Case: Williams v. Brann

20-451069 | New York state trial court

Filed Date: March 19, 2020

Case Ongoing

Clearinghouse coding complete

Case Summary

COVID-19 Summary: An emergency petition for immediate release of individuals in pretrial detention or held on parole violation at Rikers Island or other NYC jails was denied on March 20, 2020 by Judge Joel M. Cohen, who held that continuing to hold the inmates did not constitute deliberate indifference to the risk of serious medical harm under the Fourteenth Amendment. The court reaffirmed this finding after petitioners moved for the court to reconsider its decision. On March 19, 2020, indivi…

COVID-19 Summary: An emergency petition for immediate release of individuals in pretrial detention or held on parole violation at Rikers Island or other NYC jails was denied on March 20, 2020 by Judge Joel M. Cohen, who held that continuing to hold the inmates did not constitute deliberate indifference to the risk of serious medical harm under the Fourteenth Amendment. The court reaffirmed this finding after petitioners moved for the court to reconsider its decision.


On March 19, 2020, individuals in pretrial detention or held on a parole violation at Rikers Island and other New York County jails filed this habeas lawsuit in New York State trial court (which is called the New York Supreme Court). Represented by the Legal Aid Society of New York, petitioners, who were particularly vulnerable to COVID-19, sought immediate release on the grounds that continuation of their incarceration on bail and parole holds constituted "deliberate indifference to the risk of serious medical harm" in violation of their due process rights under the Fourteenth Amendment and the New York constitution. As of March 19, COVID-19 had already reached Rikers Island where at least one incarcerated person had tested positive for the virus.

The petition was denied March 20, 2020 by Judge Joel M. Cohen, who held that continuing to hold the inmates did not constitute deliberate indifference to the risk of serious medical harm under the Fourteenth Amendment.

On April 1, 2020, petitioners filed a motion for leave to reargue or renew their petition for habeas corpus. Petitioners argued that the deterioration of the situation in New York City jails and the emerging legal precedent that it was a violation of constitutional due process to continue to hold medically vulnerable pre-trial detainees warranted the immediate release of 79 individuals held on pre-trial bail decisions or parole holds.

On April 13, 2020, Judge Steven M. Statsinger issued his decision. Judge Statsinger granted the motion for leave to renew, but held that on renewal "the court adheres to its original ruling that the relief requested - the mass release of a large number of inmates without an individualized determination of each inmate's risk of non-appearance - is inappropriate." The court cited a "unique risk of non-appearance" because of a lack of a mechanism for warning each releasee of the consequences of failing to return as a reason in denying the release of the inmates. The court also held that continuing to hold detainees at Rikers Island did not constitute deliberate indifference to the inmates' medical needs. The court recognized that reducing prison populations furthered the public health, but argued that releasing detainees for that reason was beyond the scope of the court's authority.

Petitioners appealed this case on March 30. Petitioners' argument on appeal claimed that the lower court erred in three ways. First, it erred in claiming that respondents' actions to mitigate the spread of COVID in jails were sufficient to avoid being "deliberately indifferent." Second, they argued that the court incorrectly determined that the state's interest in detaining pretrial inmates outweighed the prisoner's interest in surviving the pandemic. Finally, the lower court claimed that habeas corpus should not be granted "holistically" (meaning granting habeas to scores of people at a time), but rather assessed on an individual level. Yet the lower court then declined to engage in these individualized assessments.

Several respondents filed briefs, including the Special Narcotics Prosecutor, the Attorney General, the New York County District Attorney, and the Department of Corrections. They all argued more or less the same points as the lower court had.

On July 23, the Appellate Division issued its ruling. They affirmed the lower court's decision refusing to grant habeas corpus. They argued that the respondents were taking the outbreak seriously, demonstrated by the fact that they had already voluntarily let many prisoners out. Therefore they were not deliberately indifferent to the inmates' risk of contracting COVID. They were also skeptical of the use of a "mass" writ for habeas corpus, preferring individualized assessment as well. However, the court said that the petitioners had not supplied the information necessary to make those determinations, even on a case-by-case basis.

The case is ongoing as of July 27, 2020.

