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Arizona Court Denies Emergency COVID-19 Motion

The Arizona federal district court overseeing the Stipulation in a class action that challenged the medical care within the Arizona Department of Corrections (ADOC) denied an emergency motion to require ADOC to develop a comprehensive COVID-19 plan. The court also issued an order on performance measure (PM) protocols.

Class counsel made a prison tour on March 11-12, 2020 and found it did not appear ADOC had a plan in place to address the COVID-19 crisis. Their concerns led them to file an emergency motion. It requested the court to require ADOC to develop and implement a plan to address patient education; screening, testing and housing of class members; provision of hygiene and cleaning supplies; and coordination with community hospitals and among ADOC’s 10 prisons.

“Plaintiffs’ concerns are well founded. Defendants’ past performance, coupled with an unprecedented public health crisis, does not inspire confidence in their ability to meet this moment,” the court said.

ADOC was found to be non-compliant and sanctioned by the court “for their contemptuous refusal to meaningfully address” performance measures in the Stipulation. The court, however, found that did not empower it “to exercise general control over matters such as prisoner education or the distribution of hygiene and cleaning supplies.”

As there were no clear provisions of the Stipulation to authorize the type of order the Plaintiffs’ sought, the court found it was without authority to enter an order as requested. The court noted ADOC had acted in response to the COVID-19 crisis by “suspending visitation, non-emergent movement of prisoners, programming, and religious services.”

The court’s March 23, 2020, order denied Plaintiffs’ emergency motion, but it noted ADOC remains “obligated to treat prisoners who become ill or critically ill.”

In a separate order issued on March 11, 2020, the court resolved issues from a ruling on February 12, 2020 and ordered the parties to submit a joint statement concerning PM. At issue was how ADOC’s compliance with several PMs was to be determined.

The main issue concerned the length of time the PMs require prisoners be “seen” by mental health professionals at specified intervals. The parties agreed that for watch-related PMs, there should be a 10-minute minimum. As to non-watch-related PMs, the parties were in disagreement. The court ordered that for those PMs a 30 minute minimum was required, but it did not prohibit shorter visits if the mental health clinician determined “the length was meaningful and appropriate in the context of the patient’s overall care.”

It also ordered that PM 25 requires a “first responder trained in Basic Life Support responds and adequately provides care within three minutes of an emergency.” ADOC wanted that PM retired. The court refused, ordering that the term “‘emergency’ includes every Incident Command System alert where medical attention was provided or should have been provided.” A Qualified Health Care Professional who was not involved in the initial response must determine if the responding staff took medically appropriate actions.

ADOC reported 4 prisoners, out of 41,500 at state facilities, had tested positive as of April 10. However, less than 100 prisoners had been tested as of that date. No information had been released about testing of prison officials and employees.

Related legal case

Parsons v. Shinn, U.S.D.C. (D. Arizona)