Disability Rights California and Covington & Burling, LLP Seek Emergency Court Action to Release Medically Vulnerable Patients from Crowded State Mental Health Hospital and Save Lives in the Midst of Surging COVID-19 Outbreak

110 patients with mental health disabilities test positive in ten days; 10 dead since start of pandemic
Press Release

Disability Rights California and Covington & Burling, LLP Seek Emergency Court Action to Release Medically Vulnerable Patients from Crowded State Mental Health Hospital and Save Lives in the Midst of Surging COVID-19 Outbreak

Photo of a man with a medical mask on looking out a window. He is clearly depressed.

(Los Angeles, CA) Yesterday, Disability Rights California (DRC) and Covington & Burling filed an emergency motion in federal court to force the Department of State Hospitals (DSH) to discharge medically vulnerable patients from Patton State Hospital, one of the largest psychiatric hospitals in the country that is in the midst of a massive and deadly COVID-19 outbreak.

Hundreds of patients who are involuntarily confined at Patton State Hospital have conditions that put them at high risk for severe illness or death from COVID-19.

In the last 10 days, more than 110 patients have tested positive for COVID-19. One patient, Sgt. Ricardo Tapia, a decorated Marine veteran with a traumatic brain injury, recently described the hospital as a “ticking time bomb.” He tested positive for COVID-19 this week.

Photo of Sgt. Ricardo Tapia in his uniform. Sgt. Ricardo Tapia


The chart below illustrates the significant increase in positive COVID-19 cases at Patton State hospital:

Chart: Patients Positive for COVID-19 (cumulative) at DSH-Patton  July 24, 2020 to December 14, 2020

The outbreak has been deadly.  Since COVID-19 entered Patton’s patient population, 10 patients have died, at least 11 more have required acute hospitalization. One Patton patient, James Moore, has been fighting to get moved to a safer setting, stating, “[w]ith all of my medical conditions, I do not know if I will survive the pandemic.” Mr. Moore also tested positive for the virus last week and was hospitalized with difficulty breathing, coughing up blood, and running a persistent fever.

The outbreak at Patton was predictable and avoidable. In March 2020, the State authorized the Director of California Department of State Hospitals, to take whatever steps were necessary to protect the patients in her custody and care with Executive Order N-35-20.1 To this day, Director Clendenin has not issued a single directive to get patients out of Patton.

National infectious disease expert and UCSF physician Peter Chin-Hong, MD, found seven deficiencies, including overcrowded patient housing units where social distancing is impossible, that create “unreasonable risks of mass transmission and infection” at Patton.  He noted that treatment programs have largely been put on hold, making Patton “little more than a detention facility, like a jail or a prison.”

Plaintiffs seek an order that the facility reduce its population to at least 50% of normal capacity to allow social distancing. “Director Clendenin has the power to move quickly and discharge or transfer patients safely and appropriately,” said Samantha Choe, Special Counsel at Covington & Burling.  “Their failure to act is unacceptable, and our clients cannot wait any longer.”

“What makes this situation so tragic is that there are a large number of patients who would do well, and be far safer, if they were in the community—if only the State would step up with resources to provide community-based mental health services,” said Anne Hadreas, an Associate Managing Attorney at DRC.

“People across California and the nation are taking aggressive steps to combat this deadly virus.  It is time for DSH to do the same,” said Sarah Gregory, Senior Attorney at DRC.

A copy of the emergency motion to address the COVID-19 Outbreak at DSH-Patton is available at: https://www.disabilityrightsca.org/system/files/file-attachments/Ex_Parte_App_for_Temporary_Restraining_Order.pdf.

More information about the federal lawsuit, including a copy of the complaint, the applications for temporary restraining order and provisional class certification, along with the expert reports are available at:  https://www.disabilityrightsca.org/cases/hart-v-clendenin

Media Contacts:

Anne Hadreas
Associate Managing Attorney
Disability Rights California
(510) 267-1250



Disability Rights California (DRC) - Is the agency designated under federal law to protect and advocate for the rights of Californians with disabilities. The mission of DRC is to advance the rights, dignity, equal opportunities, and choices for all people with disabilities. For more information visit: https://www.disabilityrightsca.org.

Covington & Burling LLP is a global law firm with offices in Beijing, Brussels, Dubai, Frankfurt, Johannesburg, London, Los Angeles, New York, Palo Alto, San Francisco, Seoul, Shanghai, and Washington. Since its founding in 1919, Covington has demonstrated a strong commitment to public service and has a long history of serving vulnerable clients and important causes throughout the U.S. and the world. The firm is frequently recognized for pro bono service, including ten times being ranked the number one pro bono practice in the U.S. by The American Lawyer.



1 Cal. Exec. Order No. 35-20 (Mar. 16, 2020), https://www.gov.ca.gov/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/3.21.20-EO-N-35-20-text.pdf(Return to main document)