Ashker v. Brown

At a Glance

Current Status 

The case is currently in expert discovery and slated for trial in December 2015.

Date Filed: 

May 31, 2012

Co-Counsel 

California Prison Focus, Christensen O'Connor Johnson Kindness PLLC, Law Firm of Charles Carbone, Gregory Hull, Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, Siegel & Yee, Weil Gotshal & Manges LLP

Client 

Todd Ashker, Ronnie Dewberry, Luis Esquivel, George Franco, Jeffrey Franklin, Richard Johnson, Paul Redd, Gabriel Reyes, George Ruiz, Danny Troxell

Case Description 

Ashker v. Brown is a federal class action lawsuit on behalf of prisoners held in the Security Housing Unit (SHU) at California’s Pelican Bay State Prison who have spent decades in solitary confinement. The case alleges that prolonged solitary confinement violates the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment, and that the absence of meaningful review for SHU placement violates the prisoners’ rights to due process. The legal action is part of a larger movement to reform conditions in SHUs in Calfornia’s prisons, which was sparked and dramatized by hunger strikes by thousands of SHU prisoners in 2011 and 2013; the named plaintiffs in Ashker include several leaders and participants from the hunger strikes. The case is part of CCR’s broader efforts to challenge mass incarceration, discrimination, and abusive prison policies.

SHU prisoners spend 22 ½ to 24 hours every day in a cramped, concrete, windowless cell. They are denied telephone calls, contact visits, and vocational, recreational, or educational programming. Hundreds of Pelican Bay SHU prisoners have been isolated under these conditions for over 10 years and dozens for more than 20 years, causing harmful and predictable psychological deterioration. In fact, solitary confinement for as little as 15 days is now widely recognized to cause lasting psychological damage and can constitute torture under international law.

Additionally, the suit alleges that SHU prisoners are denied any meaningful review of their SHU placement. California, alone among all fifty states and most other jurisdictions, imposes extremely prolonged solitary confinement based merely on a prisoner’s alleged association with a prison gang. Gang “affiliation” is assessed without considering whether a prisoner is – or ever was – actually involved in gang activity. SHU assignments disproportionately affect Latinos; in 2011 the Pelican Bay SHU was 85% Latino.

Ashker v. Brown amended an earlier pro se lawsuit filed by Pelican Bay SHU prisoners Todd Ashker and Danny Troxell. The case is before Judge Claudia Wilken in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.

Case Timeline

March 9, 2015

Judge issues written order granting plaintiffs' motion for leave to file supplemental complaint

March 9, 2015

Judge issues written order granting plaintiffs' motion for leave to file supplemental complaint

February 12, 2015
Oral argument on plaintiff's motion for leave to file supplemental complaint
February 12, 2015
Oral argument on plaintiff's motion for leave to file supplemental complaint

Judge Wilken ruled from the bench that the lawsuit may cover plaintiffs transferred out of Pelican Bay to other prisons during the course of the case.

June 2, 2014
Judge certifies case as a class action
June 2, 2014
Judge certifies case as a class action
The Court certifies the case as a class action, identifying an Eighth Amendment class of prisoners subject to prolonged solitary confinement at the Pelican Bay SHU and a Due Process class of prisoners in the SHU under old gang validation policies.
September 26, 2013
Hearing on Plaintiffs' Motion for Class Certification
September 26, 2013
Hearing on Plaintiffs' Motion for Class Certification
The Court hears oral argument on Plaintiffs' motion for class certification.
August 8, 2013
Plaintiffs file a reply brief in support of their motion for class certification
August 8, 2013
Plaintiffs file a reply brief in support of their motion for class certification
July 18, 2013
Defendants file Opposition to Motion for Class Certification
July 18, 2013
Defendants file Opposition to Motion for Class Certification
May 2, 2013
Plaintiffs' Motion for Class Certification is filed
May 2, 2013
Plaintiffs' Motion for Class Certification is filed
Plaintiffs move to certify the case as a class action, seeking to represent all prisoners subject to unconstitutional treatment at the Pelican Bay SHU.
April 9, 2013

Judge denies Defendants' Motion to Dismiss.

April 9, 2013

Judge denies Defendants' Motion to Dismiss.

Siding with Plaintiffs, the Court refuses to dismiss their claims and allows the case to proceed.
January 17, 2013

Plaintiffs file Opposition to Defendants' Motion to Dismiss

January 17, 2013

Plaintiffs file Opposition to Defendants' Motion to Dismiss

Plaintiffs oppose Defendants' effort to dismiss their case.
December 17, 2012

Defendants’ file Motion to Dismiss

December 17, 2012

Defendants’ file Motion to Dismiss

May 31, 2012

Plaintiffs file Amended Complaint

May 31, 2012

Plaintiffs file Amended Complaint

Plaintiffs file an Amended Complaint, alleging that conditions and policies at the Pelican Bay SHU violate the 8th Amendment's prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment and deny them due process.