Vol. 29, No. 17 Supreme Court Denies Review on California Prison Case


On June 9, 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court denied California’s petition for review of the decision in Armstrong v. Brown, which had held that California’s prison officials failed to monitor and protect former inmates who were returned to county jails instead of state prisons for parole violations. The Court gave no reason for its denial and merely stated that the state’s “petition for a writ of certiorari is denied.”

On January 13, 2012, Judge Claudia Wilken, of the federal District Court of Northern California, issued an order, in the case of Armstrong v. Brown,requiring the State of California to monitor county jails to insure that state inmates housed in those jails are provided all their rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

The court stated that “(t)his lawsuit was originally filed seventeen years ago by disabled prisoners and parolees against the California officials with responsibility over the corrections and parole systems. This Court certified Plaintiffs as representatives for a class including ‘all present and future California state prisoners and parolees with mobility, sight, hearing, learning, developmental and kidney disabilities that substantially limit one or more of their major life activities.’”

[JONES & MAYER issued a Client Alert Memo, Vol. 27 No. 1, January 19, 2012, reporting in detail on the federal district court’s decision and its impact on county jails.]

The state of California appealed the district court’s ruling to the Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeal.  The state argued that under the new realignment law, the state had the authority to delegate responsibility over former state parolees to county governments.  The new law which had been passed in response to federal court orders requiring the state to reduce the prison population, in order to provide adequate medical and mental health care to inmates, keeps most parole violators, and lower-level offenders, in county jails instead of state prisons.

In October, 2013, the Ninth Circuit strongly disagreed with the state and upheld the district court’s ruling in the parolee case.  Judge Stephen Reinhardt, writing for the panel, stated that disabled inmates have been engaged in “a seemingly never-ending struggle” with state officials to obtain wheelchairs, sign-language interpreters, accessible beds and toilets, tapping canes for the blind and other accommodations.  Reinhardt wrote that California prison officials “have resisted complying with their obligations at every turn.”

The Brown administration argued that a state law intended to reduce prison crowding had stripped California of responsibility for parolees once they were shifted to the counties.  The 9th Circuit disagreed, upholding an order that requires state prison officials to track disabled parolees and alert the counties to their needs.

The Court noted that the state failed to inform the counties of the inmates’ disabilities and, therefore, “the prisoners have been placed into the vulnerable position of being dependent on other inmates to enable them to obtain basic services, such as meals, mail, showers and toilets.”


By denying review, and upholding the Court of Appeal’s ruling, all of the obligations articulated by the lower court are in place.  Those include, but are not limited to:

“a. On a daily basis, Defendants shall send to each county a list of allArmstrong class members being housed in the county jail facilities of that county.

  1. Within three business days of the arrival of a prisoner at a county jail facility pursuant to a parole hold, Defendants’ agent (whether Parole Agent, Notice Agent, Board Revocation Representative, or other agent) shall . . . interview the parolee, and review any . . . source documents to determine what, if any, reasonable accommodations in housing, programming, or parole proceedings the parolee requires under the Armstrong Remedial Plan, the ADA, and/or the Rehabilitation Act and whether these accommodations have been provided to the parolee by the county jail.
  2. Class members housed in county jails must have ready access to disability grievance forms.”

In addition, and as we pointed out in our January, 2012 Client Alert Memo: “Defendants shall permit Plaintiffs’ counsel to monitor the plan and the accommodations provided to Armstrong class members while housed in county jails.”

This denial of review by the U.S. Supreme Court appears to finally end the debate over the legality and application of the federal district court’s ruling inArmstrong v. Brown. The obligation of the state is to monitor and insure that all state parolees housed in local correctional facilities are provided all of the protections afforded under the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA).

As noted above, the plaintiffs’ attorneys, as well as state officials, also have the right to inspect local facilities to insure compliance with all ADA requirements.  Apparently, several counties are already being sued over conditions similar to those that led the federal courts to order the population reduction.

Attorneys representing the inmates have stated that they do not intend to require counties or cities to “retrofit” their jails to comply with ADA, but only time will tell.

Ironically, this decision will also affect certain cities which house state parolees, as well.  California law was amended last year to allow the state to use appropriate city jails to house state parolees and they must also comply with the ruling of the court.

As with all legal issues, it is imperative that you seek out advice and guidance from your agency’s attorney before proceeding.  If you wish to discuss this decision in greater detail, please feel free to contact me at (714) 446 – 1400 or via email at mjm@jones-mayer.com.

Information on www.jones-mayer.com is for general use and is not legal advice.  The mailing of this Client Alert memorandum is not intended to create, and receipt of it does not constitute an attorney-client relationship.