Wednesday, July 12, 2006
Injured Jail Inmate Has No Civil Rights Claim Against County—C.A.
By TINA BAY, Staff Writer
A county jail inmate injured by fellow prisoners cannot bring a civil rights suit against the county over its inmate placement policy, this district’s Court of Appeal ruled yesterday.
Affirming Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Gregory W. Alarcon’s dismissal of a jail inmate’s civil rights lawsuit against the Los Angeles County sheriff, Div. Two said the sheriff has sovereign immunity.
Deon Bougere brought his action under 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1983, which allows a citizen to sue cities, counties and local officers in their official capacity for depriving the citizen of constitutionally guaranteed rights.
Bougere’s complaint alleged that the county violated his First, Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights by placing him in close proximity to inmates who threatened his life and ultimately injured him. He claimed that though he repeatedly requested to be moved away from the hostile inmates who were harassing him due to his race and ethnicity, jail employees refused to relocate him to another facility.
Demurring, the county asserted it had sovereign immunity because the sheriff, who has the final policymaking authority in operating the county jail per state law, was performing a law enforcement duty on behalf of the state when deciding where to assign inmates within the jail.
The appellate panel agreed that the sheriff was a state actor, rejecting Bougere’s argument that the sheriff was subject to Sec. 1983 liability because he was a local officer performing a custodial function.
Bougere relied on the Ninth Circuit ruling in Cortez v. County of Los Angeles (9th Cir. 2001) 236 F 3d 552, which concluded that the sheriff had acted on behalf of the county in establishing and implementing a policy of separating gang members from non-gang members within the county jail.
Writing for the court, Justice Kathryn Doi Todd said that the panel was unpersuaded by the Ninth Circuit’s holding in Cortez.
“Inmates at the county jail typically consist of those persons who have been arrested for committing state crimes and are awaiting trial, persons who have already been sentenced, and those detained as witnesses or under civil process or contempt orders,” Todd explained.
“We cannot find that a sheriff’s policies relating to the safekeeping of such persons is merely an ‘administrative function arguably unrelated to the prosecution of state criminal law violations,’” she wrote.
Bougere’s lead counsel, Beverly Hills attorney Barry S. Zelner, expressed surprise and told the MetNews he could not comment until he had an opportunity to review the opinion.
Deputy County Counsel Jennifer A.D. Lehman, who argued the case for the sheriff, could not be reached for comment.
The case is Bougere v. County of Los Angeles, 06 S.O.S. 3619.
Copyright 2006, Metropolitan News Company