University of Michigan Law School
Civil Rights Litigation Clearinghouse
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Case Name Thomas v. Baca JC-CA-0058
Docket / Court 2:04-cv-08448-DDP-SH ( C.D. Cal. )
State/Territory California
Case Type(s) Jail Conditions
Case Summary
In October 2004, two former prisoners of the Los Angeles County Jail filed a class action lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the California Department of Corrections and Los Angeles County. The plaintiffs claimed that they had ... read more >
In October 2004, two former prisoners of the Los Angeles County Jail filed a class action lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the California Department of Corrections and Los Angeles County. The plaintiffs claimed that they had been forced to sleep on the floor of their cells during their detentions. They claimed that this violated their constitutional rights by subjecting them to cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment. In addition, one of the named plaintniffs claimed that his rights were violated when he was over-detained for two days following his ordered release date.

The defendants asked the district court to dismiss the complaint, alleging that the plaintiffs had not exhausted their administrative remedies, as required by the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA), codified at 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a). On March 23, 2005, the district court (Judge Dean D. Pregerson) denied the motion to dismiss, finding that the plaintiffs were not covered under the PLRA exhaustion provision because it only applied to "prisoners," while the plaintiffs in this case were former prisoners, not current prisoners. Thomas v. Baca, No. 04-8448, 2005 WL 697986 (C.D. Cal. Mar. 23, 2005).

The plaintiffs asked the District Court to certify plaintiff classes, and on April 7, 2005, Judge Pregerson initially denied the motion without prejudice, finding that the plaintiffs had erred by failing to send notice of the motion to all parties being sued. Thomas v. Baca, No. 04-8448, 2005 WL 820265 (C.D. Cal. Apr. 7, 2005).

The six Los Angeles County Supervisors who were being sued in this lawsuit asked the District Court to dismiss them as defendants, and on May 2, 2005, Judge Pregerson held that the plaintiffs could not sue these defendants for inadequately funding the jails because the funding decisions made by these defendants were protected by absolute legislative immunity. The Court then agreed to dismiss a former supervisor (who had not worked as a county supervisor since 1996) as a defendant, but otherwise denied the motion to dismiss. Thomas v. Baca, No. 04-8448, 2005 WL 1030247 (C.D. Cal. May 2, 2005).

On May 17, 2005, Judge Pregerson certified a plaintiff class of "individuals who, while in LASD custody, were required to sleep on the floor of a LASD facility with or without bedding." Thomas v. Baca, 231 F.R.D. 397 (C.D. Cal. 2005). The Court ordered the defendants to keep records of every time an inmate was required to sleep on the floor. In October 2005, those reports ceased and the Sheriff asserted that all floor-sleeping in the jail had ceased.

The plaintiff's counsel claimed that between October 2005 and October 2006, he received hundreds of communications from detainees asserting that they had slept on the floor in the jail after all floor-sleeping had supposedly stopped. The defendants maintained that no inmates had slept on the floor unreported, and they agreed to investigate the matter further to ensure that this was the case. On November 1, 2006, before the defendants could fully investigate, plaintiffs filed a RICO complaint claiming that the Sheriff had engaged in a ruse to avoid reporting floor sleeping by causing the floor sleeping to occur not in the residential portion of the jail, but rather in the Inmate Reception Center (IRC), which is the central processing facility for inmates at the jail. This new complaint alleges that the defendants benefitted monetarily from "a pattern of racketeering activity of the LASD" and that these racketeering activities "included a continuous pattern and practice involving...attempted murder, murder, assaultive conduct, kidnapping, extortion, fraud, mail fraud, deceit, dealing in controlled substances, and obstruction of justice in federal proceedings." The complaint also threatened to name the defense counsel as defendants if they uncovered any evidence that the defense counsel had participated in any of the misconduct alleged in the complaint.

In response to this new complaint, defendant Sheriff Leroy Baca and his counsel asked the District Court to dismiss the complaint for failure to state a claim and for sanctions against the plaintiff's counsel for bad faith misconduct directed at opposing counsel. On February 28, 2007, Judge Pregerson granted the motion to dismiss the complaint and ordered plaintiffs' counsel to pay $5000 in sanctions for recklessly escalating a discovery dispute into a separate RICO lawsuit in which he associated named defense counsel and their firm with egregious criminal conduct. The Court found this conduct to be frivolous and improper, with the sole purpose of harassing and bullying his opponents. Thomas v. Baca, No. 06-6981, 2007 WL 738545 (C.D. Cal. Feb. 28, 2007).

The plaintiff class then asked the court for summary judgment on three claims: 1) that there was a custom in the LA County Jail system of requiring inmates to sleep overnight on the floor because there were insufficient available bunks, 2) that the custom was unconstitutional, and 3) that Sheriff Baca was legally responsible for that custom. Sheriff Baca argued in return that he was entitled to summary judgment because 1) the conditions of confinement did not give rise to a constitutional violation, and 2) he was entitled to qualified immunity in his individual capacity.

