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Doty v. County of Lassen

filed: October 6, 1994.


Appeals from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of California. D.C. No. CIV-S-89-1019 LKK. Lawrence K. Karlton, District Judge, Presiding.

Before: Arthur L. Alarcon and Ferdinand F. Fernandez, Circuit Judges, and Stephen V. Wilson,*fn* District Judge. Opinion by Judge Wilson.

Author: Wilson

WILSON, District Judge:

On July 25, 1989, certain inmates at the old Lassen County Jail ("Old Jail") brought suit against the County of Lassen ("County") and the Sheriff of the County of Lassen under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging that conditions in the Old Jail violated the First, Fourth and Eighth Amendments of the Constitution of the United States as applied to the states through the Fourteenth Amendment. Among other things, the prisoners alleged overcrowding, inadequate clothing, inadequate medical, dental and mental health care, inadequate privacy for conversations with attorneys, and unequal access to programs for women prisoners. Plaintiffs sought a broad set of injunctive remedies.

When the suit was filed, Lassen County was developing and implementing plans for construction of a new, much larger jail ("New Jail").

On October 17, 1989, the District Court approved a stipulated order preliminarily enjoining certain Old Jail conditions, primarily overcrowding.

On April 25, 1990, defendants made an offer of judgment pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure Rule 68. Plaintiffs rejected this offer. On July 6, 1990, defendants made a second offer of judgment limited to the medical care issues. Plaintiffs did not accept this offer, nor did they formally reject it.

Beginning on July 16, 1990, the case was tried before Magistrate Judge John Moulds. The trial concluded in September 1990.

On July 1, 1991, the New Jail opened and the County ceased using the Old Jail.

On August 1, 1991, Magistrate Judge Moulds entered his 129-page Findings and Recommendations. On September 17, 1991, District Judge Lawrence Karlton entered an Order adopting (with one minor modification) the Magistrate Judge's Findings and Recommendations. This Order granted only a small fraction of the injunctive relief sought by plaintiffs. On October 9, 1991, Judge Karlton entered a judgment. On November 7, 1991, the defendants filed their notice of appeal from the judgment. This commenced Appeal No. 91-16755.

The attorney's fees litigation then commenced, with both sides seeking attorney's fees. On March 30, 1993, Magistrate Judge Moulds filed a 29-page Findings and Recommendations on the attorney's fees issue. On April 20, 1993, Judge Karlton filed an order adopting in full the Magistrate Judge's Findings and Recommendations. This order granted the plaintiffs some of the attorney's fees they had sought and denied the defendants' request for fees. On April 27, 1993, Judge Karlton entered his Judgment pursuant to the attorney's fees order. On April 28, 1993, the appellants filed their notice of appeal from the attorney's fees order. This commenced Appeal No. 93-16163.


Scope of Review

A. Jurisdiction

The inmates brought their action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The District Court had jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1343. We have jurisdiction on appeal from the judgments of the District Court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1291, and we affirm in part, reverse in part, vacate and remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

B. Standards of Review

The standards of review for our examination of the District Court's decision to grant injunctive relief regarding prison conditions are set forth in Hoptowit v. Ray, 682 F.2d 1237, 1245-1246 (9th Cir. 1982). The District Court's factual findings are reviewed for clear error. Id. The District Court's legal Conclusions are reviewed de novo. Id.

When a constitutional violation has been properly identified, the District Court's fashioning of a remedy is reviewed for abuse of discretion. Id. Thus, we may not reverse unless we have a definite and firm conviction that the District Court committed a clear error of judgment in the Conclusion it reached upon a weighing of the relevant factors. Maag v. Wessler, 993 F.2d 718, 719 (9th Cir. 1993). Under this standard, we must "scrutinize the injunction closely to make sure that the remedy protects the plaintiffs' constitutional rights and does not require more of state officials than is necessary to assure their compliance with the constitution." Toussaint v. McCarthy, 801 F.2d 1080, 1089 (9th Cir. 1986), cert. denied, 481 U.S. 1069, 107 S. Ct. 2462, 95 L. Ed. 2d 871 (1987). "Within these parameters, we will defer to the district court." Id.

Awards of attorney's fees pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1988 are reviewed for abuse of discretion. Rock Creek Ltd. Partnership v. State Water Resources Control Board, 972 F.2d 274, 277 (9th Cir. 1992), cert. denied, 124 L. Ed. 2d 657, 113 S. Ct. 2439 (1993). However, any elements of legal analysis and statutory interpretation which figure in the District Court's opinion are subject to de novo review. Id. The District Court's factual determinations underlying its finding that plaintiffs are the "prevailing party" for purposes of collecting attorney's fees under Section 1988 will not be set aside absent clear error. Sablan v. Department of Finance, 856 F.2d 1317, 1324 (9th Cir. 1988).

C. Judicial Review of Prison Conditions

In examining prison conditions, federal courts must remember that "the Eighth Amendment is not a basis for broad prison reform." Hoptowit, 682 F.2d at 1246. "The function of a court is limited to determining whether a constitutional violation has occurred." Id. When a violation is found, the court must fashion "a remedy that does no more and no less than correct that particular constitutional violation." Id. Beyond this responsibility, federal courts have no role in the formulation of prison policy. "Any needed prison reform is an executive and legislative responsibility." Id.


Original Conditions and the Preliminary ...

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