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Case Name Hazle v. Crofoot CJ-CA-0015
Docket / Court 2:08-cv-02295 ( E.D. Cal. )
State/Territory California
Case Type(s) Criminal Justice (Other)
Special Collection Prison Legal News
Case Summary
On September 29, 2008, former prisoner in California filed this lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and California state law, against the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation and several of its officials. The plaintiff also ... read more >
On September 29, 2008, former prisoner in California filed this lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and California state law, against the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation and several of its officials. The plaintiff also sued WestCare California, Inc. and Mental Health Systems, Inc., corporations that contract with the state to provide treatment facilities for parolees with drug-related convictions. (Mental Health Systems was later voluntarily dismissed from the suit.) The plaintiff, represented by private counsel, asked the court for damages and injunctive relief, claiming that the defendants violated his rights under the First Amendment's Establishment Clause when they forced him as a condition of his parole to participate in a residential treatment program that required him to acknowledge a higher power. Specifically, the plaintiff alleged that he was an atheist and that the defendants denied his requests to be placed in a secular rehabilitation program and then revoked his parole and incarcerated him when he refused to cooperate. The plaintiff also claimed that the state's religion-based treatment policies constituted an unlawful expenditure of state funds under California law. He sought an injunction to prevent California from using state funds in implementing and administering these policies.

The plaintiff was incarcerated on drug-related charges at a California state prison in February 2006. A year later, he was released on parole on the condition that he participate in a twelve-step drug-treatment program. The program was religion based and required that participants acknowledge a supernatural power and engage in prayer as part of the recovery process. As an atheist, the plaintiff informed the defendants that such a program violated his beliefs, and he requested to be transferred to a secular program. The defendants responded that the state lacked secular treatment options, but they nevertheless invited the plaintiff to file an inmate/parolee appeal to ask for a change in his parole conditions. The plaintiff appealed on April 3, 2007. Three days later, state officials referred the plaintiff to the parole board for violating his parole by refusing to participate in the rehabilitation program. The plaintiff was arrested that day and incarcerated in a state prison for more than 100 days.

On April 7, 2010, the Court (Judge Garland E. Burrell, Jr.) ruled in favor of the plaintiff and against the state defendants on the Section 1983 claim, holding that the state violated the plaintiff's Establishment Clause rights by forcing him to participate in the religion-based rehabilitation program as a condition of his parole. 2010 WL 1407966 (E.D. Cal. Apr. 7, 2010). As to defendant WestCare, however, the Court determined that it was not liable for the Section 1983 violation because the plaintiff had failed to establish that WestCare caused the deprivation of his rights. The Court also rejected the plaintiff's state law claim against WestCare for injunctive relief. More specifically, it held that this taxpayer injunction claim was moot because the state had recently issued a directive mandating that individuals have the option of enrolling in secular treatment programs. On August 11, in an unpublished opinion, the Court (Judge Burrell) denied for similar reasons the plaintiff's request for injunctive relief against the state defendants.

After finding the state defendants liable for violating Section 1983, the Court (Judge Burrell) held a jury trial in June 2010 on the issue of damages. The jury awarded no damages to the plaintiff after a two-day trial, and the Court entered a judgment in accordance with this verdict. The plaintiff then asked for a new trial, claiming that the jury verdict was contrary to law and the weight of the evidence. On January 13, 2011, the Court (Judge Burrell) denied the plaintiff's request. 2011 WL 121643 (E.D. Cal. Jan. 13, 2011). It held that the plaintiff had waived his right to challenge the verdict by failing to object to it before the jury was discharged and that the jury's verdict was consistent with its finding that none of the defendants caused the plaintiff's harms. The plaintiff appealed this ruling to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit on February 10, 2011.

