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Ventura County Jail Restraint Chair Use Enjoined; Class Certified

The plaintiffs complained of abuse of restraint chairs, e.g., being strapped into them for asking questions and not being let out to go to the bathroom.

The plaintiffs had standing to seek an injunction concerning the use of restraint chairs because they had damage claims concerning them. This standing rule is unique to the Ninth Circuit. In addition, one of the plaintiffs was in custody at a hospital awaiting return to the jail, and the other three were on probation but had been jailed on multiple occasions. The existence of a policy authorizing use of a restraint chair and evidence from the defendants showing a pattern or practice of abuse of the chair sufficed to establish sufficient likelihood of recurrence. The possibility of recurrence ceases to be speculative when actual repeated incidents are documented.

Evidence that 377 arrestees in a year were put in the restraint chair is sufficient to establish numerosity, especially since the plaintiffs sought to represent persons who had been or will be subjected to it. The class met the commonality and typicality requirements, notwithstanding the County's argument that not everybody defecated and urinated on themselves in the chair.

The fact that plaintiffs sought damages individually did not preclude certification of a class for injunctive relief only.

At 594: "... [B]ecause pre-trial detainees' rights under the Fourteenth Amendment are comparable to prisoners' rights under the Eighth Amendment, courts apply the same standard."

The evidence showed that the chair was used as a result of such behavior as "kicking cell walls," "bad attitude," and "resistance," as opposed to persistent violent behavior; prisoners were kept there for hours after any possible basis for their placement had abated; and prisoners were sometimes not allowed to use the bathroom or to clean themselves up after the inevitable consequences. At 597: "To use the chair because the arrestee has a bad attitude is tantamount to using the chair as a form of punishment."

The court grants a preliminary injunction. At 597: "In order to enjoin a state agency, the Supreme Court requires a showing of an intentional and pervasive pattern of misconduct." Here there is a policy which forbids the use of the chair as punishment, but doesn't define the term, allowing lower-level supervisors discretion to do as they will; the policy doesn't put a time limit on use of the chair; and it has no provisions for allowing them out to urinate or defecate. While the named plaintiffs, not presently incarcerated, do not face a threat of immediate harm, a class has been certified, so class members are at risk. The balance of hardships favors the plaintiffs; defendants have other means, like safety cells and handcuffs, to restrain arrestees.

All use of the chair is not unconstitutional; however, the court doesn't want to get into the day-to-day operation of the jail; so it enjoins all use of the chair pending trial.

The Eleventh Amendment does not bar the official capacity claim against the Sheriff because California sheriffs are county officials. He is the final policymaker concerning use of the restraint chair based on the admissions of one of his subordinates. See: Von Colln v. County of Ventura, 189 F.R.D. 583 (C.D.Cal. 1999).

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Related legal case

Von Colln v. County of Ventura