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Settlement of 1997 Suit Kills 2001 Suit Says Ninth Circuit

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a lower court’s holding that a 2002 Settlement Agreement regarding a 1997 complaint also covered claims in a 2001 complaint.

Todd Ashker was confined in California’s Secured Housing Unit (SHU) at Pelican Bay State Prison (PBSP), when he fought with another prisoner and was shot by a guard, injuring his wrist and arm. In 1995, a jury awarded him damages for the shooting.

In 1997, Ashker sued prison officials for inadequate medical care of his wrist and arm injuries. He moved in 2001 to amend the complaint to allege ongoing deficiencies in medical care. When the court denied the motion, Ashker filed another complaint in October 2001, alleging the continuing denial of medical care.

Ashker and prison officials entered into a May 2002 Settlement Agreement, resolving the 1997 action. The district court later determined that the agreement also covered the claims alleged in Ashker’s October 2001 action.

The Ninth Circuit construed the “Settlement agreement according to the plain meaning of its terms,” and found that it “encompasses the issues Ashker raises in his 2001 complaint.” The court noted that “in the settlement agreement, the state agreed to compensate Ashker for his injuries, to reinstate his physical therapy, to provide him with access to a pain management specialist, to implement a pain management program for him, and to provide him with an appropriate arm brace.” Therefore, the court held that “it is reasonable to assume that the government agreed to these provisions operating under the assumption that the settlement agreement would bar any Eighth Amendment claims that arose prior to the date of the agreement.” See: Ashker v. Steinberg, 238 Fed Appx. 246 (9th Cir. 2007).

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Related legal case

Ashker v. Steinberg