Brown v. Plata, No. 09–1233.

CourtU.S. Supreme Court
Writing for the CourtJustice KENNEDY delivered the opinion of the Court.
Citation563 U.S. 493,131 S.Ct. 1910,179 L.Ed.2d 969
Docket NumberNo. 09–1233.
Decision Date23 May 2011
Parties Edmund G. BROWN, Jr., Governor of California, et al., Appellants, v. Marciano PLATA et al.

563 U.S. 493
131 S.Ct.
1910
179 L.Ed.2d 969

Edmund G. BROWN, Jr., Governor of California, et al., Appellants,
v.
Marciano PLATA et al.

No. 09–1233.

Supreme Court of the United States

Argued Nov. 30, 2010.
Decided May 23, 2011.


Carter G. Phillips, Washington, DC, for appellants.

Donald Specter, Berkeley, CA, for appellees.

Rod Pacheco, District Attorney, County of Riverside, William E. Mitchell, Assistant District Attorney, Alan D. Tate, Senior Deputy District Attorney, Riverside, CA, for Appellants District Attorney Intervenors, Steven S. Kaufhold, Counsel of Record, Chad A. Stegeman, Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP, San Francisco, CA, Thomas C. Goldstein, Troy D. Cahill, Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP, Washington, DC, for Appellants California State Republican Legislator Intervenors, Gary S. Olson, Sacramento, CA, Charles V. Fennessey, Sacramento, CA, for Appellants California State Republican Legislator Intervenors, Martin J. Mayer, Kimberly Hall Barlow, Ivy M. Tsai, Jones & Mayer, Fullerton, CA, for Appellants Sheriff, Chief Probation Officer, Police Chief, and Corrections Intervenors.

Edmund G. Brown Jr., Attorney General of California, James M. Humes, Chief Deputy Attorney General, Manuel M. Medeiros, State Solicitor General, Gordon Burns, Deputy Solicitor General, Jonathan L. Wolff, Rochelle C. East, Senior Assistant Attorneys General, Kyle A. Lewis, Danielle F. O'Bannon, Deputy Attorneys General, San Francisco, CA, Carter G. Phillips, Counsel of Record, Eamon P. Joyce, Tara Mikkilineni, Sidley Austin LLP, Washington, DC, Jerrold C. Schaefer, Paul B. Mello, S. Anne Johnson, Samantha D. Wolff, Renju P. Jacob, Hanson Bridgett LLP, San Francisco, CA, Jennifer J. Clark (Ms. Clark is admitted only in Maryland and is practicing law in the District of Columbia pending application for admission to the D.C. Bar and under the supervision of principals of the firm who are members in good standing of the

131 S.Ct. 1922

D.C. Bar), Sidley Austin LLP, Washington, DC, for Appellants.

Michael W. Bien, Jane E. Kahn, Ernest Galvan, Amy Whelan, Lisa Ells, Rosen, Bien & Galvan LLP, San Francisco, CA, Paul D. Clement, Counsel of Record, Ashley C. Parrish, Zachary D. Tripp, Candice Chiu, King & Spalding LLP, Washington, DC, Donald Specter, Steve Fama, Alison Hardy, Sara Norman, Rebekah Evenson, Prison Law Office, Berkeley, CA, for Coleman Appellees.

Daniel M. Lindsay, David A. Sanders, California Correctional Peace Officers' Association, West Sacramento, CA, Laurie J. Hepler, Counsel of Record, Gregg McLean Adam, Gonzalo C. Martinez, Carroll, Burdick & McDonough LLP, San Francisco, CA, Jeffrey L. Fisher, Pamela S. Karlan, Stanford Law School, Supreme Court Litigation Clinic, Stanford, CA, for Appellee Intervenor California Correctional Peace Officers' Association.

Justice KENNEDY delivered the opinion of the Court.

