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Case Name Branson v. Winter JC-CA-0014
Docket / Court 78807 ( State Court )
State/Territory California
Case Type(s) Jail Conditions
Special Collection California Jail Population Caps
Case Summary
On March 27, 1981, a prisoner at the jail in Santa Clara County, California, appearing before a state judge to plead guilty to grand theft, handed the judge a petition for habeas corpus, challenging the conditions of confinement which were alleged to include overcrowding and inhumane conditions ... read more >
On March 27, 1981, a prisoner at the jail in Santa Clara County, California, appearing before a state judge to plead guilty to grand theft, handed the judge a petition for habeas corpus, challenging the conditions of confinement which were alleged to include overcrowding and inhumane conditions. The Santa Clara County Superior Court (Judge Bruce Allen) invited a local public interest lawyer, at the Public Interest Law Foundation, to convert the case to a class action and represent the prisoners. In Auguest 1981, he found that overcrowded and inhumane conditions at the jail violated the inmates' constitutional rights. The Court ordered the county to take specific steps to eliminate the unconstitutional conditions. The county moved for extraordinary relief and filed notices of appeal. Shortly thereafter, pre-hearing conferences were held by the California Court of Appeals pursuant to rule 19.5 of the California Rules of Court. The conferences resulted in a stipulated settlement which treated the habeas corpus proceeding as an action for the violation of the inmates' constitutional rights under 42 U.S.C. §1983.

The agreement required the county to provide at the jail additional beds, a public works labor program, adequate staffing, improved medical services and food service, increased access to the law library, increased visitation hours, increased exercise opportunities for inmates, and a population cap. The stipulated settlement also provided for the entry of a "final judgment and consent decree." The stipulated settlement was approved by the pre-hearing conference judge of the Court of Appeals and filed. Pursuant to the agreement, the clerk of the Court of Appeals issued a remittitur on February 1, 1983, which directed the clerk of the Superior Court to enter the final judgment and consent decree. However, the Court of Appeals, on its own motion, recalled the remittitur according to rule 25(d) of the California Rules of Court because the stipulated final judgment and consent decree had not been approved by a panel of three judges of the Court of Appeals. The county then filed a motion to "confirm" the final judgment and consent decree and for re-issuance of the remittitur pursuant to the stipulation.

The California Court of Appeals, First District (Judge Caldecott), held that before a Court of Appeal may order entry of a new judgment by stipulation or consent, the stipulation must be considered by a three-judge panel and approved by at least two judges of that panel. In re Branson, 190 Cal. Rptr. 412 (Cal. Ct. App. 1983). The Court further held that the attempted transmutation of a habeas corpus proceeding into a civil rights action would not, even if effective, confer jurisdiction upon the Court of Appeal to approve the stipulation. The Court also stated that even if the Court of Appeal had jurisdiction, the Court would decline to review the stipulated judgment and consent decree in the absence of complete review of the proposal by the trial court.

Part of the settlement agreement required construction of a new main jail by approximately 1987. Thomas Lonergan was designated as a compliance officer to oversee performance of the agreement. In February 1987, the trial court issued a contempt order, holding the county and supervisors in contempt for violation of the parties' agreement to permit free communication between the complaince officer and county employees. The court also held county supervisors in contempt for their refusal to accelerate the construction of a single-cell facility, which would provide at least 96 single cells by December 1, 1987, or face a $1,000 fine and five-day jail sentence to be served by each supervisor.

On September 17, 1987, the Califonia Court of Appeals for the Sixth District (Judge P. J. Agliano) reversed the trial court's contempt findings. Wilson v. Superior Court, 240 Cal. Rptr. 131 (Cal. Ct. App. 1987). The Court held that the contempt adjudication violated separation of powers and was void because the immediate construction of temporary facilities would be needlessly expensive and would interfere with the master plan for construction of the new jail. The Court noted that the new jail facilities would be completed by January 1988. The Court also found that the contempt order was an invalid delegation to the sheriff of judicial power to decide how many additional cells were needed and that the county supervisors had corrected the problems of allowing the compliance officer free and confidential access to county employees.

