Munger Tolles & ACLU Achieve Victory in Protecting Medically Vulnerable Inmates’ Rights Amid Pandemic
Munger, Tolles & Olson and the ACLU won a significant victory in a pro bono lawsuit challenging the Orange County Sheriff’s response to COVID-19 in the Orange County Jail.
The lawsuit alleged that the Sheriff is violating medically vulnerable incarcerated people’s rights under the California Constitution and disability statutes by failing to provide social distancing and other measures to protect people in the Jail from COVID-19 infections.
On Dec. 14, Judge Wilson entered an order declaring conditions in the Jail unconstitutional by exhibiting deliberate indifference to the health of incarcerated people who are medically vulnerable to severe complications from COVID-19. Judge Wilson ordered that the firm’s two named plaintiff-petitioners be released immediately, and that the Sheriff immediately develop and implement a plan to reduce the Jail population by 50% to facilitate adequate social distancing for those who remain in the Jail.
The order comes at an urgent time, as the Jail reported on Dec. 15 that a major COVID-19 outbreak has infected over 400 incarcerated people in recent days. The outbreak endangers everyone confined in the Jail, but also correctional staff and members of their communities. Jails and prisons have emerged as COVID-19 hotspots, which burden local healthcare systems that are already stretched to capacity and spread the virus far beyond the jailhouse walls.
The order to reduce the Orange County Jail population to a safe level will save lives in the correctional system and in the surrounding community. It may also become a model for similar lawsuits that address incarcerated people’s right to reasonable protections from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Munger Tolles & Olson’s success in the Orange County lawsuit comes on the heels of the firm and the ACLU Washington, D.C. obtaining a preliminary injunction against the D.C. Department of Corrections to protect the rights and health of incarcerated people during the pandemic.