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Class Action Suit Filed Against L.A. County Jail After 4,000 MRSA Infections

by John E. Dannenberg

A class action lawsuit against Los Angeles (L.A.) County and its Sheriff Leroy Baca was filed in 2004 in the United States District Court (C.D. Cal.) on behalf of an estimated 4,000 present and former L.A. County Jail prisoners who were infected there with MRSA (Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus), a disfiguring and potentially fatal skin disease. Alleging cruel and unusual punishment from being forced to sleep on the Jail floor in unsanitary, vermin infested and unsafe conditions, the class seeks $4,000 per person in damages under California Civil Code § 52(b), general and punitive damages as proved under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and attorney fees and costs provided by law for injuries suffered from 2002 to the present.

Named plaintiffs Sammy Davis, Jr. and seven other L.A. County Jail prisoners sued after exhausting administrative remedies with the County under California Government Code § 910. Each had been forced to sleep on the floor for up to four months while incarcerated. In those conditions, they experienced the unsanitary experience of sleeping next to bathroom fixtures, being infested with vermin and gnats, all the while suffering from painful sores and boils of MRSA infections they caught there, many of which went untreated. Yet, the overcrowding went unabated, with 200 new cases per month still being caught while sleeping on the Jail's floors, with filthy mattresses, pads and beddingif not with no bedding provisions at all. Fifty-seven cases became so severe as to require hospitalization.
That the 22,000 bed L.A. County Jail is overcrowded to the point of violating prisoners' constitutional rights is well established. (See, e.g., PLN, Apr.2005, p.16 [five in-jail murders result from overcrowding].) But today, Davis's suit alleges that conditions have deteriorated to where the County's jails have become major incubators, breeding grounds and a source for dangerous, infectious and communicable contagious diseases, not limited to MRSA ... resulting in an explosion of such diseases into the community at large." Specifically, the complaint asserts that the number of MRSA-infected prisoners was at least 921 in 2002, 1,849 in 2003 and 2,480 in 2004, most of whom acquired their infections in jail.

The well drafted suit cites violations of the Eighth Amendment and California Constitution Article 1, § 17 [cruel and unusual punishment], the Fourteenth Amendment and California Constitution Article 1, § 15 [improper conditions of confinement in violation of substantive and procedural due process of law], violation of duty of care under Title 15 of the California Administrative Code ( §§ 1027, 1117, 1118, 1263, 1270, 1271, 1272 and 1280) and Government Code § 815.6, and violations of California Penal Code § 2600 [prisoners' civil rights], § 4015 [Sheriffs' duty to care for prisoners] and § 6030 [minimum standards for local detention facilities].

Past and present L.A. County Jail prisoners who have suffered MRSA or other infections from overcrowded housing conditions may wish to contact the principal attorneys for plaintiffs in this case, Litt, Estaur, Harrison, Miller & Kitson, LLP, 1055 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 1880, Los Angeles, California 90017. PLN will report further on this case as it develops. See: Davis v. Baca, U.S.D.C. Case No. CV 04-8251 AHM (MANx), First Amended Complaint, April 4, 2005. The complaint is available on PLN's website at

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Related legal case

Davis v. Baca