On August 23, 2013, the Ninth Circuit (Judge Dorothy W. Nelson, Judge Stephen Reinhardt, and Judge Milan D. Smith, Jr.) reversed the district court's denial of a new trial and remanded the case for a determination of damages. Hazle v. Crofoot, 727 F.3d 983 (9th Cir. 2013). The Court began its opinion by noting that the plaintiff's failure to object to the jury's zero-damages verdict at trial did not constitute a waiver of his right to challenge that verdict. Turning to the validity of the verdict itself, the Court then held that because the district court found the state defendants liable for infringing the plaintiff's First Amendment rights the jury was not entitled to decline awarding the plaintiff compensatory damages. The Ninth Circuit also reversed the district court's holding that WestCare did not cause the plaintiff's injuries and therefore was not liable under Section 1983. Finally, the Court reversed and remanded the district court's determination that the plaintiff's state law injunction claim was moot, holding that undisputed evidence indicated that the mandate about secular treatment programs had yet to be meaningfully implemented.

The parties then initiated settlement negotiations and eventually reached an agreement. On October 15, 2014, the district court dismissed the action with prejudice pursuant to the parties' stipulation for voluntary dismissal. According to the plaintiff's press release, reported in several newspapers, under the agreement, the plaintiff received $1.95 million ($1 million from the state and $925,000 from WestCare). This sum included attorneys' fees. The reports include no mention of any injunctive-like terms.

Brian Tengel - 02/08/2015

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Issues and Causes of Action
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Constitutional Clause
Establishment Clause
Crowding / caseload
Religion discrimination
Classification / placement
Conditions of confinement
Over/Unlawful Detention
Parole grant/revocation
Placement in detention facilities
Placement in mental health facilities
Plaintiff Type
Private Plaintiff
Causes of Action 42 U.S.C. § 1983
State law
Defendant(s) State of California
Plaintiff Description Plaintiff is an atheist who was forced as a condition of his parole to participate in a residential drug treatment program that required him to acknowledge a higher power.
Class action status sought No
Class action status outcome Not sought
Filed Pro Se No
Prevailing Party Plaintiff
Public Int. Lawyer No
Nature of Relief Attorneys fees
Source of Relief Settlement
Form of Settlement Private Settlement Agreement
Voluntary Dismissal
Filed 09/29/2008
Case Closing Year 2014
Case Ongoing No
Additional Resources
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  See this case at (May provide additional documents and, for active cases, real-time alerts)
  Prison Legal News Homepage
Prison Legal News
By: Prison Legal News
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Court Docket(s)
E.D. Cal.
CJ-CA-0015-9000.pdf | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
General Documents
E.D. Cal.
Complaint for Damages and Injunctive Relief [ECF# 2] (2008 WL 8130822)
CJ-CA-0015-0001.pdf | WESTLAW | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
E.D. Cal.
Order Granting Plaintiff's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment, Granting Defendant Westcare's Motion for Summary Judgment, and Denying Plaintiff's Cross-Motion for Partial Summary Judgment [ECF# 87] (2010 WL 1407966)
CJ-CA-0015-0002.pdf | WESTLAW | Detail
Source: Bloomberg Law
E.D. Cal.
Order Granting Defendants' Motion for Partial Summary Judgment [ECF# 170]
CJ-CA-0015-0003.pdf | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
E.D. Cal.
Order Denying Motion for New Trial [ECF# 178] (2011 WL 121643)
CJ-CA-0015-0004.pdf | WESTLAW | Detail
Source: Bloomberg Law
U.S. Court of Appeals
Opinion (727 F.3d 983)
CJ-CA-0015-0005.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Source: Google Scholar
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Judges Burrell, Garland Ellis Jr. (E.D. Cal.) show/hide docs
CJ-CA-0015-0002 | CJ-CA-0015-0003 | CJ-CA-0015-0004 | CJ-CA-0015-9000
Nelson, Dorothy Wright (Ninth Circuit) show/hide docs
Reinhardt, Stephen Roy (Ninth Circuit) show/hide docs
Smith, Milan Dale Jr. (Ninth Circuit) show/hide docs
Plaintiff's Lawyers Heller, John G. (California) show/hide docs
CJ-CA-0015-0001 | CJ-CA-0015-9000
Scheibli, Michael A. (California) show/hide docs
Defendant's Lawyers Bonetati, Marilyn L. (California) show/hide docs
Edborg, Michelle Catherine (California) show/hide docs
Hamerling, Jeffrey M. (California) show/hide docs
Irby, Todd Darrow (California) show/hide docs
Maire, Wayne H. (California) show/hide docs
Whitney, Vickie Pochelle (California) show/hide docs

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