A class action lawsuit challenging prison conditions in Suffolk County can proceed, a judge has ruled. In April 2012, inmates at a maximum/medium security jail in Riverhead and a minimum security jail in Yaphank sued the county, saying the inmates were exposed to "deplorable and inhumane conditions." The action seeks a court order requiring the county to improve conditions, which lawyers argue violates constitutional protections against cruel and unusual punishment (NYLJ, April 6, 2012).

In a pre-discovery dismissal motion, the county sought to dismiss the action in which plaintiffs sought class certification. In a 53-page March 19 ruling, Eastern District Judge Joanna Seybert, sitting in Central Islip, found the plaintiffs sufficiently pleaded a number of their claims and also granted class status. The county had argued for dismissal because, among other things, the plaintiffs failed to plead they personally suffered physical injuries at the facilities.

But Seybert (See Profile) said the named plaintiffs, "’as a result of their confinement in the [Suffolk County Correctional Facility] and exposure to the conditions described’ therein, ‘suffered intestinal illnesses, skin conditions, respiratory infections, fungal infections, nose bleeds, headaches, blurred vision, and dizziness.’ These conditions clearly constitute" physical injury, she said. Seybert rejected the plaintiffs’ claims that supervisors, including Suffolk County Sheriff Vincent DeMarco, knew of the conditions and dismissed the supervisory liability claims without prejudice.

The plaintiffs in Butler v. Suffolk County, 11-cv-02602, are represented by the New York Civil Liberties Union and Shearman & Sterling, which were both named class counsel.