COVID-19 Litigation Update and Strategies

What Happened in In re Von Staich?

In re Von Staich (2020) 56 Cal.App.5th 53 found prison officials deliberately indifferent to the health and safety of prisoners at San Quentin State Prison during the COVID-19 pandemic. The deliberate indifference finding was grounded in CDCR’s refusal to implement the necessary 50 percent population reduction set forth in the June 15, 2020, UCSF/Berkeley Public Health “Urgent Memo.” (Von Staich, 56 Cal.App.5th at 80.) The Court of Appeal ordered officials to remedy the constitutional violation by designing a plan to reduce the population of the prison to 50 percent of its June 2020 population, through either additional releases from custody or transfers to other institutions. On December 23, 2020, the California Supreme Court (S265173) granted review, and returned the matter to the Court of Appeal, with instructions to consider whether to order an evidentiary hearing before judgment is pronounced. In response, the Court of Appeal modified the order to show cause to make it returnable to the Marin County Superior Court, where the Von Staich case was consolidated with ongoing habeas litigation on behalf of more than 300 people incarcerated at San Quentin. An evidentiary hearing was held in May and June 2021, and the court has now ordered post-hearing merits briefing. The San Francisco Public Defender’s office is providing updates on the case.

Is FDAP Providing a Sample Superior Court Petition?

We do not currently have a form or template for a superior court COVID-19 petition because the situation throughout CDCR and within individual institutions is changing on a day-by-day basis.  Additionally, any petition will need to be formulated in light of (1) the conditions at that specific institution, and (2) the client’s age, specific medical conditions, or other considerations relevant to the client’s vulnerability and suitability for release or transfer. Attorneys should discuss the matter with the FDAP consulting attorney before commencing work on a petition.

How Do I Stay Informed?

Monitor the CDCR’s Population COVID-19 Tracking tool for the presence and severity of cases in state prisons.