Hazle v. Crofoot

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Civil Rights § 1983
  • Date Filed: 08-23-2013
  • Case #: 11-15354
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Circuit Judge Reinhardt for the Court; Circuit Judges M. Smith Jr. and D. Nelson.
  • Full Text Opinion

Under a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claim, when an injury has been indisputably proven, the plaintiff is entitled to a damage award by law, and/or a new trial if zero damages are awarded by the jury.

Barry Hazle entered a no-contest plea to possession of methamphetamine and was initially placed on probation. That initial probation was revoked and Hazle spent a year in a state owned rehabilitation center. Hazle was paroled on the condition that he spend 90-days in a rehabilitation facility. Hazle, an atheist, had requested that any subsequent rehabilitation must be through a non-religious treatment program. Westcare, a vendor that manages parolee rehabilitation treatment programs, suggested that Hazle seek residence at Empire, a rehabilitation facility which to their understanding did not have an emphasis on religion. Upon arrival, Hazle discovered that Empire uses a 12-step program, made famous by Alcoholics Anonymous, which requires its patients to acknowledge a 'higher power.' Hazle sought reassignment, however, the only other facility available had an even greater focus on religion. Hazle filed a petition to change the requirements of his probation, however, his parole officer, Crofoot, suggested to Hazle that he should stay in the 12-step program. The Empire facility reported that Hazle was troublesome though 'congenial' and he was subsequently arrested and jailed. Hazle was ultimately returned to the state run rehabilitation facility; his petition to change the conditions of his parole was ultimately rejected. Hazle sued Crofoot, Westcare, and others under a § 1983 claim. The jury awarded zero damages although they found that Hazle had suffered injury. The Ninth Circuit found that Hazle was entitled to compensatory damages, and that a failure to award damages requires a new trial. Normally, an award of zero damages does not invalidate a trial, however, when an injury has been sufficiently proven under § 1983 then damages are required by law. Additionally, the inability of the jury to apportion liability against multiple defendants does not also excuse the award of zero damages. The panel also reversed summary judgment of Westcare for their role in Hazle's injury, finding that there remains a question of material fact as to their liability. The panel also reversed a finding of summary judgment against defendants under a state law claim. REVERSED AND REMANDED.

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