Horvitz & Levy, in conjunction with the Ninth Circuit clinic at the Pepperdine Caruso School of Law, helped obtain a victory for a prisoner in a pro bono civil rights case.
Adam Sernas, an inmate in Arizona state prison, was asked by other prisoners to help smuggle drugs into the prison. When he refused, the other prisoners threatened to kill him. He informed prison officials of the threat and asked them to protect him. The prison officials temporarily removed Sernas from his housing unit, but later threatened him with discipline if he did not return to his housing unit. Within fifteen minutes of returning to his housing unit, he was severely beaten by other inmates, suffering multiple broken bones in his head and sustaining a traumatic brain injury. He filed a pro se lawsuit in federal district court against the prison officials for violation of the Eighth Amendment due to their deliberate indifference to his health and safety. The district court dismissed the complaint at the pretrial screening stage, finding that Sernas had failed to state a plausible claim.
The Ninth Circuit appointed Horvitz & Levy and the Pepperdine Caruso Ninth Circuit Appellate Advocacy Clinic as pro bono counsel for Sernas on appeal. Two law students, working under the supervision of partners Curt Cutting and Mark Kressel, prepared briefing and presented oral argument on Sernas’s behalf. By a 2-1 vote with a dissenting opinion, the Ninth Circuit agreed to reverse the district court’s dismissal of Sernas’s complaint and reinstate his Eighth Amendment claims.