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Kenneth S. Thomas v. Arnold Schwarzenegger

September 27, 2011

KENNETH S. THOMAS,
PLAINTIFF,
v.
ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER, GOVERNOR OF THE STATE OF CALIFORNIA,
JAMES E. TILTON, DIRECTOR OF CDCR DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Otis D. Wright, II, District Judge

ORDER DENYING MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

On August 17, 2011 Defendants filed a motion for summary judgment [35]. There has been no opposition. For the reasons stated herein, that motion is denied.

1 . PLAINTIFF'S FAILURE TO EXHAUST ADMINISTRATIVE REMEDIES

In his Second Amended Complaint ("SAC") filed June 20, 2008, Plaintiff complains of over-crowding which he alleges is detrimental to his mental, medical and dental well-being. He acknowledges that the prison has a grievance procedure in place and that he has not utilized the grievance procedure "because defendants have already proven by actions that they will not address this issue anywhere else but in Federal Court . . ." (SAC p. 2 ¶ II. B.) Ordinarily, this could be fatal to Plaintiff's ability to initiate a civil action in federal court. Under the Prison Litigation Reform Act, ("PLRA") 42 U.S.C. §1997e, "No action shall be brought with respect to prison conditions under section 1983 of this title, or any other Federal law, by a prisoner confined in any jail, prison, or other correctional facility until such administrative remedies as are available are exhausted."

As support for his view that he need not resort to administrative remedies prior to filing suit, Plaintiff makes reference in his pleading to other litigation challenging the over-crowed conditions in the California State Prison system. The court assumes Plaintiff is referring to Coleman v. Brown filed in 1990. Coleman was a class action suit brought on behalf of seriously mentally ill persons in California prisons. The second class action was Plata v. Brown filed in 2001. The Plata action involved medical care which fell below constitutionally mandated minimum levels. Both cases attribute the prison system's inability to deliver constitutionally adequate mental health and medical treatment and care to the over-crowded conditions of California's state prisons.

Both cases, tried to two different district court judges, reached the same conclusion: the prisons would be unable to adequately address the issues of care of the prisoners until such time as the over-crowding situation was remedied. In Coleman the state stipulated to a consent decree which required it to address the prison conditions. The state had failed to comply with the injunction five years later.

In Plata a Special Master was appointed who concluded that over-crowding was at the heart of the prison system's inability to attract and hire sufficient medical staff and the physical facilities were inadequate to address the medical needs of such a large population.

It was only after a three-judge court was empaneled and a lengthy trial resulted in an order to reduce the state's prison population to 137.5 percent of design capacity has the state undertaken any measures to remedy the overcrowding. Even then, it was only after appealing, unsuccessfully, to the United States Supreme Court, See , Brown v. Plata, __ U.S. __, 131 S.Ct. 1910, 179 L.Ed2d 969.

Against that background, it is understandable that Plaintiff concluded that the administrative grievance procedure would not be effective in addressing his complaint. Indeed, orders by federal district judges have previously proven ineffective in achieving a remedy to over-crowding in the prison system. Moreover, the fact that one class member had exhausted administrative remedies is sufficient to satisfy the PLRA's exhaustion requirement for another member of the class. Gates v. Cook, (5th Cir. 2004) 376 F.3d 323. The fact that one inmate exhausted his administrative remedies with respect to claim at issue at a preliminary injunction hearing regarding an inmates' class action against prison officials regarding prison conditions was sufficient to satisfy exhaustion requirement of PLRA for other class members. John v. Berge, W. D. Wis. 2001, 172 F. Supp.2d 1128.

On the merits, state contends that it is entitled to summary judgment because it was not deliberately indifferent to Thomas' conditions of confinement and secondly, the state is entitled to qualified immunity because no constitutional rights have been violated.

2. THE FACT OF OVER-CROWDING IN CALIFORNIA STATE PRISONS HAS BEEN ESTABLISHED,AS HAS THE FACT THAT THE OVER-CROWDING HAS RESULTED IN CONDITIONS WITHIN THE PRISON WHICH FALL BELOW EIGHTH AMENDMENT STANDARDS.

Findings made in two separate lawsuits support the assertion that there is severe overcrowding in this state's prisons. "A similar conclusions was reached by the Little Hoover Commission, a bipartisan and independent state body, which stated that '[o]vercrowded conditions inside the prison walls are unsafe for inmates and staff.'" (citation omitted.) Sections 1.A, 1.B and 1.C of the Supreme Court opinion in Brown v. Plata describe in shocking detail the conditions prevalent in this state's prisons. There is no need to repeat them here. Suffice it to say that the question of whether there are Eight Amendment violations occasioned by prison overcrowding has been resolved.

A. Defendants cannot make a credible argument they were unaware of the inhumane conditions within the prison and were unable to remedy those conditions.

Section 1983 contains no state-of-mind independent of that necessary to state a violation of the underlying constitutional right" Daniels v. Williams, 474 U.S. 327, 329-330. Therefore the inquiry is not whether defendants intended to violate plaintiff's Eighth Amendment, but whether the conditions which were permitted to exist were done either ...


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