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$200,000 Settlement for Restraint of Pregnant Prisoner after Ninth Circuit Vacates Summary Judgment

The Ninth Circuit vacated a summary judgment order in favor of Arizona jail officials in a case that involved a pregnant prisoner who was restrained while she was in labor and after she gave birth.

Miriam Mendiola-Martinez was six months pregnant when she was arrested for forgery and identity theft in Maricopa County in October 2009. When she could not prove she was a legal resident of the United States, Mendiola-Martinez was detained under the Arizona Bailable Offenses Act, ARS 13-3961(A)(5), a law that was later ruled unconstitutional in Lopez-Valenzuela v. Arpaio, 770 F.3d 772 (9th Cir. 2014) (en banc).

While Mendiola-Martinez was in custody, Maricopa County’s written restraint policy required restraints anytime a prisoner was outside the jail, unless medical procedures required the absence of restraints during treatment.

Two weeks before her expected delivery date, Mendiola-Martinez began having contractions and was transported to a hospital in handcuffs and shackles. She remained in restraints as hospital staff used a fetal monitor to check her baby; she was then discharged and returned to the jail two hours later.

The next day, Mendiola-Martinez was again transported to the hospital “to rule out active labor.” Once again she was handcuffed and shackled in the ambulance and during an examination by medical staff. Doctors confirmed that she was in labor.

Mendiola-Martinez gave birth later that day via cesarean section. She was not restrained during the procedure, but restraints were reapplied when she was taken to a recovery room.

Four days before Mendiola-Martinez gave birth, the county issued a “Restraints and Labor” directive dictating when guards could use restraints on prisoners in labor. The policy mandated removal of restraints during epidurals and the stage of active labor in order “to protect the mother and baby,” and to avoid “liability of a restrained inmate giving birth which resulted in any injury to the mother and child.”

The next day, a friend took custody of Mendiola-Martinez’s son during the remainder of her confinement. The day after, Mendiola-Martinez was escorted to court in restraints. Within two days of leaving the hospital, she pleaded guilty to solicitation to commit forgery, was sentenced to time served for the 62 days she had spent in jail and then released.

Mendiola-Martinez filed suit in federal court in 2011, alleging that jail officials had violated the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments by restraining her during labor and postpartum recovery. The district court granted summary judgment to the defendants and dismissed the case.

The Ninth Circuit reversed on September 12, 2016, finding that then-Sheriff Joe Arpaio and Maricopa County were not entitled to qualified immunity. The appellate court held that Mendiola-Martinez had “presented sufficient evidence for a reasonable jury to conclude that by restraining [her] when she was in labor and postpartum recovery, the County Defendants exposed her to a substantial risk of serious harm.”

The Court of Appeals concluded that “a jury could find in this case that the restraints used on Mendiola-Martinez were an ‘exaggerated’ response to the County Defendants’ safety concerns.” See: Mendiola-Martinez v. Arpaio, 836 F.3d 1239 (9th Cir. 2016).

Following remand, the case settled in December 2016 with the county agreeing to pay $200,000 to resolve Mendiola-Martinez’s claims.

Meanwhile, former Sheriff Arpaio, who lost his reelection bid last year, is facing his own legal troubles – specifically, being found guilty of criminal contempt by a federal district court on July 31, 2017 for his “flagrant disregard” of a court order related to the racial profiling of Latinos by the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office. Arpaio will not face any jail time, however, as he was pardoned by President Trump in August 2017. 


Additional source:, CNN

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Related legal case

Mendiola-Martinez v. Arpaio