University of Michigan Law School
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Case Name Norbert v. San Francisco Sheriff's Department JC-CA-0138
Docket / Court 3:19-cv-02724-SK ( N.D. Cal. )
State/Territory California
Case Type(s) Jail Conditions
Case Summary
On May 20, 2019, plaintiffs filed this lawsuit in federal court in the Northern District of California. Plaintiffs sought to represent a class of prisoners subjected to unconstitutional conditions in San Francisco county jails, more specifically, those having been confined in their cells for up to 2 ... read more >
On May 20, 2019, plaintiffs filed this lawsuit in federal court in the Northern District of California. Plaintiffs sought to represent a class of prisoners subjected to unconstitutional conditions in San Francisco county jails, more specifically, those having been confined in their cells for up to 23.5 hours per day with total denial of access to direct sunlight or outdoor recreation. Plaintiffs sued the San Francisco County Sheriff’s Department, the City and County of San Francisco, and four members of the Sheriff’s Department for being directly involved in designing and implementing the policies that led to deprivations of constitutional and statutory rights. Plaintiffs brought suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against defendants for acting under the color of law to deprive plaintiffs of their constitutional rights. The violative conduct, plaintiffs alleged, constituted cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment of the United States Constitution and contravened the due process requirements of the Fourteenth Amendment. The plaintiffs also alleged two violations of the California Constitution and brought two tort claims against the Sheriff’s Office, for negligence and intentional infliction of emotional distress. The plaintiffs, represented by a local civil rights lawyer, sought declaratory and injunctive relief as well as compensatory and punitive damages for the physical and emotional ailments incurred due to deprivation of sunlight.

On June 27, 2019 plaintiffs filed a motion for a preliminary injunction and on August 30, 2019, defendants filed a motion to dismiss. The court ruled on both motions on January 31, 2020, granting each in part and denying each in part. The preliminary injunction had challenged the sufficiency of the type of sunlight that prisoners received in their cells and the amount of time that inmates confined to their cells for 23.5 hours a day were allotted for outdoor exercise. The court found that the plaintiffs had failed to prove specific harm from degree or quality of sunlight and that the defendants’ denial of outdoor exercise did not warrant a preliminary injunction for convicted prisoners, with a partial exception for prisoners in administrative segregation units. These prisoners were held in cells too small for meaningful exercise for 23.5 hours a day. The court ordered that these prisoners be allowed exercise in the gym for at least one hour a day for five days a week. The court did not order the defendant to provide outdoor exercise for these persons.

However, the court found that for pretrial detainees, denial of direct sunlight for four years constituted unconstitutional punishment. Pretrial detainees, as innocent persons, have the right to be free from punishment generally under the Due Process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, and not just cruel and unusual punishment vis a vis the Eighth Amendment. The court ordered that the defendant provide at least one hour of exposure to direct sunlight each week for pretrial detainees, absent disciplinary issues.

The motion to dismiss was also granted in part and denied in part. The court dismissed all Eighth Amendment claims by pretrial detainees, deeming them redundant with respect to these plaintiffs’ Fourteenth Amendment Claims. The motion to dismiss the federal claims against individual defendants was also granted because the court found that the defendants could not have reasonably known that they were violating plaintiffs constitutional rights at the time of their acts and were therefore entitled to a defense of qualified immunity. However, qualified immunity does not extend to state law claims, like those leveled under the California Constitution and the common law. Therefore, most of these claims were sustained, although the court required plaintiffs to amend certain elements of their complaint and removed certain defendants for jurisdictional reasons.

Both parties appealed the ruling and the court granted a stay on the preliminary injunction while the two parties engage in settlement discussions. The case is ongoing.

Dan Toubman - 03/14/2020


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Issues and Causes of Action
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Issues
Constitutional Clause
Cruel and Unusual Punishment
Due Process
Content of Injunction
Preliminary relief denied
Preliminary relief granted
Defendant-type
Corrections
General
Administrative segregation
Conditions of confinement
Plaintiff Type
Private Plaintiff
Type of Facility
Government-run
Causes of Action 42 U.S.C. § 1983
Defendant(s) City and County of San Francisco
San Francisco County Sheriff's Department
Plaintiff Description Prisoners in County Jails in San Francisco.
Class action status sought Yes
Class action status granted Pending
Filed Pro Se No
Prevailing Party None Yet / None
Public Int. Lawyer Yes
Nature of Relief Preliminary injunction / Temp. restraining order
Source of Relief Litigation
Order Duration 2020 - n/a
Filed 05/20/2019
Case Ongoing Yes
Additional Resources
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  See this case at CourtListener.com (May provide additional documents and, for active cases, real-time alerts)
Court Docket(s)
N.D. Cal.
03/13/2020
3:19-cv-02724
JC-CA-0138-9000.pdf | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
General Documents
N.D. Cal.
05/20/2019
Complaint for Declaratory and Injunctive Relief and Damages Class Action [ECF# 1]
JC-CA-0138-0001.pdf | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
N.D. Cal.
01/31/2020
Order Regarding Plaintiffs' Motion for Preliminary Injunction and Defendants' Motion to Dismiss [ECF# 110]
JC-CA-0138-0002.pdf | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
N.D. Cal.
03/11/2020
Stipulation and Order for Partial Stay of Injunction and Stay of Appeal [ECF# 138]
JC-CA-0138-0003.pdf | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
show all people docs
Judges Beeler, Laurel (N.D. Cal.) [Magistrate] show/hide docs
JC-CA-0138-9000
Kim, Sallie Court not on record [Magistrate] show/hide docs
JC-CA-0138-0002 | JC-CA-0138-0003 | JC-CA-0138-9000
Plaintiff's Lawyers Huang, Yolanda (California) show/hide docs
JC-CA-0138-0001 | JC-CA-0138-0003 | JC-CA-0138-9000
Defendant's Lawyers Baumgartner, Margaret (California) show/hide docs
JC-CA-0138-0003 | JC-CA-0138-9000
Berdux, Sabrina Michelle (California) show/hide docs
JC-CA-0138-0003 | JC-CA-0138-9000
Herrera, Dennis J. (California) show/hide docs
JC-CA-0138-0003
Murphy, Kaitlyn M (California) show/hide docs
JC-CA-0138-0003 | JC-CA-0138-9000
Osborn, Meredith B (California) show/hide docs
JC-CA-0138-0003
Other Lawyers Abel, Jonathan Philip (California) show/hide docs
JC-CA-0138-9000

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