On September 21, 2007, Judge Pregerson found that Sheriff Baca was entitled to qualified immunity and granted him summary judgment on that issue in his individual capacity. However, the Court also found that there was a custom in the LA County Jails of requiring inmates to sleep on the floor, and that this violated their constitutional rights, even if they were allowed a mattress. Specifically, the Court stated that "prisons may not deprive [inmates] of a basic place to sleep - a bed; for, like wearing clothing, sleeping in a bed identifies our common humanity....quite simply, that a custom of leaving inmates nowhere to sleep but the floor constitutes cruel and unusual punishment is nothing short of self-evident." Thomas v. Baca, 518 F. Supp.2d 1201 (C.D. Cal. 2007).

On January 8, 2008, the Court granted the defendant's application for certification of an interlocutory appeal of the 9/21/07 order.

On December 27, 2007, the Court allowed the ACLU of Southern California (ACLU) to enter the case as an interested party. On June 8, 2008, the plaintiff's counsel agreed to include the ACLU counsel as co-counsel to represent the class interests. On April 23, 2009, the Court granted the ACLU's motion to withdraw as counsel except as to appellate matters.

From May 2009 to March 2011, the parties held a series of settlement conferences that were ultimately unsuccessful.

On March 22, 2012, the Court decertified the damages class, citing concerns over identification and notification of class members, the individualized questions of proof as to damages, and the viability of distributing any damage award excess.

On May 30, 2012, the Court accepted the parties' stipulation that the case be continued pending the plaintiff's petition for permission to appeal the class decertification order. On June 15, 2012, the Ninth Circuit granted the plaintiff's urgent motion to expedite their petition. The case was ongoing at the time of writing.

At the time of this writing, the case is ongoing.

Timothy Shoffner - 08/02/2012


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Issues and Causes of Action
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Issues
Crowding
Crowding / caseload
General
Sanitation / living conditions
Plaintiff Type
Private Plaintiff
Type of Facility
Government-run
Causes of Action 42 U.S.C. § 1983
Defendant(s) California Department of Corrections
Plaintiff Description individuals who, while in LASD custody, were required to sleep on the floor of a LASD facility with or without bedding
Indexed Lawyer Organizations None on record
Class action status sought Yes
Class action status granted Yes
Prevailing Party None Yet / None
Public Int. Lawyer Yes
Nature of Relief Unknown
Source of Relief Unknown
Form of Settlement None on record
Order Duration not on record
Case Closing Year n/a
Case Ongoing Yes
Additional Resources
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Case Studies After Decision: Implementation of Judicial Decrees in Correctional Settings
Written: Oct. 01, 1977
By: M. Kay Harris & Dudley P. Spiller (Temple University)
Citation: (1977)
[ Detail ] [ PDF ]

