Hernandez v. Cnty. of Monterey

Decision Date14 April 2015
Docket NumberCase No. 5:13–CV–2354–PSG.
Citation110 F.Supp.3d 929
Parties Jesse HERNANDEZ, et al., Plaintiffs, v. COUNTY OF MONTEREY, et al., Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — Northern District of California

Gay Crosthwait Grunfeld, Krista Michelle Stone–Manista, Michael Louis Freedman, Ernest James Galvan, Michael William Bien, Sarah Pascal Alexander, Sumana Cooppan, Van Swearingen, Rosen Bien Galvan & Grunfeld LLP, Alan Lawrence Schlosser, ACLU Foundation of Northern California, Inc., Micaela Davis, San Francisco, CA, Carl Takei, Eric Balaban, American Civil Liberties Union, Washington, DC, James Samuel Egar, Monterey County Public Defender's Office, Salinas, CA, Donald Earl Landis, Jr., Monterey County Public Defender's Office, Monterey, CA, for Plaintiffs.

Susan K. Blitch, Michael Rudolph Philippi, Salinas, CA, Jemma Allison Parker Saunders, Paul David Singer, Peter George Bertling, Bertling and Clausen, LLP, Santa Barbara, CA, for Defendants.


PAUL S. GREWAL, United States Magistrate Judge.

In the midst of this litigation over the conditions of confinement at the Monterey County Jail, the parties did something different. They did something commendable. They cooperated.

Their cooperation took the form of an agreement to retain four neutral experts.1 The experts were asked to evaluate whether jail inmates are adequately protected from injury and violence, and whether the jail's system of medical care is adequate.2 The experts identified a variety of deficiencies and hazards, including: an inadequate tuberculosis screening program; inadequate policies and practices for continuing prescription medication for newly-booked inmates; substandard policies and practices for identifying and treating newly-booked inmates for drug and alcohol withdrawal; administrative segregation unit conditions that put inmates at unacceptable risk of suicide and self-harm; exclusion of inmates from exercise, religious, rehabilitative and educational programs based on physical disability and failure to provide inmates with any sign-language interpreters.3

The cooperation ended, however, when it came to implementing the experts' proposed solutions. Representing a class of pretrial detainees and sentenced inmates in the jail and a subclass with disabilities, Plaintiffs now move for a preliminary injunction.4 The injunction they seek targets the discrete conditions identified above as deliberate indifference in violation of the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments and failure to accommodate in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Despite its reluctance to inject itself into decisions made in running a public facility that has served the people of Monterey County for decades, the court cannot deny that Plaintiffs have shown that (1) they are "likely to succeed on the merits," (2) they are "likely to suffer irreparable harm in the absence of preliminary relief," (3) "the balance of equities tips in [their] favor" and (4) "an injunction is in the public interest."5 Under such circumstances, the court has little choice but to GRANT Plaintiffs' motion, as set forth below.


The United States Constitution affords pretrial detainees greater protection from dangerous conditions of confinement than those sentenced after conviction.6 Courts evaluating the claims of pretrial detainees under the Fourteenth Amendment may nevertheless rely on the same analytical framework for those sentenced under the Eighth Amendment.7 A jail violates both Amendments if it incarcerates inmates under conditions posing a substantial risk of serious harm to their health or safety (the objective prong), and if Defendants acted with deliberate indifference, that is, with conscious disregard for that risk (the subjective prong).8 Unsafe conditions that "pose an unreasonable risk of serious damage to [an inmate's] future health" may satisfy this objective prong, even if the damage has not yet occurred and may not affect every inmate exposed to the conditions.9 Inmates have a right to adequate care for serious medical and mental health needs.10 Conditions that significantly affect an inmate's daily activities or cause chronic and substantial pain constitute serious medical needs, even if they are not life-threatening.11

