Judge ‘dissolves’ preliminary injunction in CCC case — state may ‘immediately resume’ efforts to close the prison

Yesterday, Wednesday, Sept. 7, Visiting Lassen County Superior Court Judge Robert F. Moody dissolved the preliminary injunction issued by Lassen County Superior Court Judge Mark Nareau last October, and he ruled the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation can “immediately resume its efforts to close the California Correctional Center in Susanville.”

Moody made his order “without prejudice” to any claims the city “may have or bring under general Tort or Nuisance law in relation to any damage it may incur as a result of the closure of this prison.”

The city alleges CDCR officials said they participated in writing AB 200, a California trailer budget bill passed last June that revised Penal Code sections 5003.7 and 5032 — ordering the closure of CCC by June 30, 2023 and exempting that closure from a California Environmental Quality Act review — acts the city alleges undermined its lawsuit and violated both the constitution and Nareau’s preliminary injunction barring CDCR from taking any further steps to close CCC.

According to Moody’s ruling, “ The city contends that the actions of respondent and the legislature deprived it of fundamental due process under both state and federal law because it has never been permitted to participate or be heard in any way in the formulation of these statutes which affect it in very specific ways and which have been developed by means of unconstitutional self-dealing on the part of the government and which violate separation of powers and due process doctrines. It claims, in other words, that the new statutes are inoperative because they are unconstitutional.”

At an Aug. 26 proceeding, Moody said while the state’s actions seem “unconscionable to me if this went down as I suspect,” he directly asked the city attorneys to “tell me what substantive rights these (new) statutes have taken” from the city.

In yesterday’s ruling, Moody wrote, “The city has not identified any constitutional, property, contractual or other substantial rights on its part that it has been deprived of so as to render the change in the statute illegal.”

Further, while the city emphatically argued the unconstitutional nature of the state’s actions, Moody wrote the city attorneys “provided no authority for that proposition … Since no authority has been presented by the city on the question of whether the hypothetical participation by CDCR individuals or their counsel in formulating the statutes violated the injunction, the court must answer the question in the negative … Consequently, there having been no on-point authority cited for the proposition that the legislative actions taken in our case are constitutionally infirm, they must be given their due import.”

Despite ruling against the city, Moody himself openly questioned the ultimate fairness of his decision, writing his decision is based upon laws passed by the legislature: “And the fact is that existing law permits the passage of such statutes in virtually every case that has been decided. And ultimately, the question of the public’s satisfaction or lack of it as to these matters is electoral, not judicial.”

The city attorneys also cited several court cases in its brief, but the judge said were not helpful to their position.

“Things like ex post facto laws in criminal cases are forbidden, as are bills of attainder, etc.,” Moody wrote. “But past that, the court (in previous cases) clearly implies that there are few limitations on retroactive case-altering statutes implementing public policy … even if retroactive legislation is unfair to a litigant, such unfairness is ‘not a sufficient reason for a court to fail to give that law its intended scope.’”

Moody noted the state’s ability to change laws “in furtherance of a legitimate public policy reason,” which included in this case the “paucity of inmates, and the population of inmates is in continuous decline and the resultant reductions in required staff and physical plant make it fiscally imprudent to continue to maintain all of our expensive prisons. The wisdom of such legislative or political policies are not and have never been the province of the courts,” and therefore the city’s request for such a review “must be rejected.”

Moody also wrote a number of the city’s ancillary claims also can “readily be dispatched.”

For example, while the city asserted CDCR was “disingenuous in assuring the city early on that it would in fact conduct an EIR in this case that the city detrimentally relied upon,” the court noted, “ … no detriment is demonstrated, nor is an intent shown that representation was made for the purpose of inducing the city to act in detrimental reliance thereon. It is hard to see what if anything the city would have done differently even if the CDCR reneged in its statement upon passage of the new statutes … ”

Moody also wrote, “It should be noted that the city’s goal in seeking the preliminary injunction in this case was never to prohibit the closure of the CCC but was to ensure compliance with existing statutory law if the prison did get closed.”

According to a statement from the city of Susanville, “In light of the Sept. 7, 2022, Lassen Superior Court ruling regarding the closure of the CCC, the Susanville City Council will be holding a special meeting as early as Monday, Sept. 12, 2022. The council will be briefed by the city attorney, assess options and provide direction to staff. The city’s primary concern is for CCC employees and their families.”

Dana Simas, CDCR press secretary, said, “I can’t say much at this time other than we’ve received the ruling and will be laying out our next steps in the closure process soon.”