Summary Authors

Cedar Hobbs (3/20/2020)

Jack Hibbard (7/27/2020)

People


Judge(s)

Friedman, Marcy (New York)

Mazzarelli, Angela M (New York)

Moulton, Peter H. (New York)

Statsinger, Steven M (New York)

Attorneys(s) for Plaintiff

Billingsley, David (New York)

Gottesman, Lauren (New York)

McGrath, Michelle (New York)

Ndiaye, Marie (New York)

Quackenbush, Robert Matthew (New York)

Sabel, Janet E. (New York)

Judge(s)

Friedman, Marcy (New York)

Mazzarelli, Angela M (New York)

Moulton, Peter H. (New York)

Statsinger, Steven M (New York)

Attorneys(s) for Plaintiff

Billingsley, David (New York)

Gottesman, Lauren (New York)

McGrath, Michelle (New York)

Ndiaye, Marie (New York)

Quackenbush, Robert Matthew (New York)

Sabel, Janet E. (New York)

Simpson, Kayla (New York)

Stoughton, Corey (New York)

Vela, Veronica (New York)

Werlwas, Mary Lynne (New York)

Attorneys(s) for Defendant

Bailey, Patricia J (New York)

Brennan, Bridget G (New York)

Brenner, Deborah (New York)

Cooney, James Brennan (New York)

Galvin, Harriett (New York)

James, Letitia (New York)

Johnson, James E. (New York)

Levitz, Phillip J (New York)

Rowser, Jannine (New York)

Vance, Cyrus R. Jr. (New York)

Wu, Steven C. (New York)

Other Attorney(s)

Cohen, Tabitha P. (New York)

Moloney, Thomas J. (New York)

Scherker, Emily R. (New York)

Documents in the Clearinghouse

Document

20-451069

Statsinger Transcript

March 20, 2020

March 20, 2020

Transcript

Writ of Habeas Corpus

People ex rel. Stoughton o/b/o Venus Williams v. Brann

March 20, 2020

March 20, 2020

Complaint

20-451069

Verified Petition in Support of Motion for Leave to Reargue or Renew Writ of Habeas Corpus

April 1, 2020

April 1, 2020

Complaint

20-451069

Affirmation of Martin Bowe in Opposition to Writ of Habeas Corpus

April 8, 2020

April 8, 2020

Declaration/Affidavit

20-451069

Appendix A: Brief of Amici Curiae by Physicians for Human Rights

April 8, 2020

April 8, 2020

Pleading / Motion / Brief

20-451069

Affirmation and Memorandum of Law in Opposition to Petitioners' Motion for Leave to Reargue or Renew Writ of Habeas Corpus

April 8, 2020

April 8, 2020

Pleading / Motion / Brief

20-451069

Decision and Order

April 13, 2020

April 13, 2020

Order/Opinion

Brief for Petitioners-Appellants

The People of the State of New York v. Brann

New York state appellate court

May 1, 2020

May 1, 2020

Pleading / Motion / Brief

Brief for State Respondent

The People of the State of New York v. Brann

New York state appellate court

May 22, 2020

May 22, 2020

Pleading / Motion / Brief

Respondent's Brief for Office of the Special Narcotics Prosecutor

The People of the State of New York v. Brann

New York state appellate court

May 22, 2020

May 22, 2020

Pleading / Motion / Brief

Resources

Docket

Last updated May 11, 2022, 8 p.m.

Docket sheet not available via the Clearinghouse.

Case Details

State / Territory: New York

Case Type(s):

Jail Conditions

Special Collection(s):

COVID-19 (novel coronavirus)

Key Dates

Filing Date: March 19, 2020

Case Ongoing: Yes

Plaintiffs

Plaintiff Description:

Individuals in pretrial detention or being held on a parole violation at Rikers Island and other New York County jails.

Plaintiff Type(s):

Private Plaintiff

Attorney Organizations:

Legal Services/Legal Aid

Public Interest Lawyer: Yes

Filed Pro Se: No

Class Action Sought: No

Class Action Outcome: Not sought

Defendants

New York (New York), State

New York, State

Defendant Type(s):

Corrections

Case Details

Causes of Action:

State law

Constitutional Clause(s):

Cruel and Unusual Punishment

Due Process

Special Case Type(s):

Habeas

Availably Documents:

Complaint (any)

Non-settlement Outcome

Outcome

Prevailing Party: None Yet / None

Nature of Relief:

None yet

Source of Relief:

None yet

Issues

General:

Conditions of confinement

Sanitation / living conditions

Medical/Mental Health:

Medical care, general

COVID-19:

Mitigation Denied

Mitigation Requested

Release Denied

Release Requested

Type of Facility:

Government-run