On September 23, 2009, Orange County residents named as defendants in a public nuisance abatement action targeting the Orange Varrio Cypress Criminal Street Gang (OVC) filed this lawsuit against Orange County in the United States District Court for the Central District of California. Proceeding under 28 U.S.C. §1983, 28 U.S.C. § 2241, and state law, plaintiffs, represented by the ACLU of Southern California, asked the court for declaratory and injunctive relief and petitioned for the writ of habeas corpus. They alleged that plaintiffs were denied procedural due process when defendants enforced a permanent injunction against them as members of OVC without a constitutionally adequate hearing.
This case originates from a related proceeding, People v. Orange Varrio Cypress Criminal Street Gang, Orange County Superior Court, 30-2009 00118739 (Feb. 17, 2009), in which the Orange County District Attorney's Office (OCDA) sought a permanent injunction against members of the OVC. The injunction restricted a range of activities in a gang operation area in the city of Orange, deemed the "Safety Zone," and included a curfew as well as a ban on certain clothing, "intimidating" behavior, and many other elements implicating free speech, movement, and associational rights. However, the OCDA voluntarily dismissed plaintiffs who appeared by filing an answer in that case. The OCDA subsequently obtained a default judgment against the remaining individuals and OVC as an entity. OCDA then served the order on the individuals originally named as defendants but voluntarily dismissed from the lawsuit, a tactic known as "dismiss-and-serve." Plaintiffs claim that defendants violated their procedural due process rights by failing to provide an opportunity for plaintiffs to contest whether the order applied to them.
On November 17, 2009, the United States District Court for the Central District of California (Judge Valerie B. Fairbank) denied plaintiffs' motion for preliminary injunction to enjoin enforcement of the permanent injunction against them, on the grounds that it lacked the requisite specificity and detail.
On April 19, 2010, Judge Fairbank granted plaintiffs' motion for class certification, certifying as a class the individual defendants in the state case who appeared in the Superior Court to defend themselves but were voluntarily dismissed by OCDA. The Court also certified a sub-class of juveniles named as individual defendants in the state court for whom no guardian ad litem was appointed and who were voluntarily dismissed by the OCDA.
Following an eleven day bench trial, on May 10, 2011, Judge Fairbank granted a permanent injunction barring enforcement of the order. Vasquez v. Rackauckas, 2011 WL 1791091 (C.D. Cal. May 10, 2011). The Court held that the OCDA deprived plaintiffs of constitutionally protected liberty interests and failed to provide adequate procedural protections, including an adequate pre-deprivation hearing. The Court denied the writ of habeas corpus because the plaintiffs were not in "custody" for the purposes of the writ. The Court awarded plaintiffs' attorney's fees on July 28, 2011. Vasquez v. Rackauckas, 2011 WL 3320482 (C.D. Cal. July 29, 2011).
On November 5, 2013, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed the District Court's issuance of injunctive relief barring enforcement of the state's court order against the plaintiffs. Vasquez v. Rackauckas, 734 F.3d 1025 (9th Cir. 2013) (Judge Marsha S. Berzon). However, the Circuit Court reversed the District Court's judgment as to the state claim against Defendant Rauckauckas, sued in his official capacity as the head of the OCDA, on the grounds that it was barred by Pennhurst State School & Hosp. v. Alderman, 465 U.S. 89 (1984). This official immunity analysis did not impact the plaintiffs' federal due process claims or the corresponding relief granted. In accordance with this ruling, the Circuit Court held that because Rackauckas was not subject to equitable remedies for violations of state law, there may be some difference in the amount of attorney's fee award that could be applied to him. Subsequent litigation over attorneys' fees is ongoing in the District Court. Samantha Kirby - 10/01/2014