PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — A federal judge has certified a class action lawsuit in Oregon regarding state leaders’ response to the COVID-19 pandemic at its prisons.
A group of adults in custody who contracted COVID-19 first sued the state in April 2020, alleging the guilt of Governor Kate Brown, Director of Corrections Colette Peters and Director of the health authority Patrick Allen, among other state officials. The lawsuit acknowledges that the correctional services took certain measures, but argues that they were not sufficient.
“This really is a pretty groundbreaking order and decision, and it could potentially be a model for defenders in other parts of the country where they’re having similar issues,” said Corene Kendrick, deputy director of the National Prison Project of the American Civil Liberty Union. , Recount Oregon Public Broadcasting this week.
In Oregon, 45 people held by the Department of Corrections have died so far after testing positive for COVID-19, and more than 5,000 people have tested positive for the virus while in custody.
Magistrate Judge Stacie Beckerman approved a wrongful death class that will include the estates of 45 adults who died in state custody and “for whom COVID-19 caused or contributed to their death.” The other is a class of damages that would include anyone incarcerated after February 1, 2020, who was diagnosed with COVID-19 at least 14 days after incarceration.
The state could appeal Beckerman’s decision, settle or take the cases to court. Spokespersons for the governor’s office, the Oregon Department of Corrections and the state Department of Justice declined to comment on the ongoing litigation.
Lawyers filing the suit have already used it to secure vaccines for adults in custody in February 2021 before the vaccines were widely available.
In her ruling, Beckerman said she found the case theory sufficient to certify the courses. Other questions, she wrote, could only be answered by a jury, if the cases went to trial. For example, Beckerman did not respond to whether the state acted with willful indifference, or whether that indifference was the reason thousands of people were sick with COVID-19.