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New York District Court Judge Denies Preliminary Injunction Against MCC Brooklyn

by Derek Gilna

Federal District Court Judge Rachel P. Kovner on June 9, 2020, denied a “preliminary injunction that would release all MDC inmates whose age or medical condition places them at heightened risk from the virus and would manage almost every aspect of the facility’s COVID-19 response,” according to her opinion.

The judge noted the “high bar” that had to be met to obtain such sweeping relief, and she refused to find that the response of Bureau of Prisons (BOP) officials at the Brooklyn Metropolitan Detention Center (MDC) constituted “deliberate indifference” under the Eighth Amendment.

The judge noted that of the four original plaintiffs, two had already been granted compassionate release by their sentencing judges, and said that evidence at the preliminary hearing had revealed “several deficiencies in the MDC’s implementation of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines that both parties have treated as authoritative. Those shortcomings merit a swift response from MDC officials — the institutional actors charged in the first instance with ensuring that their facilities are managed in accordance with appropriate standards of care.”

However, the court went on to say, “the facility’s aggressive response to a public health emergency with no preexisting playbook belies the suggestion that these apparent deficiencies are the product of deliberate indifference on the part of prison officials.”

While not disputing the seriousness of COVID-19 in the federal prison system, or its danger to those confined in tight quarters such as those at the MDC, the judge was apparently swayed by the relatively small number of reported cases. The court said that, “the available data gives reason for cautious optimism about the effectiveness of the facility’s COVID-19 response thus far.”

The court proceedings featured the testimony of numerous medical experts, who reached contrary conclusions as to the effectiveness of the BOP response. Despite the obvious deficiencies in the MDC’s handling of possible COVID-19 cases, and its at-risk population, the court said that, “petitioners have not shown a clear likelihood of success in demonstrating that they face “a substantial risk of serious harm” from conditions at the MDC, Lewis v. Siwicki, 944 F.3d 427, 430- 31 (2d Cir. 2019)... given the measures that prison officials have instituted to address COVID-19.” See: Chunn v. Edge, USDC (E.D. N.Y.), Case No. 20-cv-1590. 


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Related legal case

Chunn v. Edge