We do not have the docket in this state-court case, and have no further information.

Tom Madison - 03/25/2006

compress summary

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Issues and Causes of Action
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Constitutional Clause
Cruel and Unusual Punishment
Crowding / caseload
Pre-PLRA Population Cap
Classification / placement
Fire safety
Food service / nutrition / hydration
Law library access
Library (non-law) access
Recreation / Exercise
Sanitation / living conditions
Staff (number, training, qualifications, wages)
Totality of conditions
Type of Facility
Causes of Action Habeas Corpus, 28 U.S.C. §§ 2241-2253; 2254; 2255
42 U.S.C. § 1983
Defendant(s) Santa Clara County Jail
Plaintiff Description Santa Clara county jail inmates seeking relief from overcrowding and other inhumane conditions in county jail facilities.
Class action status sought Yes
Class action status outcome Granted
Filed Pro Se Unknown
Prevailing Party Plaintiff
Public Int. Lawyer Unknown
Nature of Relief Injunction / Injunctive-like Settlement
Source of Relief Settlement
Form of Settlement Court Approved Settlement or Consent Decree
Order Duration 1983 - n/a
Filed 03/27/1981
Case Ongoing No reason to think so
Additional Resources
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  Papers of Sheldon Portman
Date: Jul. 16, 2009
By: Sheldon Portman (Santa Clara County Public Defender)
Citation: Papers of Sheldon Portman, Georgetown University Law Library
[ Detail ] [ PDF ] [ External Link ]

Court Docket(s)
No docket sheet currently in the collection
General Documents
State Court of Appeals
Reported Opinion (190 Cal.Rptr. 412)
JC-CA-0014-0001.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Source: Westlaw
State Court of Appeals
Opinion (194 Cal.App. 3d 1259)
JC-CA-0014-0002.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Source: Westlaw
show all people docs
Judges Agliano, Nat A. (State Appellate Court) show/hide docs
Plaintiff's Lawyers Freeman, Beth Labson (California) show/hide docs
Grunbaum, H. David (California) show/hide docs
Matteucci, Eileen (California) show/hide docs
JC-CA-0014-0001 | JC-CA-0014-0002
Defendant's Lawyers Ball, John T. (California) show/hide docs
Belaga, Debra S. (California) show/hide docs
Clark, Donald L. (California) show/hide docs
JC-CA-0014-0001 | JC-CA-0014-0002
Jackson, Bartlett A. (California) show/hide docs
Johansen, Robin B. (California) show/hide docs
Randolph, Julie M. (California) show/hide docs
Remcho, Joseph (California) show/hide docs
Ruby, Allen J. (California) show/hide docs
Woodside, Steven M. (California) show/hide docs
JC-CA-0014-0001 | JC-CA-0014-0002
Other Lawyers Bennett, Frederick R. (California) show/hide docs
Casey, Thomas F. III (California) show/hide docs
Clinton, DeWitt W. (California) show/hide docs
Conrad, Sherri J. (California) show/hide docs
Curtis, James A. Jr. (California) show/hide docs
Elam, Lee B. (California) show/hide docs
Eymil, Denis A. (California) show/hide docs
Fox, James P. (California) show/hide docs
Frank, David R. (California) show/hide docs
Green, Jeffrey T. (California) show/hide docs
Kuchler, Ralph (California) show/hide docs
Kuyper, Adrian (California) show/hide docs
Maloney, Douglas J. (California) show/hide docs
McBride, James L. (California) show/hide docs
Moy, Kenneth A. (California) show/hide docs
Reed, Charles R. (California) show/hide docs
Reese, John R. (California) show/hide docs
Thibodeaux, Joseph V. (California) show/hide docs

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