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Case Name Baker v. Minnesota Department of Corrections PC-MN-0006
Docket / Court 62-cv-20-5143 ( State Court )
State/Territory Minnesota
Case Type(s) Prison Conditions
Special Collection COVID-19 (novel coronavirus)
Attorney Organization ACLU Affiliates (any)
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 ... read more >
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.

Rachel Harrington - 10/05/2021


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Issues and Causes of Action
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Issues
COVID-19
Mitigation Denied
Mitigation Requested
Release Denied
Release Requested
Defendant-type
Corrections
General
Conditions of confinement
Sanitation / living conditions
Medical/Mental Health
Medical care, general
Plaintiff Type
Private Plaintiff
Causes of Action Mandamus, 28 U.S.C. § 1361
State law
Defendant(s) Minnesota Department of Corrections
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.
Indexed Lawyer Organizations ACLU Affiliates (any)
Class action status sought Yes
Class action status outcome Pending
Filed Pro Se No
Prevailing Party None Yet / None
Public Int. Lawyer Yes
Nature of Relief None yet
Source of Relief None yet
Filed 10/22/2020
Case Ongoing Yes
Additional Resources
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  Arnold Baker et al. v. Minnesota Department of Corrections
ACLU Minnesota
Date: Dec. 10, 2021
By: ACLU Minnesota
[ Detail ] [ External Link ]

Court Docket(s)
State Trial Court
10/01/2021
62-CV-20-5143
PC-MN-0006-9000.pdf | Detail
Source: State Court Website
General Documents
State Trial Court
10/22/2020
Petition for Writ of Mandamus
PC-MN-0006-0001.pdf | Detail
Source: ACLU
State Trial Court
12/10/2020
Amended and Supplemental Petition for Writ of Mandamus
PC-MN-0006-0002.pdf | Detail
Source: ACLU
State Trial Court
03/31/2021
Order
PC-MN-0006-0003.pdf | Detail
Source: State Court Website
State Trial Court
04/01/2021
Second Amended and Supplemental Action
PC-MN-0006-0004.pdf | Detail
Source: State Court Website
D. Minn.
09/27/2021
Order
PC-MN-0006-0005.pdf | Detail
Source: State Court Website
show all people docs
Judges Grewing, Sara Court not on record show/hide docs
PC-MN-0006-0003 | PC-MN-0006-0005 | PC-MN-0006-9000
Plaintiff's Lawyers Bratlie, Ian (Minnesota) show/hide docs
PC-MN-0006-0001 | PC-MN-0006-0002 | PC-MN-0006-0004
Diegel, Clare A (Minnesota) show/hide docs
PC-MN-0006-0001 | PC-MN-0006-0002 | PC-MN-0006-0004
Nascimento, Isabella Salomao (Minnesota) show/hide docs
PC-MN-0006-0001 | PC-MN-0006-0002 | PC-MN-0006-0004
Nelson, Teresa J. (Minnesota) show/hide docs
PC-MN-0006-0001 | PC-MN-0006-0002 | PC-MN-0006-0004
Shulman, Daniel R (Minnesota) show/hide docs
PC-MN-0006-0001 | PC-MN-0006-0002 | PC-MN-0006-0004 | PC-MN-0006-9000
Defendant's Lawyers Forrest, Steven Robert (Minnesota) show/hide docs
PC-MN-0006-9000
Lew, Dan (Minnesota) show/hide docs
PC-MN-0006-0004
Middlebrook, Cathryn (Minnesota) show/hide docs
PC-MN-0006-0004
Miltich, Cicely (Minnesota) show/hide docs
PC-MN-0006-9000
Ward, William (Minnesota) show/hide docs
PC-MN-0006-0004

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