On March 8, 2006, the Pacific News Service filed a lawsuit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the California Department of Corrections in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. The plaintiffs asked the court for declaratory and injunctive relief, alleging that the defendants had violated the constitutional rights of the press and the public to attend, meaningfully observe, and gather and report on important information at executions being carried out by the defendants at the California State Prison at San Quentin. Specifically, the plaintiffs argued that the defendants' use of pancuronium bromide, a paralytic agent, acts as a chemical curtain over the lethal injection process. The plaintiffs allege that this chemical makes it impossible for witnesses to determine whether the executed inmates are being subjected to substantial and unnecessary pain before dying. As a result, the plaintiffs claim that the witnesses are denied the information that is necessary for the public to decide whether and how executions should be conducted.
On the same day the plaintiffs filed the lawsuit, they asked the court to consolidate their case with Morales v. Woodford (CJ-CA-0004
in this Clearinghouse). On March 28, 2006, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California (Judge Jeremy Fogel) denied without prejudice the request to consolidate the cases.
On October 10, 2010, the defendants filled a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim in response to the plaintiffs' second amended complaint. The defendants argued that the plaintiffs did not have a First Amendment right to dictate the method that the state uses to perform a lethal injection execution. Furthermore, the defendants argued that there are legitimate and constitutional reasons for using pancuronium bromide.
On November 3, 2011, the court entered a scheduling order which included a discovery cut-off date, but the plaintiffs moved to vacate the order and to direct the parties to submit a new proposed schedule "when viable lethal injection regulations are in place." On April 5, 2012 court denied the motion to vacate the scheduling order, reasoning that the ongoing state case, Sims v. California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR), could affect the current case when concluded and therefore the motion was premature. In Sims v. CDCR, the Marin County Superior Court had issued a judgment on February 21, 2012 and held that CDCR failed to comply with the Administrative Procedure Act when it effected its lethal injection regulations. The state court had issued an injunction prohibiting CDCR from executing anyone until new lethal injection regulations complied with the APA.
In July 2012, the parties stipulated that the court should vacate the current scheduling order. On August 10, 2012, the Court vacated the order and stipulated that the parties should submit a new proposed schedule once "(1) viable lethal injection regulations are in place; or (2) the Marin County Superior Court's decision invalidating the regulations is overturned on appellate review, whichever occurs first."
On May 30, 2013, the appellate court affirmed the trial court’s judgment in the Sims case and held that CDCR’s lethal injection regulations were invalid for failure to comply with the APA. The court permanently enjoined CDCR from carrying out the execution of any condemned inmate by lethal injection until their new regulations complied with the APA.
The CDCR's proposed regulations for lethal injections are listed on their website
, where it appears the regulations have gone through four revisions and public comments, the latest on July 11, 2016. Once the regulations are officially adopted by the agency, the case will likely proceed. Justin Benson - 02/08/2012
Abigail DeHart - 11/04/2016