563 U.S. 499

This case arises from serious constitutional violations in California's prison system. The violations have persisted for years. They remain uncorrected. The appeal comes to this Court from a three-judge District Court order directing California to remedy two ongoing violations of the Cruel and Unusual Punishments Clause, a guarantee binding on the States by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

563 U.S. 500

The violations are the subject of two class actions in two Federal District Courts. The first involves the class of prisoners with serious mental disorders. That case is Coleman v. Brown . The second involves prisoners with serious medical conditions. That case is Plata v. Brown . The order of the three-judge District Court is applicable to both cases.

After years of litigation, it became apparent that a remedy for the constitutional violations would not be effective absent a reduction in the prison system population. The authority to order release of prisoners as a remedy to cure a systemic violation of the Eighth Amendment is a power reserved to a three-judge district court, not a single-judge district court. 18 U.S.C. § 3626(a). In accordance with that rule, the Coleman and Plata District Judges independently requested that a three-judge court be convened. The Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit convened a three-judge court composed of the Coleman and Plata District Judges and a third, Ninth Circuit Judge. Because the two cases are interrelated, their limited consolidation for this purpose has a certain utility in avoiding conflicting decrees and aiding judicial consideration and enforcement. The State in this Court has not objected to consolidation, although the State does argue that the three-judge court was prematurely convened. The State also objects to the substance of the three-judge court order, which requires the State to reduce overcrowding in its prisons.

The appeal presents the question whether the remedial order issued by the three-judge court is consistent with requirements and procedures set forth in a congressional statute, the Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1995 (PLRA).

131 S.Ct. 1923

18 U.S.C. § 3626 ; see Appendix A, infra . The order leaves the choice of means to reduce overcrowding to the discretion of state officials. But absent compliance through new construction, out-of-state transfers, or other means—or modification of the order upon a further showing by the State—the

563 U.S. 501

State will be required to release some number of prisoners before their full sentences have been served. High recidivism rates must serve as a warning that mistaken or premature release of even one prisoner can cause injury and harm. The release of prisoners in large numbers—assuming the State finds no other way to comply with the order—is a matter of undoubted, grave concern.

At the time of trial, California's correctional facilities held some 156,000 persons. This is nearly double the number that California's prisons were designed to hold, and California has been ordered to reduce its prison population to 137.5% of design capacity. By the three-judge court's own estimate, the required population reduction could be as high as 46,000 persons. Although the State has reduced the population by at least 9,000 persons during the pendency of this appeal, this means a further reduction of 37,000 persons could be required. As will be noted, the reduction need not be accomplished in an indiscriminate manner or in these substantial numbers if satisfactory, alternate remedies or means for compliance are devised. The State may employ measures, including good-time credits and diversion of low-risk offenders and technical parole violators to community-based programs, that will mitigate the order's impact. The population reduction potentially required is nevertheless of unprecedented sweep and extent.

Yet so too is the continuing injury and harm resulting from these serious constitutional violations. For years the medical and mental health care provided by California's prisons has fallen short of minimum constitutional requirements and has failed to meet prisoners' basic health needs. Needless suffering and death have been the well-documented result. Over the whole course of years during which this litigation has been pending, no other remedies have been found to be sufficient. Efforts to remedy the violation have been frustrated by severe overcrowding in California's prison system. Short term gains in the provision of care have been

563 U.S. 502

eroded by the long-term effects of severe and pervasive overcrowding.

Overcrowding has overtaken the limited resources of prison staff; imposed demands well beyond the capacity of medical and mental health facilities; and created unsanitary and unsafe conditions that make progress in the provision of care difficult or impossible to achieve. The overcrowding is the "primary cause of the violation of a Federal right," 18 U.S.C. § 3626(a)(3)(E)(i), specifically the severe and unlawful mistreatment of prisoners through grossly inadequate provision of medical and mental health care.

This Court now holds that the PLRA does authorize the relief afforded in this case and that the court-mandated population limit is necessary to remedy the violation of prisoners' constitutional rights. The order of the three-judge court, subject to the right of the State to seek its modification in appropriate circumstances, must be affirmed.

