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Settlement in Class-action ADA Suit Against Shasta County, California Jail

by Derek Gilna

Everett Joseph Jewett, a disabled prisoner held in the medical unit at a jail in Shasta County, California, filed suit in federal court in 2013 alleging the facility had failed to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), 42 U.S.C. § 12101, et seq. After five years of intense discovery and motion practice, and the filing of five amended complaints, the parties finally agreed to settle the case pending final approval by the district court.

Jewett’s original complaint alleged that the Shasta County jail was in violation of the ADA because it did not have a solitary confinement unit for disabled prisoners, who were instead classified as being held in administrative segregation; because detainees with disabilities were not housed in “the most integrated setting appropriate to [their] needs”; and because disabled prisoners were held in medical areas when they were not “actually receiving medical care or treatment.”

According to Jewett, those failures to adhere to the ADA unfairly penalized a dozen disabled detainees at the jail, who were unable to participate in programs offered to non-disabled prisoners in the general publication.

Jewett also sued the jail’s private health care provider, the California Forensic Medical Group (CFMG), and a doctor who had “contracted with the County of Shasta to guarantee that the medical care and needs of the persons housed in the Shasta County Jail are met. Part of a physician’s job is to ensure that the care provided meets a minimum standard as laws would dictate, including the care of inmates who are protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).”

His lawsuit also alleged that “the facility has seven ‘lockdown’ cells where ADA inmates have been housed in solitary confinement. None of these cells are equipped with equipment such as hand rails for the aid of debilitated inmates using the toilets, safety devices to ensure showers occur without injury, or any other equipment meant to aid in the daily life” of disabled prisoners.

The final amended complaint, which continued to allege violations of the ADA, also included claims related to violations of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act (29 U.S.C. § 794, et seq.), California Government Code Section 11135, et seq., the Unruh Civil Rights Act (Cal. Civil Code § 51, et seq.) and California Government Code § 4450, et seq. Another claim alleged retaliation against disabled prisoners who complained about their living conditions.

As noted in the complaint, “On July 26, 1990, Congress enacted the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. section 12101, et seq., establishing the most important civil rights law for persons with disabilities in our country’s history ... some 43,000,000 Americans have one or more physical or mental disabilities...,” and “historically, society has tended to isolate and segregate individuals with disabilities.” Including in prisons and jails.

Initially filed by Jewett pro se, the last amended complaint had four additional named plaintiffs – including Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, an advocacy organization.

The district court granted a motion for class certification in April 2017, certifying a class consisting of “All current and future detainees and prisoners at Shasta County Jail with mobility disabilities who, because of their disabilities, need appropriate accommodations, modifications, services, and/or physical access in accordance with federal and state disability laws.”

The court subsequently granted preliminary approval of a settlement on March 20, 2018, and set a fairness hearing for late June. Pursuant to the agreement, the county must make efforts to contract with a Joint Accessibility Expert “to conduct a full site inspection and assessment of the Jail facilities and prepare a written report of their findings in order to identify those areas that do not comply with the Accessibility Standards in effect at the time of the expert review.”

Further, the county will “make all of the Joint Accessibility Expert’s recommendations for removal and/or remediation of physical barriers in the Jail facilities as soon as possible, with speed and diligence, and not later than three (3) years after receiving the Joint Accessibility Expert’s written report. Within one (1) year after receiving the Joint Accessibility Expert’s written report, the County agrees to replace combination toilet room fixtures with newer fixtures that provide required clearances per Accessibility Laws, to install or relocate grab bars such that they are in compliance with Accessibility Laws, install toilet seats to raise the seat height to the accessible range, to replace telephone cords with accessible cords, and to install accessible benches in the yards.”

Disabled prisoners at the jail “shall have access to all programs that non-mobility disabled inmates have in Jail facilities, including inmate work programs,” and shall be entitled to reasonable accommodations for their disabilities. The county also agreed to adopt an ADA grievance process and hire an ADA coordinator to “oversee the Jail’s compliance with Accessibility Laws,” among other provisions.

The settlement agreement will apply to CFMG or its successors as well as Shasta County.

The plaintiffs’ attorneys, including Atabek & Associates, the Disability Rights Legal Center, and the law firms of Keker, Van Nest & Peters LLP and Rosen Bien Galvan & Grunfeld, are seeking $1.778 million in fees plus $49,358.69 in costs. See: Jewett v. Shasta County Sheriff’s Dept., U.S.D.C. (E.D. Cal.), Case No. 2:13-cv-00882-MCE-AC. 


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Related legal case

Jewett v. Shasta County Sheriff’s Dept.