On August 8, 2013, detainees of the Costa County Juvenile Hall filed this suit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California against Contra Costa County, California. The plaintiffs, represented by counsel from the Disability Rights Advocates, alleged that defendants discriminated against disabled youth in the Contra Costa County Juvenile Hall.
Specifically, the plaintiffs alleged that because Contra Costa County denied the plaintiffs special education and related services, the plaintiffs misbehaved and were punished; during punishment, the plaintiffs were placed in solitary confinement for at least 22 hours per day, which made their disabilities worse and made the plaintiffs more likely to misbehave again. The plaintiffs alleged that the solitary confinement, denial of rehabilitative services while in solitary confinement, and denial of special education and other services even while out of solitary confinement violated the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEA), the American Disabilities Act (ADA), the Rehabilitation Act, and three state anti-discrimination laws. Plaintiffs sought class certification, declaratory judgment, injunctive relief with monitoring by a special master, and attorney fees.
The case was assigned to Judge Saundra B. Armstrong. Over the next year, the defendants moved to dismiss the case, and the plaintiffs moved for class certification. The plaintiffs amended their complaint to drop all defendants except Contra Costa County and Contra Costa County Office of Education. As a result, Judge Armstrong denied as moot the motions for dismissal and class certification, and both parties refiled their motions to include the updated parties and proceedings.
On January 16, 2014, the County filed three separate suits in this same Court, one against each plaintiff, arguing that the underlying Office of Administrative Hearings (OAH) for California improperly found that the County's Probation Department could be sued under the IDEA. The County requested attorney fees for the appeal and that the Court set aside the OAH findings. The plaintiffs moved to consolidate their action with the County's three suits, but the Court deferred litigation on the County's claims until a decision was made on its motion to dismiss plaintiffs' claims.
On February 13, 2014, the United States filed a Statement of Interest concerning protection of detained youth, especially when solitary confinement was involved. The U.S. explained that it had an interest in the case because of the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act, which allows the U.S. to investigate juvenile detention facilities for unlawful detention practices. The U.S. argued that the County had a duty to provide services, activities and programs to qualified youth, and that the law does not allow discrimination based on disabilities. For that reason, the U.S. requested that the Court consider the Statement of Interest and deny defendants' motion to dismiss.
Following extensive negotiations, the plaintiffs reached settlement agreements with both Contra Costa County and the Contra Costa County Office of Education. On November 25, 2015, the court (Judge Maria-Elena James) approved the settlement agreements. 2015 WL 7571789.
Under the settlement agreement with Contra Costa County, the County would no longer use solitary confinement for discipline, punishment, administrative convenience, retaliation, staffing shortages, or reasons other than a temporary response to behavior that threatens immediate harm to the youth or others. In line with national standards, the County could segregate a youth in his or her room for no more than four hours but only if the youth’s behavior risked immediate harm to themselves or others. After four hours, the Probation Department had to remove the youth from confinement, develop specialized individualized programming for the youth, or assess whether the youth should be transported to a mental health facility.
Under the settlement agreement with the Contra Costa County Office of Education, the County Office of Education would retain an outside expert to evaluate its compliance with federal and state special education laws and to ensure that the students with disabilities in Juvenile Hall would receive the special education that they need. The expert would make recommended revisions to policies, procedures and practices as they relate to Child Find, development and implementation of individualized education plans, and discipline, which the County’s Board of Education will adopt.
The defendants also agreed to pay $1,340,000 in attorneys' fees. The court retained jurisdiction to enforce the settlement agreements, which were scheduled to last for four years.
On December 18, 2015, the court approved the parties motion to modify the settlement agreements' procedures for choosing experts to monitor implementation. Maurice Youkanna - 06/24/2014
Richard Jolly - 11/05/2014
Jessica Kincaid - 02/05/2016