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Rebecca Voth and Tatum Lowe Persuade California Department of Justice to Concede Error in Ninth Circuit Appeal

As participants in the Ninth Circuit Appellate Advocacy clinic, graduating third-year students Rebecca Voth and Tatum Lowe took on a challenging appeal. Their client, Michael Gates, is an inmate with mental disabilities in California state prison. He was mistreated by prison officials, who accused him of assaulting another prisoner and punished him for that assault. He was cleared of the assault charges, but the prison officials continued to punish him anyway.

Gates tried to pursue a civil rights lawsuit in federal court, representing himself, but the district court dismissed his claim after Gates was unable to pay the filing fee. Gates then filed a new complaint raising the same allocations. The second case was assigned to a new judge, who initially made several rulings in Gates’s favor. However, the California Department of Justice then filed a motion to dismiss Gates’s second complaint on res judicata grounds. The district court granted the motion, ruling that res judicata barred Gates’s second complaint because he had already raised the same claims in another action.

Gates appealed to the Ninth Circuit, which appointed the Pepperdine Caruso Ninth Circuit clinic as pro bono counsel. Voth and Lowe appeared on Mr. Gates’s behalf as certified law students. They prepared an opening brief arguing that the district court should not have applied the res judicata doctrine to Gates’s complaint, because he had never been given a full and fair opportunity to present his claims. They also argued that the court should apply two exceptions to the res judicata doctrine that appear in the Restatement Second of Judgments. The brief was so persuasive that, after receiving it, the California Justice Department conceded that the judgment should be reversed. The Deputy Attorney General assigned to the case abandoned the arguments that his office had made in the district court, and agreed to join a stipulated motion seeking a summary reversal of the district court’s order. The motion has been filed with the Ninth Circuit and the parties are waiting for the court to grant the motion and send the case back to district court.