Prisoners Can Sue|Monterey County

     SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – A federal judge Monday found a class of current and former inmates of the Monterey County Jail has standing to bring claims of deplorable conditions and dangerous overcrowding, despite the county’s argument that the case is moot because many original plaintiffs are no longer prisoners there.
     In rejecting the county’s motion to dismiss, U.S. District Judge Paul Grewal found that the class qualifies as “inherently transitory,” because the court won’t have enough time to rule on a motion for class certification before their incarceration ends.
     Most inmates housed at the jail in Salinas are pretrial detainees who are held for an average of 30 to 40 days.
     “The court is persuaded that the short average length of stay of prisoners in the putative class and the plodding speed of legal action qualify plaintiffs for the inherently transitory exception,” Grewal wrote.
     He added: “The court must focus on the average length of detention in the county jail and must look at the claims of the class as a whole rather than plaintiffs’ individual claims for relief.”
     The ruling hinged on whether the inmates had standing when they brought the action in May 2013, when they sued Monterey County, the Sheriff’s Office and California Forensic Medical Group for denying prisoners adequate medical and mental health care and housing them in overcrowded units, causing violence between prisoners and suicides.
     “All plaintiffs may proceed,” Grewal wrote.
     The judge rejected the medical group’s motion to dismiss. It claimed it cannot be held accountable for the alleged maltreatment because it does not operate the jail and its services are not public.
     Grewal cited an opinion by his colleague U.S. District Judge Edward Chen, who wrote: “It is reasonable to consider a jail a public place in the context of inmates’ rights to be free from discrimination on the basis of their disabilities. While the general public is not permitted inside a jail at any given time, the government has the power to compel members of the public to a jail under certain circumstances.” Chen added: “(A) jail is more like schools and hospitals contemplated under the ADA [Americans with Disabilities Act], which also restrict public access in certain times.”
     Turning back to the Monterey prisoners’ case, Grewal wrote: “This same reasoning makes just as much sense when considering whether to understand whether place of public accommodation under Title III also covers private operations within jails. Although inartful in identifying CFMG [California Forensic Medical Group] as the accommodation itself, plaintiffs have sufficiently alleged that CFMG operates a professional office in the actual physical place of the jail to provide the public accommodation of all required medical care.”

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