On July 13, 1998, a person who was a convicted burglar filed a civil complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California. He was represented by private counsel and later aided by amicus counsel who appeared in the case on behalf of Amnesty International. The plaintiff alleged that his Fourth and Eighth Amendment constitutional rights were violated when the defendants (the state court judge, Los Angeles County, and associated officials responsible for plaintiff's safety during his burglary sentencing proceeding, as well as the municipal and superior courts, themselves) made him wear a stun belt, which they activated during the proceeding at the judge's direction as a behavior control device. Plaintiff's complaint requested: (1) a declaratory judgment that using the stun belt was unconstitutional; (2) an injunction prohibiting the defendants from using the stun belt; (3) compensatory damages against all defendants, (4) punitive damages against all defendants except Los Angeles County, (5) punitive damages of $50,000,000 against the judge, and (6) attorney's fees and costs.
On January 25, 1999, District Judge Dean Pregerson, in ruling upon several pre-trial motions, held that: (1) the Eleventh Amendment barred the plaintiff's civil rights claims for damages and injunctive relief against both the municipal court and superior court; (2) his claims for damages against the judge, in her official capacity, were barred by the Eleventh Amendment and by the doctrine of judicial immunity; (3) quasi-judicial immunity also barred the damages claim against a deputy who activated the device at the direction of the judge; (4) likewise, the sheriff had Eleventh Amendment immunity from plaintiff's damages claim (upon reconsideration, approximately two weeks later, the judge withdrew the Eleventh Amendment aspect of the ruling); (5) the plaintiff's allegations were sufficient to state a § 1983 claim against the sheriff in his individual capacity; (6) the county was not responsible for the judge's actions under § 1983; (7) prerequisites for class certification were met; and (8) prisoner was entitled to preliminary injunction. Hawkins v. Comparet-Cassani, 33 F.Supp.2d 1244 (C.D. Cal. 1999). Judge Pregerson refused to create a new cause of action permitting a plaintiff to allege a claim of torture in violation of international law, apart from any treaty obligations. Reviewing five "treaties" that plaintiff or amicus curiae claimed the United States had signed (the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; the Declaration on the Protection of All Persons from Being Subjected to Torture; the American Convention on Human Rights; the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights; and the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms) which allegedly provided a basis for civil relief because they were violated by the defendants' conduct, the court ruled that the first two were not treaties at all (but non-binding U.N. resolutions), the third had not been ratified by the U.S., the fourth had neither been signed nor ratified by the U.S., and the fifth had been ruled as not self-executing. Thus, none of these international treaties or declarations provided a basis for a private right of action which would permit a plaintiff to state a claim for relief.
The judge defined the class as all persons who (1) are in custody of the Los Angeles County Sheriff, (2) are appearing in either a Los Angeles County municipal or superior court, (3) who engage in conduct that is perceived to be disruptive, and (4) upon whom the custodial officer may subject use of the stun belt. Largely because of the availability of other options to control disruptive courtroom behavior, the importance of the courtroom as an institution, and the chilling effect and potential compromise of the defense flowing from the mere wearing of the belt, the judge issued the requested preliminary injunction. Id., at 1262.
The sheriff appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, where the United States also filed as amicus curiae. A panel of that court reversed the class certification, saying that it was error to define the class as all persons in the sheriff's custody, since the plaintiff could not serve as a representative for those prisoners not yet convicted. On remand, the plaintiff would be required to separate convicted and non-convicted class members and seek an appropriate representative for the latter class or to otherwise refashion his case to remedy the class defects. Additionally, said the appellate court, the district court erred in prohibiting the use of the stun belt to protect courtroom security, as distinguished from prohibiting its use to prevent mere verbal disruptions. Sixth Amendment concerns weighed less heavily in the violent disruption context and the wearing of the belt, being less obtrusive, was less likely to prejudice its' wearer in the jury's eyes. Accordingly, the case was remanded to the district court for modification of the preliminary injunction. Hawkins v. Comparet-Cassani, 251 F.3d 1230 (9th Cir. 2001) (Circuit Judge James R. Browning).
On remand, the defendants submitted to the district court on September 7, 2001, a revised policy that specifically prohibited activation of the stun belt solely for verbal disruptive outbursts. Judge Pregerson, in an unpublished February 6, 2002, order, found that the new policy complied with federal law, leaving nothing left to enjoin. Additionally, the court found that since the plaintiff had, by that point, settled his claims with the defendants and no prisoners had stepped forward to serve as class representatives, there were no class representatives to maintain claims on behalf of the class, which the judge de-certified. His order dissolved the preliminary injunction.
No further activity occurred in this case.Mike Fagan - 06/02/2008