Filed Date: April 3, 2020
Closed Date: June 8, 2020
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COVID-19 summary: The ACLU of Connecticut filed this suit on April 3, 2020 asking the court to intervene and force the Governor of Connecticut and the state's Correction Commissioner to reduce the number of individuals incarcerated in the state's jails and prisons during the COVID-19 pandemic. The trial court dismissed the case for lack of jurisdiction, and the plaintiffs appealed, however they withdrew the appeal on June 6, 2020.
On April 3, 2020, the Connecticut Criminal Defense Lawyers Association and incarcerated peoples filed an Emergency Action lawsuit in a Connecticut Superior Court against the Governor of Connecticut along with Connecticut's Correction Commissioner. The ACLU of Connecticut, joined by Yale Law School’s Allard K. Lowenstein International Human Rights Clinic and Jerome N. Frank Legal Services Organization, represented the plaintiffs. The plaintiffs asked the court for a temporary order of mandamus that would direct the defendants to fulfill their legal obligations of protecting individuals incarcerated in Connecticut's jails and prisons. Specifically, the plaintiffs wanted the defendants to devise an urgent, medically sound "de-densification" strategy to reduce the number of incarcerated individuals in the state.
As of April 2, 2020, Connecticut had 3,824 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and at least 112 COVID-19 related deaths. The plaintiffs, relying on information from public health experts and statistics from other correctional facilities, stated that prisons and jails are extremely high-risk settings for the spread of COVID-19. In Connecticut specifically, 16 Department of Corrections staff members and eight incarcerated people have already tested positive for COVID-19 as of the day before filing.
The Governor of Connecticut declared civil preparedness and public health emergencies on March 10, 2020, in response to the spread of COVID-19. The Governor's Executive Orders described the rapid spread of COVID-19 in close-quarter living arrangements including nursing homes and similar facilities. However, the plaintiffs alleged that the Governor failed to adequately protect people in the state's custody.
In the complaint, the plaintiffs asked the court to require the immediate release of incarcerated peoples who are vulnerable to serious illness based on the Center for Disease Control's heightened risk factors. The plaintiffs stated that approximately 200 people are being held on bail of $50,000 or less and are being forced to live in a highly dangerous congregate living situation merely because of their inability to pay the $5,000 or smaller ten percent cash bond. Additionally, the complaint described the approximately 4,000 people in Connecticut prisons who are within 90 days of their sentence end. Among other factors, Connecticut's aging prison population, along with prisoners with compromised immune systems, led the plaintiffs to argue that the state has failed to protect this vulnerable group of people.
The plaintiffs suggested the following immediate actions: (1) Reducing the number of people entering and re-entering the system; (2) Immediately releasing people detained pretrial; (3) Immediately releasing all people convicted of nonviolent offenses who were scheduled to be released in 90 days, all people who are eligible for parole, and anyone incarcerated for a technical parole violation; and (4) Transitioning older adults and medically vulnerable individuals to medical and community settings.
On April 4, 2020, the court designated this case as complex litigation and transferred it from the Judicial District of Hartford to Judicial District of Waterbury pursuant to state law.
The defendants filed a brief in opposition on April 7, 2020 in response to the plaintiffs' request for a temporary order of mandamus from the court. In the brief, the defendants alleged that the plaintiffs failed to demonstrate that the defendants had a statutory duty to release the four inmate plaintiffs from lawful confinement. Specifically, the brief argued that release review processes, including medical or compassionate parole and community release, are discretionary and do not constitute an affirmative duty on behalf of the defendants. The defendants argued that none of the named plaintiffs in the case were eligible for early release.
The brief also detailed the state Department of Correction's (DOC) COVID-19 Action Plan. At the time of filing, the defendants stated that 32 staff members and 46 inmates had tested positive for COVID-19. The plan included routine medical examinations of inmates who showed symptoms, screening procedures for employee entry to prison facilities, canceling transfers, quarantining new admits, and canceling social visits and volunteer access among other measures.
On the same day as filing the brief, the defendants also filed a motion to dismiss the case. The motion to dismiss alleged that the court lacked subject matter jurisdiction over the matter because the Connecticut Criminal Defense Lawyers Association lacked standing and could not assert third-party standing on behalf of the inmate plaintiffs. The defendants also alleged that the inmate plaintiffs lacked standing as well because none had the right to be released prior to the end of their sentences and the plaintiffs' claims of injuries were too speculative. The motion also argued that issuance of a writ of mandamus would involve the court unlawfully interfering with the Legislative and Executive branches of the Connecticut government.
On April 8, 2020, the plaintiffs filed an amended complaint. The amended complaint included two additional named plaintiffs. The two additional plaintiffs included an individual with multiple sclerosis being held at a correctional institute because she could not afford her $22,000 bond. Additionally, the second plaintiff was a person incarcerated with a release date on May 27, 2020. The plaintiffs also filed a supplemental motion for a temporary order of mandamus that discussed developments in the COVID-19 pandemic.
The parties, with the court's permission, added the two additional plaintiffs on April 8, 2020 and stipulated that the earlier motion to dismiss would be directed to the amended complaint.
On April 13, 2020, the plaintiffs filed a motion in opposition to the defendants' motion to dismiss. The motion argued that all of the plaintiffs, including the Connecticut Criminal Defense Lawyers Association and the named inmate plaintiffs, were the proper parties to litigate. The plaintiffs reiterated their argument that the defendants' knowledge of the dangers of COVID-19 and their failure to take the medically appropriate measures to prevent its spread in correctional facilities amounted to violations of the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments, thereby creating an affirmative duty for the defendants to act to avoid such constitutional violations. In response, the defendants filed a motion on April 13, 2020, refuting the plaintiffs' arguments.
The court held oral arguments on April 15, 2020 and dismissed the case on April 24 for lack of jurisdiction. The plaintiffs filed an expedited appeal to the Supreme Court of Connecticut, however the plaintiffs withdrew the appeal on June 6, 2020 and the case is believed to be closed with no further docket entries.
Richa Bijlani (4/17/2020)
Averyn Lee (6/13/2020)
Bellis, Barbara N. (Connecticut)
Barrett, Dan (Connecticut)
Bildner, Elana (Connecticut)
Das, Proloy K (Connecticut)
Belforti, James Michael (Connecticut)
Bellis, Barbara N. (Connecticut)
Last updated Aug. 30, 2023, 1:46 p.m.Docket sheet not available via the Clearinghouse.
State / Territory: Connecticut
Filing Date: April 3, 2020
Closing Date: June 8, 2020
Case Ongoing: No
Connecticut Criminal Defense Lawyers Association and individuals incarcerated in Connecticut state jails and prisons
Public Interest Lawyer: Yes
Filed Pro Se: No
Class Action Sought: No
Class Action Outcome: Not sought
Causes of Action:
Prevailing Party: Defendant
Nature of Relief:
Source of Relief:
Type of Facility: