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Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Liman Affiliates, Alumni Assist on Prison COVID-19 Suit that Reached Settlement

atmospheric photo of Yale Law School

Liman Center affiliates and alumni shared a win for prisoners at a federal prison in Connecticut on July 28 when a settlement was reached in a class-action lawsuit against the Bureau of Prisons over its handling of COVID-19.

The settlement in Martinez-Brooks v. Easter means that the bureau agrees to take speedy action in reviewing medically vulnerable individuals for release from the Federal Correctional Institution in Danbury. The prison was the site of one of the worst coronavirus outbreaks in the federal system, according to the suit.

The lawsuit, filed in April on behalf of the prisoners by legal clinics at Yale Law School and Quinnipiac University School of Law and the law firm Silver Golub & Teitell LLP, made use of two declarations written by Liman Center affiliates. One declaration, by Founding Director Judith Resnik, outlines the authority of the courts to protect the health and safety of prisoners. Resnik, the Arthur Liman Professor of Law, described the availability of a provisional remedy known as enlargement to judges responding to COVID-19 litigation. The term refers to “enlarging” the place of an incarcerated person’s custody from a particular prison to another setting, such as home or a halfway house.

 A declaration by Dr. Jaimie Meyer, a physician who is one of the Liman Center’s Affiliated Faculty members, described COVID-19 in prisons in public health terms. Meyer, an expert on infectious disease in prisons, depicted how these facilities are ill-equipped and unprepared to handle an outbreak, putting all prisoners, staff, and the larger community at risk. Meyer’s and Resnik’s declarations have also been filed in other cases.

Liman alumni were also involved in bringing the suit. The legal team included Marisol Orihuela ’08, Clinical Associate Professor at Yale Law and a former Liman Fellow; Sarah Russell ’02, a Professor of Law at Quinnipiac and former director of the Liman Center; and Alexandra Harrington '14, an Associate Professor at the University at Buffalo School of Law, who was a recently a Senior Liman Fellow in Residence.

The settlement outlines how the Bureau of Prisons will identify medically vulnerable individuals incarcerated at Danbury and consider their suitability for home confinement.