight, hearing, learning, mental, kidney, or developmental disabilities.
Public Interest Lawyer: Yes
Filed Pro Se: No
Class Action Sought: Yes
Class Action Outcome: Granted
Causes of Action:
Prevailing Party: Plaintiff
Nature of Relief:
Source of Relief:
Form of Settlement:
Amount Defendant Pays: 84,085,438.17
Order Duration: 1999 - None
Content of Injunction:
Affected Sex or Gender:
Type of Facility: