A U.S. district court today denied a Motion to Dismiss filed by Coalinga State Hospital. Because of the denial, a lawsuit filed on behalf of two patients at that hospital will continue.
“Today’s decision is a significant victory for hundreds of registrants who are also patients at Coalinga State Hospital,” stated ACSOL Executive Director Janice Bellucci. “The claims of the plaintiffs regarding retaliation for the exercise of their First Amendment rights are similar to claims that could have been made by many others.”
In today’s decision, the court reluctantly agreed that plaintiffs provided “sufficient factual allegations” to survive the government’s motion to dismiss. The allegations include actions taken by the hospital after the patients successfully defeated an attempt by the City of Coalinga to increase the local sales tax paid by patients at the hospital. The actions at issue include removal of posters encouraging patients to vote against the sales tax increase and discouraging patients to vote.
The election that included the proposed sales tax increase took place in November 2017. The hospital allegedly retaliated less than two months later by issuing emergency regulations that prohibited patients from possession of electronics, including electronic storage devices on which legal documents and treatment records had been stored.
Subsequent to issuance of the emergency regulations, the hospital was placed on lock down for about two months. During that period of time, patients were confined to their units and not allowed visitors. Also during that period of time, patients’ access to attorneys was significantly limited.
The court’s decision also addressed the issue of whether patients at Coalinga have a right to possess computers and other electronics. The hospital’s emergency regulation proclaimed that patients could not possess computers and other electronics despite the fact that possession of these devices has been allowed more about 10 years. The plaintiffs in this case notified the court that, due to the regulations at issue, prisoners have a greater access to electronics than do patients. They cited case law which clearly states that patients are not prisoners and therefore patients must be provided greater rights than prisoners.
Due to the court’s ruling, the patients’ challenge to the emergency regulations based upon both the First Amendment and the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution will continue. Plaintiffs are expected to begin discovery in order to identify specific retaliatory acts taken by the hospital.