I

A

The degree of overcrowding in California's prisons is exceptional. California's prisons are designed to house a population just under 80,000, but at the time of the three-judge court's decision the population was almost double that. The State's prisons

131 S.Ct. 1924

had operated at around 200% of design capacity for at least 11 years. Prisoners are crammed into spaces neither designed nor intended to house inmates. As many as 200 prisoners may live in a gymnasium, monitored by as few as two or three correctional officers. App. 1337–1338, 1350; see Appendix B, infra . As many as 54 prisoners may share a single toilet. App. 1337.

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    ...that informs our view of "what is obtainable and what is acceptable in corrections philosophy," Brown v. Plata, 563 U.S. ––––, ––––, 131 S.Ct. 1910, 1944, 179 L.Ed.2d 969 (2011) —has promulgated a standard that forbids suspicionless strip searches. And it has done so after consultation with......
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    ...own needs,” the failure to provide such care “may actually produce physical torture or a lingering death.” Brown v. Plata, ––– U.S. ––––, 131 S.Ct. 1910, 1928, 179 L.Ed.2d 969 (2011) (internal quotation marks omitted). Undue suffering, unrelated to any legitimate penological purpose, is con......
  • Padilla v. Enforcement, No. 19-35565
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    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (9th Circuit)
    • March 27, 2020
    ...procedure by which the court may exercise that jurisdiction over the various individual claims in a single proceeding"); Brown v. Plata , 563 U.S. 493, 531, 131 S.Ct. 1910, 179 L.Ed.2d 969 (2011) (provision stating that a remedy shall extend no further than necessary to remedy the violation......
  • Juliana v. United States, Case No. 6:15-cv-01517-AA
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    • United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Court (Oregon)
    • October 15, 2018
    ...broad authority "to fashion practical remedies when confronted with complex and intractable constitutional violations." Brown v. Plata , 563 U.S. 493, 526, 131 S.Ct. 1910, 179 L.Ed.2d 969 (2011). Here the Court has not yet determined the scope, if any, of federal defendants' constitutional ......
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727 cases
  • Florence v. Bd. of Chosen Freeholders of the Cnty. of Burlington, No. 10–945.
    • United States
    • United States Supreme Court
    • April 2, 2012
    ...that informs our view of "what is obtainable and what is acceptable in corrections philosophy," Brown v. Plata, 563 U.S. ––––, ––––, 131 S.Ct. 1910, 1944, 179 L.Ed.2d 969 (2011) —has promulgated a standard that forbids suspicionless strip searches. And it has done so after consultation with......
  • Kosilek v. Spencer, No. 12–2194.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (1st Circuit)
    • December 16, 2014
    ...own needs,” the failure to provide such care “may actually produce physical torture or a lingering death.” Brown v. Plata, ––– U.S. ––––, 131 S.Ct. 1910, 1928, 179 L.Ed.2d 969 (2011) (internal quotation marks omitted). Undue suffering, unrelated to any legitimate penological purpose, is con......
  • Padilla v. Enforcement, No. 19-35565
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (9th Circuit)
    • March 27, 2020
    ...procedure by which the court may exercise that jurisdiction over the various individual claims in a single proceeding"); Brown v. Plata , 563 U.S. 493, 531, 131 S.Ct. 1910, 179 L.Ed.2d 969 (2011) (provision stating that a remedy shall extend no further than necessary to remedy the violation......
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    • United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Court (Oregon)
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    ...note 28, at 4-5. (61) See.g., Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 103 (1976); Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 832 (1994); Brown v. Plata, 563 U.S. 493, 510-11, 545 (2011); see also Edmo v. Corizon, Inc., 935 F.3d 757, 786 (9th Cir. 2019), cert, denied sub nom. Idaho Dep't of Corr. v. Edmo, 141......
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    ...Press.Branham, L. S. (2002 ). The law of sentencing, corrections, and prisoners’ rights.St.Paul,MN:WestGroup.Brown v. Plata, 131 S. Ct. 1910. (2011).Buchanan, K. S. (2010). Our prisons ourselves: Race, gender, and the rule of law. Yale Law and Policy Review,28, 1–82.Burke, K. S. (2010). Wha......
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