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Friday, July 19, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Sex Offenders Stumble in Suit Against Atascadero

(CN) - Sexual predators being treated at California's Atascadero State Hospital cannot sue the facility's employees over alleged constitutional violations, the 9th Circuit ruled, reversing itself on remand from the U.S. Supreme Court.

Patients confined to the hospital under the state's Sexually Violent Predator Act have pursued a class action against Atascadero's administrators and various state officials since the late 1990s. They claim that hospital employees force them to take medication and other treatments, while subjecting them to illegal strip-searches and restraints, among other things.

After a Los Angeles federal judge refused to dismiss the patients' request for monetary damages on the basis of the defendants' alleged qualified immunity, the 9th Circuit partly affirmed in 2007. Though the three-judge panel agreed as to damages, it found that the officials enjoyed qualified immunity on the several of the detainees' claims, including First Amendment violations.

When the state and hospital officials reasserted their immunity defense against damages claims to the U.S. Supreme Court, the justices told the appellate panel in 2009 to take another look.

In a new ruling published Thursday, the same three-judge panel reversed its previous ruling, finding that recent high-court precedent requires specific allegations of wrongdoing for monetary damages. Here, however, the detainees had alleged mere "conclusory allegations and generalities" that are "devoid of specifics."

Since qualified immunity does not affect claims for declaratory and injunctive relief, the detainees may still proceed with those claims, the court concluded.

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