Appeals Court Dismisses California’s Receivership Challenge
(05/04/2010)

A federal appellate court dismissed the state of California’s challenge to the continued oversight of prison healthcare by a court-appointed receiver.

The U.S. Appeals Court in Phoenix rejected the state’s assertion that the appointment of a federal receiver to remedy unconstitutional conditions of healthcare in the California state prison system overstepped the bounds of federal authority.

The appointment and mandate of the receivership go “no further than necessary to correct the constitutional violations” and represents the “least intrusive means,” according to the unanimous opinion of the three-judge panel of the 9thU.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

The Schwarzenegger administration has been seeking the dissolution of the court-appointed receivership, claiming the state cannot afford to implement the expensive receiver’s facility improvement and construction plans.

The state also maintains the continued existence of the receivership and full implementation of its proposals have been rendered unnecessary by the systemwide improvements in healthcare delivery and facility conditions since U. S. District Judge Thelton E. Henderson appointed the receiver in February 2006.

Henderson transferred complete authority over inmate healthcare from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to the receivership.

The state has failed to provide any evidence that, in the absence of federal oversight, it could remedy the constitutional violations within the prison system, according to the Appellate Court’s ruling.

The panel also dismissed the assertion of Gov. Schwarzenegger and state corrections secretary Matthew Cate that the federal Prison Litigation Reform Act allows the federal courts to appoint only a special master, excluding the establishment of a receivership.

The legislative provisions contained in the PLR Act “neither apply to nor prohibit the district court’s appointment of a receiver,” according to the Appeals Court ruling. The appointment of a special master would not have remedied the constitutional violations problems.

A special master would have been invested with limited powers in comparison to the receiver, and would likely have been restricted to assisting state corrections officials with the development of remedial plans, experts say.

“The problem has not been with a lack of plans, but with the state’s inability to execute them,” according to the ruling.

The receivership was “imposed only after the state admitted its inability to comply” with court orders to return healthcare delivery and conditions in the prison system to constitutional levels, according to the opinion, which was written by Appellate Court Judge William C. Canby in agreement with Judge Mary M. Schroeder and Judge Michael Daly Hawkins.

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