Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca must face federal civil rights claims that the county failed to protect a suspected rapist who was himself raped and repeatedly beaten in the county jail.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, in an 8-3 vote, reinstated the civil rights suit of Juan Roberto Albino and rejected the sheriff’s claims that Albino failed to exhaust his administrative remedies through a jail complaint system before he sued. The majority pointed out that none of those remedies existed at the jail and so Albino could not invoke them.
In its decision, the majority overturned the court’s own 2003 precedent on the defense use of claims of failure to exhaust remedies, even when there are no such rules.
Albino was arrested in 2006 on a charge of rape by Glendale police. He was not accused of a sexual crime against a minor. But once in county jail, the Los Angeles deputies refused to place him in protective custody. Instead, he was mixed in the general population with high and medium security inmates.
Albino, who was 5-feet, 3-inches tall and 123 pounds at the time, was confronted by an inmate who said, “the deputy said you committed sex acts with children.”
Albino was then attacked by inmates, was beaten unconscious, raped and cut severely.
He also suffered broken teeth, broken ribs and a broken shoulder, according to he court.
Albino was hospitalized and later returned, again, to a general population unit and again attacked. Deputies again denied him protective custody and he was placed in a third general population unit and assaulted for a third time. As a result he has lost hearing in his right ear, vision in his right eye and must use a cane for the blind. He also suffered severe nerve damage on the right side of his face, according to the court.
Albino said he never was told about the complaint process or saw complaint boxes, although deputies testified about the location of complain boxes and the system for filing complaints.
The trial judge dismissed Albino’s lawsuit for failure to exhaust that complaint process and a three-judge panel of the appeals court agreed in 2013.
“There is a personnel manual describing a complaint process, but the manual is not available, or even known, to the prisoners,” wrote Judge William Fletcher.
And there is nothing to indicate the complaint boxes had anything written on them to indicate that was the purpose, he said.
Fletcher wrote that the court’s 2003 precedent is no longer good law. The majority joins four other circuits [2nd, 3rd, 5th and 7th] to hold that judges should resolve these procedural disputes through summary judgment motions, rather than the use by defendants like Baca of “unenumerated,” meaning non-existent, claims, Fletcher said.
In dissent, Judge Randy Smith said, “Albino is a sympathetic plaintiff. However, that fact should not excuse Albino from his duty to exhaust available administrative remedies, while other sympathetic plaintiffs are required to exhaust.”
Joining Smith in dissent were Judges Richard Tallman and Sandra Ikuta.
In the majority with Fletcher were Judges Alex Kozinsi, Stephen Reinhardt, Kim Wardlaw, Jay Bybee, Milan Smith, Mary Murguia and Paul Watford.
Case: Albino v. Baca, No. 10-55702