Wednesday, November 26, 2008
Court of Appeal Rejects Inmates’ Habeas Claims Over Hot Food
By STEVEN M. ELLIS, Staff Writer
Two Pelican Bay Prison inmates were not entitled to habeas corpus relief on their claim that food was no longer hot by the time it reached their cells, the First District Court of Appeal ruled yesterday.
Explaining that a trial judge should have afforded deference to the prison’s interpretation of a state regulation mandating two hot meals daily instead of imposing its own interpretation, and that there was no substantial evidence the prison regularly violated the regulation, Div. One reversed an order by the Del Norte Superior Court directing the prison to prepare food at a temperature range “acceptable to most consumers.”
Retired Del Norte Justice Court Judge Philip M. Schafer, sitting by assignment, granted limited relief in March on consolidated habeas petitions by prisoners Kelvin Cannon and Robert Luca, who raised concern over the meals served in the segregated facility for inmates deemed a security threat in which they were housed.
Following an evidentiary hearing, Schafer rejected most of the petitioners’ contentions, but ruled that the prison had not satisfied the regulatory mandate that state prison inmates be “provided three meals each day, two of which shall be served hot.”
Evidence showed that food for all of Pelican Bay’s inmates is prepared in a single central kitchen, from which it is transported to “satellite kitchens” where final preparation is completed and the food is reheated to 165 degrees before serving. Inmates in the secured housing unit receive the same food as other prisoners, but are fed in their cells through a port in the door on thermally-insulated plastic trays.
The SHU has its own satellite kitchen, and food reheated there is transferred from the “hot line” to containers maintained at 140 degrees, and then stacked in trays on an open cart for transport to its 22 individual units. A correctional officer must measure and record temperature at each unit, with food typically ranging from 110-120 degrees when it arrives, and testimony at the hearing placed the latter as the ideal temperature for consumption of hot food.
Trays are then distributed to the 48 inmates in a unit, with officers frequently changing the order of service to ensure that particular inmates are not consistently the last to receive their food. Total elapsed time from hot line to SHU inmates’ cells is typically from 20-45 minutes, although it can reach an hour in unusual circumstances.
The prison makes no further attempt to control to temperature of food at the time it reaches SHU inmates, and maintains no regulations specifying the temperature at the time of delivery to individual cells.
Schafer held the prison should determine the acceptable temperature range, and ordered it to establish a preparation and serving procedure to assure a reasonable level of compliance, but Justice Sandra L. Margulies wrote on appeal that habeas relief was not available because Cannon and Luca had shown no constitutional or statutory right to two meals of hot food per day.
“The writ of habeas corpus was expanded to permit lawfully incarcerated inmates to challenge the conditions of their confinement to ensure that, while in confinement, their basic rights are respected,” she commented. “It was not intended to provide them a means to micromanage the prison.”
Assuming that the trial court had properly treated the claims as petitions for writs of mandate, Margulies wrote that Schafer’s decision was still “flawed” because he adopted his own interpretation of “served hot” instead of determining whether the prison’s interpretation was “clearly unreasonable” under the circumstances.
She agreed with the prison that its interpretation—“heated before serving and then served as quickly as possible”—was not clearly unreasonable given the security measures in place, and added, “there is nothing in the language of the regulation that requires food to be presented to the inmates at the most aesthetically pleasing temperature.”
The justice further opined that there was no substantial evidence the prison regularly violated its interpretation of the regulation.
“[T]emperature logs showed that hot food virtually always arrives at the SHU units above room temperature, generally within a few degrees of the 120 degrees Fahrenheit considered ideal for consumption,” she wrote. “While it is entirely possible that, as petitioners testified, their food is sometimes served to them lukewarm or cold, the temperature records suggest this is the exception, not the rule.”
Presiding Justice James J. Marchiano and Justice Douglas E. Swager joined Margulies in her opinion
The case is In re Cannon, 08 S.O.S. 6426.
Copyright 2008, Metropolitan News Company