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$27,000 Settles California Prisoner Pro Se Civil Rights Suit

by Derek Gilna

California state prisoner Ronald Martinez filed suit in 2011, asserting that his Eighth Amendment rights had been violated by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR). He eventually obtained a $27,000 settlement from the state, which was finalized in January 2017.

The settlement was remarkable considering that Martinez researched, filed and litigated the case himself, and the level of detail in his complaint belied his pro se status.

The CDCR has faced extensive litigation, including class-actions, but still has problems properly managing its facilities as evidenced by the facts that Martinez described. He wrote in his complaint that his claims arose “while he was confined at California Substance Abuse Treatment Facility (SATF) ... [which] subjected [him] to an uninterrupted sixteen (16) month excessive deprivation of outdoor/out-of-cell ... exercise and sunshine, during the course of a lockdown/modified program.”

As a result of gang activity in the CDCR and a riot in 2009, a restrictive program was implemented to control violence in state prisons, but that program still included requirements for outdoor and out-of-cell exercise time, which Martinez said he did not receive despite repeated requests. That denial, he alleged, was “caused by the defendants’ refusal and failure to utilize the concrete yards during the modified program, contrary to CDCR regulations and plaintiff’s protected right.”

The district court granted summary judgment to the defendants on August 11, 2014, and Martinez appealed to the Ninth Circuit. The settlement was reached while his appeal was pending.

Although court-appointed counsel assisted Martinez in finalizing the six-year litigation, the pro se litigant exhausted his administrative remedies as required, sued almost 20 defendants (including guards, prison officials and the CDCR’s director), appealed the adverse summary judgment order and was able to settle the case due to his persistence and attention to detail.

See: Martinez v. Allison, U.S.D.C. (E.D. Cal.), Case No. 1:11-cv-00293-LJO-DLB. 


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Related legal case

Martinez v. Allison