Blasting a class action critical of the care it gives inmates, the Arizona Department of Corrections has criticized the lawsuit is full of isolated anecdotes and exaggerated or outdated claims, and said should be booted out of federal court.
The state’s attorneys moved on July 29 for summary judgment in Parsons v. Ryan in U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona. The lawsuit alleges life-threatening neglect of prisoners’ medical, dental and mental health needs, and demands reforms.
Arizona’s attorneys contend the American Civil Liberties Union-led complaint is packed with allegations that have not been backed up by named plaintiffs, and focuses on delays in care that have already been rectified. In some cases, the defense said, the complaint protests a situation—such as the prisons’ failure to provide televisions for inmates who can’t afford them—that “borders the ridiculous,” according to Arizona’s motion.
The state cites depositions of several of the 13 named plaintiffs that cast doubt on the reality of the problems the lawsuit alleges. In one case, an inmate alleged to be losing weight because of insufficient food said his dropped pounds actually stemmed from a strenuous exercise regime. Another inmate was cited as waiting months to get treatment for cancer; in fact, the state alleges, she never had the disease.
The lawsuit gained support on June 5 when a three-judge panel of the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit unanimously affirmed the granting of class certification by the U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona.
The state had argued that the claims of maltreatment of inmates in a system holding 34,000 prisoners should be judged individually rather than as a class. But the panel said the defendants exhibited a “fundamental misunderstanding of the law” and said the case presents the very definition of a class: “Given that every inmate in ADC custody is likely to require medical, mental health and dental care, each of the named plaintiffs is similarly positioned to all other ADC inmates … to a substantial risk of serious harm resulting from exposure to the defendants’ policies and practices governing health care,” Ninth Circuit Judge Stephen Reinhardt wrote for himself and judges John Noonan and Paul Watford.
Plaintiffs’ counsel include David Fathi of the ACLU’s National Prison Project; Daniel Pochada of the ACLU Foundation of Arizona; Donald Specter and Corene Kendrick of the Prison Law Office Arizona; Jennifer Alewelt of the Arizona Center for Disability Law; and attorneys with Perkins Coie LLP and Jones Day.
Lisa Hoffman is a contributor to law.com.