Courtesy of James R. Touchstone, Esq.
On January 11, 2019 in the case of Olivier v. Baca, 2019 U.S. App. LEXIS 1019 (9th Cir. Jan. 11, 2019), the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals held that the exigent circumstance of inmate disturbances and lockdowns justified denying a plaintiff a bed for his three-and-a-half day stay at the inmate processing center.
In July 2006, Maurice Olivier was arrested by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Office (“LASO”). On the night of July 12, 2006, Olivier was taken to the Los Angeles County Inmate Reception Center (“IRC”) for processing into permanent housing. At the IRC, Olivier was determined to have health issues and sent to the IRC’s medical screening area, where he waited on a bench for an examination, along with about 100 other people. Due to Olivier’s medical needs, LASO officials determined that he should be properly housed in the Los Angeles Men’s Central Jail (MCJ”). While Olivier was being processed for transfer to MCJ, a series of inmate disturbances and related lockdowns occurred at jail facilities across the Los Angeles County. These events delayed processing at the IRC. Olivier testified that there were not enough benches at the IRC and he had to sleep on the floor without bedding during this period. Olivier was transferred about three and a half days later to MCJ on the afternoon of July 16, 2006.
In October 2008, Olivier brought an action under 42 U.S.C. section 1983 against Sheriff Leroy Baca in Baca’s official and individual capacities, alleging that Baca violated Olivier’s Fourteenth Amendment rights by failing to provide him with a bed during his three-and-a-half day stay at the IRC while he was a pretrial detainee. Baca provided declarations by LASO officials describing jail procedures and staff management during inmate disturbances. The District Court granted summary judgment in Sheriff Baca’s favor, holding that Olivier had not raised a genuine issue of material fact as to whether disturbances by inmates and lockdowns constituted exigent circumstances justifying the floor sleeping. Olivier appealed.
The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals first explained that under the Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process Clause, pretrial detainees like Olivier have a right against jail conditions or restrictions that amount to punishment. The Ninth Circuit also reminded that “central to all other corrections goals is the institutional consideration of internal security within the corrections facilities themselves,” adding that the Supreme Court explained in Bell v. Wolfish that measures to preserve security and order “may require limitation or retraction of the retained constitutional rights of both convicted prisoners and pretrial detainees.” Moreover, the Supreme Court explained in another case that involved a Section 1983 claim by a pretrial detainee that “courts must defer to the judgment of correction officials unless the record contains substantial evidence showing their policies are an unnecessary or unjustified response to problems of jail security.”
The Ninth Circuit noted that in prior Eighth Amendment cases involving disturbances by prison inmates and lockdowns, the Ninth Circuit had held that such issues could delay detention facility procedures and temporarily restrict certain rights without violating the Eighth Amendment. The Court added that, like prisons, jails are responsible for maintaining internal order, discipline, and security.
Here, the Ninth Circuit held that the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Office was well within the scope of its authority to maintain security when it carried out the lockdowns that delayed Olivier’s transfer to permanent housing, resulting in three-and-a-half days without a bed. The Court explained that the evidence was clear that the LASO during this period had been confronted with emergencies that threatened the safety and security of its facilities. LASO addressed a nearly uninterrupted series of riots and civil disturbances involving hundreds of inmates, and resumed normal operations within a matter of hours after jail officials regained control of their facilities. The Court found that that the jail officials’ response to the security threats was reasonable in its scope and effective in controlling the disturbances. Moreover, Olivier was transferred promptly to permanent housing once the disturbances had been resolved. Considering appropriate deference to correctional facility officials in such matters, the Court concluded there was no evidence suggesting the LASO’s response actions constituted “unnecessary or unjustified response to problems of jail security.”
The Court next held that even if a Fourteenth Amendment violation did occur, the District Court correctly held that Baca was entitled to qualified immunity because the right asserted by Olivier—not being forced to sleep on the floor during a jail lockdown—was not clearly established at the time of the events. None of the cases Olivier cited showed exigent circumstances, as was demonstrated in the case here. The Ninth Circuit accordingly affirmed.
HOW THIS AFFECTS YOUR AGENCY
In Olivier, the Ninth Circuit makes clear that correctional facility officials must be accorded deference in their judgments pertaining to internal order, discipline and security. Even where a detainee did not have access to a bed for over three days while awaiting transfer, the Court determined that the LASO’s responsive actions to the exigent circumstances of inmate disturbances, and the accompanying lockdowns and post-lockdown procedures, were not an “unnecessary nor unjustified response to the problems of jail security.” In such circumstances, inmate processing and transfers were less of an immediate priority and not unreasonably postponed until the disturbances were controlled. Agencies should note that the evidence was clear in this case that circumstances were indeed exigent, and that Olivier was promptly transferred once the disturbances had been resolved.
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 Pierce v. Cty. of Orange, 526 F.3d 1190, 1205 (9th Cir. 2008).
 Pell v. Procunier, 417 U.S. 817, 823 (1974).
 441 U.S. 520, 546 (1979).
 Florence v. Bd. of Chosen Freeholders, 566 U.S. 318, 322-23 (2012).
 Noble v. Adams, 646 F.3d 1138 (9th Cir. 2011); Norwood v. Vance, 591 F.3d 1062 (9th Cir. 2010).