On March 14, 2000, an inmate in California corrections system (CDCR) filed this lawsuit in District Court for the Northern District of California. The plaintiff sued the Secretary of CDCR in his official capacity and CDCR personnel in their individual capacities under 42 U.S.C § 1983. The plaintiff claimed prison officials violated his due process rights by incorrectly validating him as a gang member and placing him in administrative segregation (“Ad-Seg”) while at Deuel Vocational Institution, and later in a Security Housing Unit (“SHU”) at Pelican Bay State Prison.
Prison officials placed the plaintiff in Ad-Seg and the SHU after he was “validated” as an associate of the Northern Structure prison gang. The plaintiff claimed that his due process rights were violated because he was not in fact an associate of the prison gang and his validation was not supported by sufficient, reliable evidence. The plaintiff also claimed that his due process rights were violated because he was not given notice and an opportunity to present his views before being placed in segregation, and because he was denied meaningful opportunities to challenge his validation and continued retention in segregated housing.
The plaintiff originally filed this case pro se. By order filed May 17, 2002, the Court dismissed the case without prejudice on the ground that the plaintiff had not exhausted his administrative remedies with respect to all of the claims alleged in the complaint. (2002 WL 1034043). The plaintiff appealed to the Ninth Circuit, and the Ninth Circuit appointed the law firm of Howard, Rice, Nemerovski, Canady, Falk & Rabkin to represent the plaintiff on appeal.
In a published decision the Ninth Circuit reversed and remanded, holding that the Prison Litigation Reform Act did not require dismissal of an entire action where a prisoner’s complaint contains exhausted and unexhausted claims. See Lira v. Herrera, 427 F.3d 1164 (9th Cir. 2005). The Ninth Circuit instructed that the proper treatment of a “mixed” complaint depends on the relatedness of the claims, and held that if an exhausted claim was intertwined with an unexhausted claim, the claims should all be treated as exhausted. Id. at 1177. The Supreme Court denied the defendant’s petition for writ of certiorari. 549 U.S. 1204 (2007).
On remand, the plaintiff continued to be represented by counsel. The Court found that plaintiff’s due process claims were interrelated, and allowed the plaintiff to file an amended complaint alleging a single due process violation arising out of his gang validation and placement and retention in Ad-Seg and the SHU.
As originally filed, the plaintiff's first amended complaint named as defendants a number of CDCR personnel sued for damages in their individual capacity, along with the Secretary of CDCR who was sued in his official capacity for declaratory and injunctive relief.
In December 2006, the law firm of Chapman, Popik & White replaced Howard Rice as the plaintiff’s counsel of record. The parties engaged in extensive discovery and further motion practice, including motions to dismiss and motions for summary judgment filed by the defendants.
On September 30, 2009, (Judge Susan Illston) denied the defendants’ motion for summary judgment (2008 WL 619017). The defendants noticed an interim appeal of the Court’s denial of qualified immunity. The interlocutory appeal caused the cancellation of the March 23, 2008, trial date and stayed all proceedings in this Court. The plaintiff then decided to dismiss the remaining individual defendants and all claims for damages in order to moot the pending appeal.
In October 27 2008, the Ninth Circuit granted the plaintiff’s motion to dismiss the individual defendants and to dismiss the appeal as moot, and the case was remanded to the district court.
Continuing to prepare for the trial, in December 2008, the Court ruled that the attorneys-eyes-only restrictions of the protective order for the defendant's confidential gang validation evidence would be lifted for trial purposes. The defendant took an emergency appeal from that ruling by petition for writ of mandamus, which the Ninth Circuit granted over the plaintiff’s opposition on December 24, 2008. As a result, the Court was required to prevent disclosure to the plaintiff of certain materials compiled by CDCR in course of its gang validation process.
From January 13 to February 12, 2009, the Court (Judge Illston) held a bench trial on the plaintiff’s claims for declaratory and injunctive relief. The plaintiff presented 17 witnesses, including three experts and testimony from plaintiff over three separate sessions. Defendant presented 4 witnesses, including its experts. Approximately 300 documentary exhibits were entered into evidence at trial.
On September 30, 2009, the Court (Judge Illston) issued a Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law. The Court found that the plaintiff’s due process rights were violated when he was initially validated as a Northern Structure associate because he was never given notice of the initial validation investigation, and was never afforded the opportunity to be heard prior being validated or placed in administrative segregation. The Court also found that this deprivation of procedural due process was not cured in any of the subsequent administrative hearings and inmate appeals because none of these proceedings constituted a meaningful review of the gang validation. Finally, the Court found that the plaintiff’s substantive due process right were violated because the items of evidence used to validate the plaintiff as a prison gang associate lack sufficient indicia of reliability to meet the “some evidence” standard as required by the case law.
Based upon expert psychological testimony and evidence at trial, the Court found that the plaintiff’s experience in the SHU caused him to develop depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, and that he currently suffers from these conditions, despite his parole from Pelican Bay. The Court held that the plaintiff was entitled to a judicial declaration that his gang validation was never supported by accurate or reliable evidence and was implemented in violation of his procedural rights.
The Court directed defendant Matthew Cate, as Secretary of CDCR, to expunge the plaintiff’s validation as a Northern Structure associate from CDCR records, to report the expungement to all gang-related law enforcement databases and clearinghouses to which the original validation was reported previously, and to remove all documents related to the validation from plaintiff’s prison file.
The parties continued litigating attorneys fees until 2012. The court awarded roughly $1,088,000 in total attorney's fees and costs. On June 22, 2012, the court issued an order confirming payment the attorneys' fees and costs.
As of March 28, 2016, the case appears closed.Lakshmi Gopal - 03/28/2016