Case: Baker v. Minnesota Department of Corrections

20-cv-05143 | Minnesota state trial court

Filed Date: Oct. 22, 2020

Case Ongoing

Clearinghouse coding complete

Case Summary

COVID-19 Summary: This is a class action petition for a writ of mandamus alleging that the Minnesota Department of Corrections failed in its legal duty to protect individuals under its custody or control from COVID-19. On October 22, 2020, thirteen individuals in the custody and control of the Minnesota Department of Corrections (MNDOC) filed this petition for a writ of mandamus in the Second Judicial District of Minnesota on behalf of themselves and all others similarly situated. Represented b…

COVID-19 Summary: This is a class action petition for a writ of mandamus alleging that the Minnesota Department of Corrections failed in its legal duty to protect individuals under its custody or control from COVID-19.


On October 22, 2020, thirteen individuals in the custody and control of the Minnesota Department of Corrections (MNDOC) filed this petition for a writ of mandamus in the Second Judicial District of Minnesota on behalf of themselves and all others similarly situated. Represented by the ACLU of Minnesota and individual public defenders, the petitioners asked the court to find that the MNDOC had failed and refused to perform its legal duty to protect the petitioners and those similarly situated from COVID-19 and to issue a peremptory writ of mandamus compelling the MNDOC to do so.

The petitioners alleged that the COVID-19 virus was allowed to spread rapidly at the Moose Lake Correctional Facility because the MNDOC had failed to implement reasonable measures to slow or stop the transmission of the virus. They further alleged that in the period between June 2, 2020, and June 23, 2020, Faribault Correctional Facility saw its case count explode from three confirmed cases to 205 confirmed positive COVID-19 cases, including two deaths. The petition names six other facilities, five of which saw similar exponential increases in confirmed COVID-19 cases.

The petitioners–most of whom have pre-existing conditions making them particularly vulnerable to a severe infection with COVID-19–alleged that social distancing was impossible within correctional facilities; that cleaning procedures and supplies were inadequate to prevent the spread of the virus; and that staff failed to comply with proper protective procedures for COVID-19, including mask wearing. Various petitioners also alleged that they were denied adequate medical care for other conditions because of the pandemic, that they were denied conditional medical release, that they were denied COVID-19 testing except when exhibiting the most serious symptoms, that they were forced to work despite being symptomatic, and that they were forced into or threatened with punitive segregation.

The petitioners argued that MNDOC had a duty to protect incarcerated people from the foreseeable harm of COVID-19 that arose at least as early as President Trump’s March 13, 2020, acknowledgment of the pandemic and announcement of a national emergency. They further argued that failure and refusal to protect incarcerated people from COVID-19 constituted cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Minnesota Constitution and also violated Minnesota state statutes. They contended that halting the spread of the virus in correctional settings would be best achieved through population reduction.

The case was assigned to Judge Sara R. Grewing. On December 10, 2020, the petitioners filed an amended and supplemental petition for a writ of mandamus. The amended petition added six new petitioners and requested the court order MNDOC to obtain sufficient quantity of vaccine to vaccinate staff and incarcerated people. It otherwise maintained most aspects of the original petition.

On March 31, 2021, the court granted the motion for class certification and motion to amend the petition to add new respondent and new causes of action. The certified class consisted of all prisoners either in the custody or under the supervision of the Minnesota Department of Corrections. However, the court denied the request for a writ of mandamus. In her order, Judge Grewing expressed concern that the petitioners requested the court direct MNDOC’s exercise of discretion, noting that the response to COVID-19 involved the exercise of thousands of discretionary acts. In denying the request, the court noted that there is no law mandating specifically how the Commissioner of MNDOC should be responding to COVID-19 and that MNDOC had not failed to act, but had engaged in population reduction, testing, and quarantining of some individuals.

The next day, the petitioners filed a second amended and supplemental petition requesting an injunction enjoining MNDOC from continuing to violate their legal duty; declaratory judgment that MNDOC had violated the Cruel or Unusual Punishment Clause, the Equal Protection Clause, and the Due Process Clause of the Minnesota Constitution and a permanent injunction preventing MNDOC from continuing to do so; and an affirmative order that MNDOC prioritize COVID-19 vaccinations for all class members.

In July, the respondents filed a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim. On September 30, 2021 the court denied the petitioners' motion for a temporary injunction and granted the respondents' motion for failure to state a claim, entering judgment in favor of the respondents.

Summary Authors

Rachel Harrington (10/5/2021)

People


Judge(s)

Grewing, Sara (Minnesota)

Attorneys(s) for Plaintiff

Bratlie, Ian (Minnesota)

Diegel, Clare A (Minnesota)

Nascimento, Isabella Salomao (Minnesota)

Nelson, Teresa J. (Minnesota)

Shulman, Daniel R (Minnesota)

Attorneys(s) for Defendant

Forrest, Steven Robert (Minnesota)

Lew, Dan (Minnesota)

Middlebrook, Cathryn (Minnesota)

Miltich, Cicely (Minnesota)

Judge(s)

Grewing, Sara (Minnesota)

Attorneys(s) for Plaintiff

Bratlie, Ian (Minnesota)

Diegel, Clare A (Minnesota)

Nascimento, Isabella Salomao (Minnesota)

Nelson, Teresa J. (Minnesota)

Shulman, Daniel R (Minnesota)

Attorneys(s) for Defendant

Forrest, Steven Robert (Minnesota)

Lew, Dan (Minnesota)

Middlebrook, Cathryn (Minnesota)

Miltich, Cicely (Minnesota)

Ward, William (Minnesota)

Expert/Monitor/Master

Hasti, Susan (Minnesota)

Ogawa, Lynne S (Minnesota)

Documents in the Clearinghouse

Document

20-cv-05143

Docket

Baker v. Minn. Department of Corrections

Oct. 1, 2021

Oct. 1, 2021

Docket

20-cv-05143

Petition for Writ of Mandamus

Oct. 22, 2020

Oct. 22, 2020

Complaint

20-cv-05143

Amended and Supplemental Petition for Writ of Mandamus

Dec. 10, 2020

Dec. 10, 2020

Complaint

20-cv-05143

Order

March 31, 2021

March 31, 2021

Order/Opinion

20-cv-05143

Second Amended and Supplemental Action

April 1, 2021

April 1, 2021

Pleading / Motion / Brief

20-cv-05143

Order

U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota

Sept. 27, 2021

Sept. 27, 2021

Order/Opinion

Resources

Docket

Last updated July 25, 2022, 3:01 a.m.

Docket sheet not available via the Clearinghouse.

Case Details

State / Territory: Minnesota

Case Type(s):

Prison Conditions

Special Collection(s):

COVID-19 (novel coronavirus)

Key Dates

Filing Date: Oct. 22, 2020

Case Ongoing: Yes

Plaintiffs

Plaintiff Description:

A group of people incarcerated in the Minnesota Department of Corrections representing a class of all incarcerated people in the custody or control of MNDOC.

Plaintiff Type(s):

Private Plaintiff

Attorney Organizations:

ACLU Affiliates (any)

Public Interest Lawyer: Yes

Filed Pro Se: No

Class Action Sought: Yes

Class Action Outcome: Pending

Defendants

Minnesota Department of Corrections, State

Defendant Type(s):

Corrections

Case Details

Causes of Action:

State law

Mandamus, 28 U.S.C. § 1361

Availably Documents:

Complaint (any)

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