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Coleman v. Brown

United States District Court, E.D. California

February 21, 2018

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


         At a special status conference on February 14, 2018, this court issued a bench order requiring defendants to provide six months' notice prior to filing any motion to terminate relief in this action. ECF No. 5783. The reasons for that order are explained below.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Prior Termination Motion

         In January 2013, defendants filed a motion to terminate this action. ECF No. 4275. The motion was supported by two reports prepared by experts who were hired by defendants “in anticipation of filing” a termination motion. April 5, 2013 Order, ECF No. 4539 at 13. These defense experts toured the prisons and spoke to class members without notice to plaintiffs' counsel. Id. at 10. The court found defendants had violated California Rules of Professional Conduct 2-100 “in having [their] experts conduct these ex parte interviews with represented class members, especially since those interviews were used against plaintiffs in support of defendants' Termination Motion.” Id. at 20-21.

         Moreover, defendants' termination motion was denied in substance in an order that made clear the motion was premature. The court found ongoing constitutional violations in the area of suicide prevention, id. at 32-43, mental health treatment for class members in administrative segregation, id. at 43-46, access to mental health crisis beds, id. at 51-53, available treatment space and mental health treatment beds, id. at 53, and mental health staffing levels, id. at 54-62. In addition, the court found that although gains in timely transfer to inpatient care had been made, those gains were “new and work remain[ed].” Id. at 50. As became evident two years later, those gains were not sustained. See August 21, 2015 Order, ECF No. 5343. Only since September 13, 2017, and faced with the prospect of a contempt hearing, see April 19, 2017 Order, EFC No. 5610, have defendants consistently had no class members waiting past Program Guide timelines for transfer to inpatient care. See ECF No. 5715 at 2; see also ECF No. 5789 at 2. It is significant and encouraging that for five straight months all class members in need of inpatient care and not subject to exceptions developed by the parties have been transferred to inpatient care within Program Guide timelines.

         B. October 10, 2017 Staffing Order

         On October 10, 2017, the court ordered defendants, within one year, to “take all steps necessary to come into complete compliance with the staffing ratios in their 2009 Staffing Plan and the maximum ten percent vacancy rate required by the court's June 13, 2002 order.” October 10, 2017 Order, ECF No. 5711 at 30.[1] The October 10, 2017 order followed years of “extensive remedial efforts undertaken in an effort to address inadequate mental health staffing levels, ” described in a February 6, 2017 report on staffing filed by the Special Master, ECF No. 5564 (hereafter Special Master's 2017 Staffing Report), id. at 2. As the court explained in the October 10, 2017 order,

[s]ince 2010, necessary mental health staffing levels have been determined by staffing ratios contained in a staffing plan developed by defendants in response to an order filed June 18, 2009, as part of a coordinated effort to plan for, develop and activate mental health beds sufficient to meet short-term, intermediate and long-range need. See ECF No. 3613, passim. The staffing plan (hereafter 2009 Staffing Plan, was filed September 30, 2009, ECF No. 3693, and approved by the Special Master on March 4, 2010. See ECF No. 5564 at 31-32. The plan provides staffing ratios for the programs at each level of defendants' Mental Health Services Delivery System (MHSDS) and other ancillary programs. See ECF No. 3693 at 12-33.

ECF No. 5711 at 3.

         In objections to the Special Master's 2017 Staffing Report, ECF No. 5591, defendants suggested it was “time to reevaluate the need and feasibility of” what they described as “outdated staffing ratios from the 2009 staffing plan. . . .” ECF No. 5711 at 12 (quoting ECF No. 5591 at 4). In the October 10, 2017 order, the court addressed that objection and, without fully rejecting defendants' proposal to reevaluate staffing ratios, significantly narrowed its scope, based on the following findings.

         First, the court determined the focus of defendants' objection was staffing ratios for psychiatrists, and not, more broadly, all mental health staffing ratios. Id. at 12. Second, defendants had not, as required by a prior court order, “presented either the Special Master or this court with a specific proposal for new staffing ratios” nor had they satisfied the necessary prerequisite of obtaining the Special Master's approval for any such revision. Id. at 14. Finally, the court made clear that “defendants face a heavy burden in attempting to persuade either the Special Master or this court that the staffing ratios for psychiatrists should be revisited.” Id. As the court explained, this heavy burden is based largely on findings made in the April 5, 2013 order denying defendants' termination motion, including findings that the mental health staffing levels that preceded implementation of the operative staffing plan were constitutionally inadequate, id. at 14 (quoting ECF No. 4539 at 25-26); that in seeking funding to implement the 2009 Staffing Plan defendants represented to the California Legislature that the staffing levels in that plan were “appropriate . . . to meet constitutional standards, ” id. at 15 (quoting ECF No. 4539 at 54-55); and that defendants had not shown how they could achieve constitutional levels of mental health staffing by “retreating” from the staffing levels required by the 2009 Staffing Plan. Id. at 15 (quoting ECF No. 4539 at 61 n.47).

         The court found defendants had “not even begun to show why” the findings in the April 5, 2013 order should be revisited. Id. at 17. Defendants' heavy burden was “compounded by the fact that for most programs the 2009 Staffing Plan increased the caseload for prison psychiatrists, ” id., and by the fact that defendants had not requested a change in psychiatrist staffing ratios in 2014, when the court ordered them to revisit and, if appropriate, revise their 2009 Staffing Plan to come into compliance with the Eighth Amendment. Id. at 19. In sum, the court found that defendants' request could “only be construed as a request to increase the existing caseload of prison psychiatrists” and there was “scant evidence in the record to suggest this change would advance remediation of the Eighth Amendment violation in this case; rather, there is strong evidence that such a change would slow progress toward the end of federal court oversight.” Id. at 19.

         In its October 2017 order, the court did leave room for defendants to “rais[e] with the Special Master the issue of whether full implementation of” a new psychiatric medical assistant (PMA) program might support changing psychiatrist staffing ratios, though it was and is “skeptical that full implementation of the PMA program will justify increasing the caseload of prison psychiatrists.” Id. The court was clear that the issue had to be raised, if at all, so that it could “be resolved by the Special Master and presented to the court within” the one year period set for “resolution of all outstanding issues related to mental health staffing and achievement of adequate mental health staffing levels.” Id.

         C. Con ...

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