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Coleman v. Brown

United States District Court, E.D. California

April 19, 2017

RALPH COLEMAN, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
EDMUND G. BROWN, JR., et al., Defendants.

          ORDER

         In an order filed March 24, 2017, this court directed defendants to show cause in writing why they should not be required to come into full and permanent compliance with Program Guide[1] timelines for transfer to acute and intermediate care facility (ICF) mental health care by May 15, 2017. ECF No. 5583 at 2, 25. The court also directed the parties to brief why defendants should not be required to comply with the Program Guide twenty-four hour timeline for transfer to mental health crisis beds (MHCBs) by the same date and, if so, whether full or 90 percent compliance across all California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) institutions should be required. Id. at 2. Finally, the court directed the parties to brief how such orders, if made, should be enforced as well as whether monetary sanctions are an appropriate remedy for non-compliance with such orders. Id. The parties have timely filed the briefs required by the March 24, 2017 order. See ECF Nos. 5593, 5595.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The background and history contained in the March 24, 2017 order is incorporated by reference in this order. See ECF No. 5583 at 2-8. The issue currently before the court is enforcement of provisions of defendants' plan to remedy Eighth Amendment violations in the delivery of mental health care to class members. In relevant part, the Program Guide requires:

1. Any inmate referred to an MHCB be transferred within 24 hours of referral;
2. Any inmate referred to any acute inpatient mental health placement be transferred within ten days of referral, if accepted by Department of State Hospitals (DSH)[2]; and
3. Any inmate referred to any intermediate care mental health placement be transferred within 30 days of referral, if accepted by DSH.

         Program Guide at 12-1-16. It is well-established that defendants have a constitutional obligation to provide class members with “access to adequate mental health care.” Coleman v. Wilson, 912 F.Supp. 1282, 1301 (E.D. Cal. 1995); see also Coleman v. Brown, 938 F.Supp.2d at 981. The time frames for transfer to inpatient care contained in the Program Guide “represent defendants' considered assessment of what is sufficiently ‘ready access' to each level of care.” Coleman v. Brown, 938 F.Supp.2d at 981. The court turns first to compliance with the timelines for transfer to acute and ICF inpatient care.

         II. ARGUMENTS OF THE PARTIES

         A. Plaintiffs' Response

         In their brief, ECF No. 5593, plaintiffs contend (1) the court should order defendants to come into full and permanent compliance with Program Guide timelines for transfer to inpatient care by May 15, 2017; (2) the court's order can and should be enforced through civil contempt proceedings; (3) the court has authority to impose monetary sanctions if necessary to coerce compliance but that defendants must be given an opportunity to reduce or avoid such sanctions through compliance; (4) there is a risk imposition of fines would discourage defendants from referring inmate-patients, or encourage rescission of necessary referrals and therefore “careful reporting and monitoring will be required” if this remedy is chosen; (5) the existing data templates are insufficient to allow enforcement of the court's order; (6) the court should order defendants to come into compliance with Program Guide timelines for MHCBs by May 15, 2017 and should require 100 percent compliance; and (7) before enforcing an order requiring compliance with MHCB Program Guide timelines, the court should take additional evidence to determine the obstacles to full compliance and ascertain whether targeted remedial orders are required prior to imposition of monetary sanctions.

         B. Defendants' Response

         1. Summary

         Defendants oppose issuance of an enforcement order and consideration of monetary sanctions for non-compliance. Defendants contend requiring full compliance with Program Guide timelines “is not consistent with the constitutional standard or the Prison Litigation Reform Act.” ECF No. 5595 at 3. Defendants argue that “whether system-wide constitutional deficiencies exist, does not depend on whether the Court's remedial plan has been fully accomplished. Rather, the question is whether State officials are deliberately indifferent to serious mental-health needs.” Id. at 12. In a similar vein, they contend requiring full compliance with the Program Guide timelines “is at odds with the constitutional deliberate indifference standard” and therefore should not be the benchmark for imposition of monetary sanctions. Id. at 15.

         Defendants further contend imposition of monetary sanctions would violate the Prison Litigation Reform Act “because such relief extends further than necessary to remedy constitutional violations.” Id. at 13. For the reasons set forth in this order, the court finds that full and permanent compliance with Program Guide timelines for transfer to inpatient care is necessary to remedy constitutional violations identified in this action. The court has found, and defendants have acknowledged, that full and permanent compliance with these timelines is feasible. For that reason, the court finds that continued non-compliance would only be remediable through an order of contempt and imposition of coercive monetary sanctions and, therefore, that such relief, if required, would be necessary to remedy the constitutional violation.

         2. Analysis

         Defendants' contentions call for a review of two issues: (1) the role of the deliberate indifference standard at this stage of these proceedings; and (2) the role of the Program Guide in assessing constitutional compliance.

         Defendants' argument concerning the role of the deliberate indifference standard misses the mark and fails to recognize that the court already has repeatedly addressed and rejected this argument, albeit in different contexts. In denying defendants' 2013 motion to terminate these proceedings, the court considered and rejected an argument made by defendants that they are no longer “deliberately indifferent” to the need to provide constitutionally adequate mental health care and therefore should no longer be subject to court supervision. See Coleman v. Brown, 938 F.Supp.2d at 988-89. Subsequently, in a 2014 order on plaintiffs' motion for enforcement of court orders and additional relief related to use of excessive force, disciplinary measures, and housing and treatment of class members in administrative segregation units (ASUs) and segregated housing units (SHUs), the court again rejected this argument, holding that

once an Eighth Amendment violation is found and injunctive relief ordered, the focus shifts to remediation of the serious deprivations that formed the objective component of the identified Eighth Amendment violation. See Coleman v. Brown, 938 F.Supp.2d at 988. Remediation can be accomplished by compliance with targeted orders for relief or by establishing that the “violation has been remedied in another way.” Id. To the extent the subjective component of an Eighth Amendment ...

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