Docket(s)
2:04-cv-08448-DDP-SH (C.D. Cal.) 02/25/2013
JC-CA-0058-9000 PDF | Detail
PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
General Documents
Order 02/04/2005 (2005 WL 293022 / 2005 U.S.Dist.LEXIS 4780) (C.D. Cal.)
JC-CA-0058-0001 PDF | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Document Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Order Denying Motion to Dismiss the Case 03/23/2005 (2005 WL 697986 / 2006 U.S.Dist.LEXIS 36471 ) (C.D. Cal.)
JC-CA-0058-0003 PDF | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Document Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Order Denying Without Prejudice Motion for Class Certification and Amended Motion for Class Certification 04/07/2005 (2005 WL 820265 ) (C.D. Cal.)
JC-CA-0058-0004 PDF | WESTLAW | Detail
Document Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Order Granting in Part and Denying in Part Motion to Dismiss Case, Granting in Part and Denying in Part Motion for Summary Judgment 05/02/2005 (2005 WL 1030247 / 2005 U.S.Dist.LEXIS 35678 ) (C.D. Cal.)
JC-CA-0058-0005 PDF | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Document Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Order Granting Motion for Class Certification and Granting Motion for an Order to Permit Identification of Class Members 05/17/2005 (231 F.R.D. 397) (C.D. Cal.)
JC-CA-0058-0009 PDF | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Document Source: Google Scholar
Minutes from Proceedings in Chambers 07/20/2005 (2005 WL 1895457 )
JC-CA-0058-0010 PDF | WESTLAW | Detail
Order Denying Plaintiffs' Motion for Class Notification 12/20/2005 (2005 WL 3497819 / 2005 U.S.Dist.LEXIS 39956 ) (C.D. Cal.)
JC-CA-0058-0011 PDF | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Order Granting Defendant's Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings 01/13/2006 (2006 WL 132078 / 2006 U.S.Dist.LEXIS 3397 ) (C.D. Cal.)
JC-CA-0058-0012 PDF | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Minutes from Proceedings in Chambers 05/11/2006 (2006 WL 1360989 ) (C.D. Cal.)
JC-CA-0058-0013 PDF | WESTLAW | Detail
Proceedings: Defendant's Motion to Compel 05/31/2006 (2006 WL 1631645 ) (C.D. Cal.)
JC-CA-0058-0014 PDF | WESTLAW | Detail
Order Granting Defendant's Motion to Dismiss and for Sanctions 02/28/2007 (2007 WL 738545 / 2007 U.S.Dist.LEXIS 20518 ) (C.D. Cal.)
JC-CA-0058-0015 PDF | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
L.A. Times Press Release 09/24/2007
JC-CA-0058-0002 PDF | Detail
Order Appointing ACLU Interim Lead Counsel and Setting Further Procedures 12/11/2008 (C.D. Cal.)
JC-CA-0058-0007 PDF | Detail
Document Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Defendant's Status Report Re Settlement and Request for Further Status/Settlement Conference 01/21/2011
JC-CA-0058-0008 PDF | Detail
Document Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Order Decertifying Damages Class 03/22/2012 (2012 WL 994090) (C.D. Cal.)
JC-CA-0058-0006 PDF | WESTLAW | Detail
Document Source: Westlaw
Judges Hillman, Stephen J. (C.D. Cal.) [Magistrate]
JC-CA-0058-0010 | JC-CA-0058-0013 | JC-CA-0058-9000
Pregerson, Dean D. (C.D. Cal.)
JC-CA-0058-0001 | JC-CA-0058-0002 | JC-CA-0058-0003 | JC-CA-0058-0004 | JC-CA-0058-0005 | JC-CA-0058-0006 | JC-CA-0058-0007 | JC-CA-0058-0008 | JC-CA-0058-0009 | JC-CA-0058-0011 | JC-CA-0058-0012 | JC-CA-0058-0015 | JC-CA-0058-9000
Monitors/Masters None on record
Plaintiff's Lawyers Beach, Paul B (California)
JC-CA-0058-0002 | JC-CA-0058-0008 | JC-CA-0058-0009 | JC-CA-0058-0010 | JC-CA-0058-0011 | JC-CA-0058-0012 | JC-CA-0058-0015 | JC-CA-0058-9000
Bird, Melinda R. (California)
JC-CA-0058-9000
Blecher, Maxwell M (California)
JC-CA-0058-9000
Chemerinsky, Erwin (North Carolina)
JC-CA-0058-0010 | JC-CA-0058-0012 | JC-CA-0058-9000
DeBlaise, Patrick A (California)
JC-CA-0058-9000
Litt, Barrett S. (California)
JC-CA-0058-9000
Reichmann, Joseph (California)
JC-CA-0058-0009 | JC-CA-0058-0010 | JC-CA-0058-0011 | JC-CA-0058-0012 | JC-CA-0058-0015 | JC-CA-0058-9000
Rosenbaum, Mark Dale (California)
JC-CA-0058-9000
Sherman, Victor (California)
JC-CA-0058-9000
Yagman, Marion R. (California)
JC-CA-0058-0009 | JC-CA-0058-0010 | JC-CA-0058-0011 | JC-CA-0058-0012 | JC-CA-0058-0013 | JC-CA-0058-0014 | JC-CA-0058-0015 | JC-CA-0058-9000
Yagman, Stephen (California)
JC-CA-0058-0002 | JC-CA-0058-0009 | JC-CA-0058-0010 | JC-CA-0058-0011 | JC-CA-0058-0012 | JC-CA-0058-0013 | JC-CA-0058-0014 | JC-CA-0058-0015 | JC-CA-0058-9000
Defendant's Lawyers Allen, Michael D. (California)
JC-CA-0058-0009 | JC-CA-0058-0010
Baum, Andrew (California)
JC-CA-0058-0009 | JC-CA-0058-0010 | JC-CA-0058-0012 | JC-CA-0058-9000
Clark, Justin W. (California)
JC-CA-0058-0008 | JC-CA-0058-0012 | JC-CA-0058-0014 | JC-CA-0058-0015 | JC-CA-0058-9000
Hong, Jennifer Rose (California)
JC-CA-0058-0012 | JC-CA-0058-9000
Lawrence, David D. (California)
JC-CA-0058-0009 | JC-CA-0058-0010 | JC-CA-0058-0011 | JC-CA-0058-0012 | JC-CA-0058-9000
Lee, Daniel (California)
JC-CA-0058-9000
Maoz, David Steven (California)
JC-CA-0058-0012 | JC-CA-0058-9000
Miller, Louis R. (California)
JC-CA-0058-9000
Oyster, Nathan A (California)
JC-CA-0058-0012 | JC-CA-0058-9000
Sullivan, Bryan M (California)
JC-CA-0058-9000
Other Lawyers None on record

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