Pursuant to Title II of the ADA, a "qualified individual with a disability" cannot, "by reason of such disability, be excluded from participation in or be denied the benefits of the services, programs, or activities of a public entity, or be subjected to discrimination by any such entity."12 The Department of Justice has promulgated regulations to enforce this general mandate.13 "To prevail under Title II [of the ADA], [a] plaintiff must show that: (1) he is a qualified individual with a disability; (2) he was either excluded from participation in or denied the benefits of a public entity's services, programs, or activities, or was otherwise discriminated against by the public entity; and (3) this exclusion, denial, or discrimination was by reason of his disability."14 Violations of Title II are largely defined by its implementing regulations, which "flesh out public entities' statutory obligations with more specificity," and are controlling authority " ‘unless they are arbitrary, capricious, or manifestly contrary to the statute.’ "15 A public entity must "make reasonable modifications in policies, practices, or procedures when the modifications are necessary to avoid discrimination on the basis of disability, unless the public entity can demonstrate that making the modifications would fundamentally alter the nature of the service, program, or activity."16

The Title II regulations also include specific requirements for correctional facilities.17 Among other requirements, jails must "ensure that qualified inmates or detainees with disabilities shall not, because a facility is inaccessible to or unusable by individuals with disabilities, be excluded from participation in, or be denied the benefits of, the services, programs, or activities of a public entity, or be subjected to discrimination by any public entity."18 Jails also must "ensure that each inmate with a disability is housed in a cell with the accessible elements necessary to afford the inmate access to safe, appropriate housing."19 Correctional facilities also must implement "some form of [disability] tracking system ... to enable [them] to comply with the [ADA]."20 Public entities must make changes necessary to provide programmatic access, including structural modifications and reasonable accommodations.21 Because of the unique nature of correctional facilities, in which jail staff control nearly all aspects of inmates' daily lives, most everything provided to inmates is a public service, program or activity, including sleeping, eating, showering, toileting, communicating with those outside the jail by mail and telephone, exercising, entertainment, safety and security, the jail's administrative, disciplinary, and classification proceedings, medical, mental health and dental services, the library, educational, vocational, substance abuse and anger management classes and discharge services.22

As this court has previously noted, Defendant the County of Monterey has promulgated extensive policies governing inmates' health care and conditions of confinement.23 These policies apply to all inmates in its custody and all staff throughout its main jail in Salinas.24 Since 1984, the County has contracted with Defendant California Forensics Medical Group, Inc., a private health care provider, to provide medical, dental and mental-health care services to inmates.25 Under the terms of its contract, CFMG agreed to follow all County policies and to work with the County to implement additional policies governing such matters as health care staffing, access to prescriptions, emergency care and mental health services.26 The County regularly monitors CFMG's compliance with these policies.27

Plaintiffs allege a variety of jail policies and practices "fail to keep [inmates] safe from violence, to deliver adequate medical and mental health care or to provide required assistance to [inmates] with disabilities."28 Plaintiffs support these general allegations with detailed references to dozens of specific jail policies and practices, including inadequate staffing, training, space, inmate classification, intake health screening, care scheduling, medication, infection control, emergency response and suicidal inmate segregation.29 Plaintiffs also claim that inmates are routinely denied reasonable accommodation for their disabilities.30 They allege, for example, that inmates who cannot climb stairs spend months without going outside because the exercise yard can only be accessed up a flight of stairs.31 Inmates who use sign language to communicate are not provided interpreters for the intake process, doctors' appointments and disciplinary hearings.32 Defendants are further alleged not to maintain any central list, electronic or otherwise, of inmates with disabilities and the accommodations they require.33 The result, say Plaintiffs, is that "[b]ecause Defendants completely lack policies and practices for evacuating and communicating with [inmates] with disabilities in case of emergencies, including natural disasters and security incidents, [inmates] with disabilities are at increased risk of injury in such circumstances."34

Not long after Plaintiffs filed their complaint on May 23, 2013, the case was stayed at the request of the parties.35 The idea was to explore the possibility of a consensus on how best to implement changes at the jail to address Plaintiffs' concerns. In addition to retaining their own experts, the parties agreed to retain independent experts to present opinions on the key issues in dispute. Under the terms of the parties' agreement, the court ordered "a process of mutually agreeing to experts who will review and analyze the conditions at the ...

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