Monday, May 3, 2010
U.S. Court Upholds Receivership for State Prison Medical Care
From Staff and Wire Service Reports
A federal district judge acted within his authority by denying the state’s motion to terminate a receiver’s oversight of California prison health care, the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Friday.
“We are compelled to point out that, as a matter of equity, if not estoppel, the State is in a poor position to assert this objection to the receivership,” Senior Judge William Canby wrote. “The receivership was imposed only after the state admitted its inability to comply with consent orders intended to remedy the constitutional violations in its prisons.”
Canby was joined by Judge Mary M. Schroeder and Senior Judge Michael Daly Hawkins.
Senior U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson of the Northern District of California appointed receiver J. Clark Kelso in 2006, concluding—after seven years of litigation—that there was no alternative way to get the state to comply with remedial orders to which it had agreed.
While the state did not oppose receivership at that time, it now argues that the receivership violates the Prison Litigation Reform Act, an argument Henderson rejected last year.
Canby agreed with the district judge that the PLRA, which provides for the appointment, in certain circumstances, of special masters—with far less authority than receivers—to help implement prison reform orders, did not eradicate the equitable authority of district courts to place correctional facilities in receivership.
“[PLRA] provisions clearly authorize the appointment of a special master in prison litigation to hold hearings, make recommended findings, and perform certain other related functions,” Canby wrote. “They do not, however, provide that the court may appoint a special master with these powers and no one else. Nor does anything in § 3626(f) or (g) purport to address the quite different office of a receiver, appointed by the court to take over the day-to-day management of a prison system or a segment of it.”
Canby also rejected the state’s alternative argument, that the receivership in this case violates the PLRA’s requirement that remedial measures be no more intrusive upon the state’s authority than is necessary to correct the constitutional violations.
The state, he noted, had previously taken the position that the receivership was the least intrusive of several possible alternatives, one of which was to hold the governor and controller in contempt of court. Besides, Canby wrote, “the record simply does not support the State’s contention that anything less than a receivership would have remedied the undisputed constitutional deficiencies in prisoners’ health care at the time the receivership was imposed.”
Nor, he went on to say, is the appellate court the proper forum for the state to raise objections to particular acts of the receiver.
“The State in its briefing has raised various complaints that the Receiver has taken unnecessary particular actions, or has made inappropriate expenditures, beyond those required to remedy constitutional violations. These individual complaints, however, do not address the legality or propriety of the receivership as the least intrusive means of remedying constitutional violations. Whether the Receiver has violated instructions or gone beyond his mandate in any given instance—allegations that the Receiver denies—is a matter that must be addressed to the district court, and be resolved in an evidentiary hearing if necessary. The State successfully opposed an evidentiary hearing in the district court. It cannot now, on appeal, make use of its untested allegations in challenging the legality of the receivership.”
The court also dismissed a portion of the appeal challenging Kelso’s plan to construct 10,000 new beds, at a cost of about $6 billion. The receiver has since responded with a more modest proposal to build two prison hospitals to house 3,400 inmates at a cost of $1.9 billion.
“[T]he order denying the motion to terminate the Receiver’s construction plan...is simply one more event in the administration of the receivership that is not appealable prior to a final judgment,” Canby wrote.
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