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Ninth Circuit Upholds Modified Armstrong Injunction

“Disabled inmates have been litigating to ensure that the State provides them with needed accommodation for over two decades – and yet the State still has a long, long way to go before it meets its obligation to these prisoners,” the Ninth Circuit observed in largely rejecting California prison officials’ challenge to a Modified Injunction.

In 1994, a class of California prisoners and parolees brought federal suit against prison officials, alleging that they were being deprived of accommodations required by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and Rehabilitation Act (RA). See: Armstrong v. Davis, 275 F.3d 849 , 879 (9th Cir. 2001).

After a series of orders of the district court and Ninth Circuit, finding California in violation of the ADA & RA, the State produced a remedial plan to ensure that disabled prisoners had access to programs and facilities. In March 2001, the district court entered a permanent injunction, directing enforcement of the remedial plan (2001 Injunction). See: Armstrong v. Schwarzenegger, 622 F.3d 1058, 1063 (9th Cir. 2010).

Six years later, California still had not brought its prisons into compliance with the remedial plan or the 2001 Injunction. So the district court issued another injunction (2007 Injunction), requiring Defendants to “develop a system for holding wardens and prison medical administrators accountable for compliance with the Armstrong Remedial Plan and the orders of the Court.” See: Armstrong v. Schwarzenegger, No. 4:94-cv-2307 (N.D. Cal. Jan 18, 2007). “The system shall track the record of each institution and the conduct of individual staff members who are not complying with these requirements.”

In 2012, Plaintiffs moved to hold Defendants in contempt for failing to comply with the 2007 Injunction’s accountability requirements. The district court disagreed with Defendants’ interpretation of its investigation and logging obligations under the 2007 Injunction. The court declined to hold Defendants in contempt, however, concluding that the 2007 Injunction may not have stated these requirements clearly enough. See: Armstrong v. Brown, 2012 WL 3638675 (N.D. Cal. 2012).

Ultimately, the court modified the injunction to explicitly mandate that Defendants investigate and track all allegations of non-compliance with the remedial plan and court orders. The court also added dispute-resolution procedures, which called for an expert witness to resolve compliance disputes.

Defendants appealed, arguing that the Modified Injunction is invalid because: (1) it was issued without notice to, and an opportunity to be heard by, Defendants; (2) it violates the Prison Litigation Reform Act; (3) the statewide scope of the injunction is unjustified by the evidence; (4) it conflicts with state law and the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) between the State and prison employees; and (5) the district court exceeded its authority in appointing an expert to resolve disputes.

The Ninth Circuit rejected each of Defendants’ arguments except the dispute resolution challenge. “While the district court might have intended the expert’s decision to be subject to review or appeal, that intention is not reflected in its order,” the court observed.

“As currently drafted, the injunction does not provide any mechanism for review of the expert’s decisions by the district court and so risks permitting the expert to ‘displace the district court’s judicial role,”’ the Court concluded. Nevertheless, it was “confident that the able district judge can craft an appropriate procedure under which a party dissatisfied with the expert’s recommendations can obtain district court review of that recommendation.”

The court offered several possible ways to accomplish this, but did “not mean to circumscribe the district court’s discretion” to craft its own order. See: Armstrong v. Brown, 768 F.3d 975 (9th Cir. 2014).


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Related legal cases

Armstrong v. Brown

Armstrong v. Brown

Armstrong v. Schwarzenegger

Armstrong v. Schwarzenegger

Armstrong v. Davis