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Settlement Reached in Lawsuit Alleging Inadequate COVID-19 Response at Maryland Jail

by David M. Reutter

Under a settlement agreement reached on August 23, 2021, officials at the Prince George’s County Jail in Maryland agreed to a raft of safety protocols overseen for at least four months by an independent monitor in order to protect detainees and prisoners from COVID-19.

The agreement settles a class-action lawsuit filed in April 2020 alleging that the county’s Department of Corrections (DOC) responded inadequately to the pandemic, leading to the infection of over 300 prisoners and guards. An earlier decision by the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland granted plaintiffs a temporary injunction on May 21, 2020. See: Seth v. McDonough, 461 F. Supp. 3d 242, USDC (D. Md. 2020).

In addition to an extension of that injunctive relief, the settlement also provides for $100,000 in plaintiffs’ attorneys fees. Its 120-day term could be extended to 180 days if needed.

The agreement’s first substantive provision involves COVID-19 testing. DOC must perform monthly testing of detainees who are 65 or older, have any preexisting conditions that make them more vulnerable to the disease, or are enrolled in DOC’s Chronic Care Clinic program. DOC also must assign each detainee to a cohort and test 10% of the detainees in that cohort monthly. A positive test would then require cohort-wide testing.

Guidance from the federal Centers for Disease Control must be followed as to quarantining, screening, and medical isolation of detainees. Every detainee must receive a hygiene kit with soap, a toothbrush, toothpaste and deodorant upon entry, every two weeks, or on an as-needed basis. Cleaning products must also be made available in the housing units and detainees must receive weekly laundry services for clothes and bed linens.

In regard to social distancing, signs and reminders on the telephone answering system must inform detainees and visitors of the need to remain at least six feet apart. Detainees must also receive two new face masks each week. Sick call forms must be given to any detainee requesting one. DOC agreed to make reasonable efforts to give detainees at least three hours per day of out-of-cell time.

All detainees must be offered COVID-19 vaccination, even if they previously declined it. DOC also agreed to continue offering three free ten-minute phone calls each week. The agreement provides for a monthly inspection by the Class’s expert, Dr. Carlos Franco-Paredes.

Defendants did not admit to liability with the settlement. In fact, the provision that provided for attorney fees stated that “Plaintiffs hereby expressly and voluntarily waive any right, claim, or entitlement to prevailing party status in this action” in accepting a $100,000 award for their counsel: Cadene Russell Brooks and Edward Williams Henderson II of the New York firm of WilmerHale; along with Katherine Chamblee-Ryan, Olevia Boykin, Ryan Downer and Elizabeth Anne Rossi of the Civil Rights Corp in Washington, D.C.

The agreement also specifically provided it is private and not a consent decree. See: Seth v. McDonough, USDC (D. Md.), Case No. 8:20-cv-01028.

The county additionally reported spending $81,000 on its own counsel in the case.  

Additional source: Washington Post

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Related legal cases

Seth v. McDonough

Seth v. McDonough