Saturday, November 15, 2008

Court of Appeal Clarifies Duties to Prisoners

In Giraldo v. CDCR (here), the Court of Appeal has decided several important issues relating to tort claims brought by prisoners. First, the court held that prison officials owe a "special duty of care" to protect prisoners from assaults by third parties (i.e., fellow prisoners) that can be breached by negligent conduct on the part of the officials. While there was no California case on point, the court analogized the relationship between prisoner and jailer to other "special relationships" where, because of the plaintiff's vulnerability, a duty to protect against foreseeable harm caused by third parties exists. The conclusion reached by the court is also supported by the Restatement and several decisions from courts in other states.

Second, the court held that there is no private right of action for damages for a violation of the "cruel or unusual punishment" clause of the California Constitution, Article I, Section 17. Relying heavily on Katzberg v. Regents, 29 Cal. 4th 300 (2002), where the Supreme Court had held that there was no cause of action for damages for a violation of the State Constitution's due process clause, the court in this case held that there was no evidence of any intent to create such a right and there were alternate remedies available, including the tort remedy recognized by the court and a federal claim for violation of the Eighth Amendment. There is a cause of action for declaratory and injunctive relief for violation of Article I, Section 17, but no such relief was available in this case because the prisoner had been released from custody.

While the state may file a petition for review on the tort issue, and the prisoner on the constitutional issue, it's hard to see why the California Supreme Court should take this case. The tort result is hardly radical; as noted above, it's supported by the Restatement of Torts. And the constitutional ruling closely follows Katzberg. All in all, a thoughtful opinion by Judge Richman.

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