Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals Affirms That Covid-19 Cases Brought by Inmates Can Move Forward Against California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR)

OAKLAND, Calif., Oct. 16, 2023 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- Civil rights law firm Haddad & Sherwin LLP announced today that the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has given the green light to multiple COVID-19-related cases against CDCR officials stemming from the botched transfer of 122 untested inmates from the California Institute for Men (CIM) to San Quentin on May 30, 2020. Twenty-eight San Quentin inmates and a correctional sergeant died as a result of that incident. The cases include claims by the families of San Quentin inmates killed by COVID-19, as well as a class action brought by San Quentin inmates who contracted COVID-19 and recovered. The Ninth Circuit already issued similar rulings in cases brought by the families of Sergeant Gilbert Polanco and one inmate, Michael Hampton, who also died from COVID-19 exposure at San Quentin.

These are believed to be the first federal lawsuits brought by inmates against prison officials around the country that a court of appeals has allowed to move forward. The State prison officials named in the suits appealed decisions by the District Court for the Northern District of California that denied the officials’ motions to dismiss the claims. Specifically, the Ninth Circuit held that the prison officials do not enjoy qualified immunity when they are deliberately indifferent to inmates’ risk of serious infectious disease. The Court also rejected the officials’ claim that they were immune from suit under the Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness (PREP) Act, which was meant to protect officials and first responders in their decisions to provide certain covered countermeasures to COVID-19, and not when they deprive people of needed COVID-19 countermeasures.

Michael Haddad, an attorney representing several families of deceased inmates and Sgt. Polanco’s family argued the appeals for the group: “The Ninth Circuit has now affirmed what we have been saying from the beginning. Reasonable prison officials would have known better than to transfer untested inmates to San Quentin during the pandemic, then ignore the urgent guidance from public health experts to do more to protect inmates and staff from the massive outbreak they created.”

Mr. Haddad says, “The California Attorney General’s Office’s attempt to shield state prison officials from accountability has failed. We hope that the State will now accept responsibility for the great harm caused by its callous treatment of people living and working at San Quentin.”

To interview civil rights attorney Michael Haddad of Haddad & Sherwin LLP, please call or email him as listed below.

The CDCR already has faced intense criticism for transferring those Chino prisoners from the California Institute for Men (CIM), all deemed high-risk for COVID-19, when many of them had not been tested for the virus for four weeks before they were transferred by busload to San Quentin. Up to the time of that transfer, San Quentin had not had a single case of COVID-19. Once those Chino prisoners arrived, CDCR and San Quentin officials failed to segregate them from the San Quentin population, and failed to protect San Quentin prisoners and staff from the virus they recklessly introduced. Those officials also failed to follow recommendations to control the outbreak from the Marin County Public Health Officer and other experts. ( Within three weeks after that transfer, San Quentin had over 500 known cases of COVID-19, and eventually, most San Quentin prisoners and many staff contracted COVID-19.

The State of California Office of the Inspector General released a scathing report about this “Public Health Disaster at San Quentin.”

Assemblymember Marc Levine, D-San Rafael, whose district includes San Quentin, has described this as “worst prison health screw up in state history,” concluding that “the spread of COVID-19 at state prisons was a preventable public health disaster and a failure of CDCR leadership at the highest level.” (,the%20state's%20most%20explosive%20outbreak.). These civil rights cases address that failure of California and CDCR bureaucratic leadership.

Among these cases now affirmed by the Ninth Circuit are one brought by the family of inmate Daniel Ruiz. Daniel Ruiz was 61 years old, serving the last few months on a non-violent drug-related conviction, and had been informed he was going to receive early release. He was known to have several high-risk factors for COVID-19, including asthma and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD). Like many others, he contracted COVID-19 while in the custody and care of the CDCR. Due to CDCR rules also being challenged in the lawsuit, his family was not notified that he had COVID until he had been in the hospital ICU for two weeks, was on a ventilator, and close to death. (See His children mourn his unnecessary loss and that they were not able to be there for him in his last days.

Daniel Ruiz

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals opinion in these cases is available upon request.

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