On May 21, 2008, a California inmate filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR). The plaintiff, originally proceeding pro se but eventually represented by private counsel and the Prison Law Center, asked the court for declaratory, injunctive and monetary damages, alleging that the CDCR acted unconstitutionally by segregating the prisoners by race and locking down an entire race of prisoners. The prison staff had informed the plaintiff that it was the policy of the CDCR that "when there is an incident involving any race, all inmates of that race are locked up."
On May 27, 2009, Judge Richard Jones granted a request to proceed in forma pauperis, since it stated a cognizable claim for relief. Mitchell v. Felker, 2009 WL 1507147 (E.D. Cal. May 27, 2009). During the discovery phase, the CDCR constantly dragged their feet after requests for documents. As a result, on September 29, 2010, Judge Jones granted a motion to compel the defendants to comply with discovery. Mitchell v. Felker, 2010 WL 3835765 (E.D. Cal. Sept. 29, 2010). Judge Jones acquired the case as a visiting judge from the Western District of Washington, and ultimately recused himself from the case as he felt it was inappropriate for a judge from Washington to preside over a case so imbued in California politics. As he recused himself, Judge Jones also reset the calendar on all discovery motions.
During court mandated settlement negotiations, Judge Jones temporarily assigned counsel to the plaintiff. That counsel ultimately agreed to represent the plaintiff for the case and filed a leave to amend the complaint in order to transform the case into a class action challenging the allegedly race-based lockdowns throughout California's men's prisons. On September 23, 2011, Magistrate Judge Edmund Brennan granted that motion. Mitchell v. Felker, 2011 WL 4458784 (E.D. Cal. Sept. 23, 2011). In the second amended complaint, three additional plaintiffs were added as representatives of a class of all prisoners who were currently or would be in the future subject to the CDCR's policy and practice of implementing race-based lockdowns.
Following the filing of the second amended complaint, the defendants filed a motion to dismiss. On June 28, 2012, in his findings and recommendations, Judge Brennan concluded that the plaintiffs had indeed properly exhausted their grievances under the Prison Litigation Reform Act, so the defendant's motion to dismiss should be largely denied. Mitchell v. Felker, 2012 WL 2521827 (E.D. Cal. June 28, 2012). On July 27, 2012, the new district court judge (Judge John Mendez) adopted the findings and recommendations in full. Mitchell v. Felker, 2012 WL 3070084 (E.D. Cal. July 27, 2012).
On March 5, 2013, the plaintiffs filed a motion for class certification as well as a motion for a preliminary injunction. The defendants then filed for summary judgment. On February 11, 2014, Judge Troy L. Nunley granted part of the defendants' motion for summary judgment, leaving the following claims: claims for injunctive relief based on Fourteenth Amendment violations, a claim for compensatory damages for violations of Fourteenth Amendment rights, and state law claims for intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligence, and negligent infliction of emotional distress. Mitchell v. Cate, 2014 WL 546338 (E.D. Cal. Feb. 11, 2014).
On June 25, 2014, Judge Nunley denied the plaintiffs' motion for a preliminary injunction finding that the plaintiffs had not met the high burden required to obtain the extraordinary relief sought. Mitchell v. Cate, 2014 WL 2895232 (E.D. Cal. June 25, 2014). A month later, Judge Nunley granted the plaintiffs' motion for class certification. Mitchell v. Cate, 2014 WL 3689287 (E.D. Cal. July 23, 2014).
On October 20, 2014, the parties entered into a stipulated settlement agreement. Under the terms of the agreement, the CDCR agreed to a number of terms, including the following: to cease implementation of race-based modified programs or lockdowns; to use individualized threat assessment forms to determine who would be retained on a modified program or lockdown; to provide outdoor activity to prisoners in a modified program or lockdown for longer than fourteen days; to revise its policies concerning modified programs and lockdowns, including modifying its definitions; to train its staff; and to provide status reports to plaintiffs' counsel for a defined period of time. The defendants also agreed to pay attorneys fees and costs. The agreement specified that its provisions would control for 18 months after the Court's preliminary approval or 4 months after final approval, whichever was later; plaintiffs could seek 12 months' extension at the end of that period.
The parties sought approval of the agreement by motion filed Feb. 27, 2015; a hearing on preliminary approval initially set for April 2015 was then reset for May 7, 2015. The case is ongoing.Jessica Kincaid - 08/04/2014
Priyah Kaul - 11/27/2014