AZ Prison Case Inspires Dissent From 9th Circuit

     (CN) – In declining to reconsider a class action by 33,000 Arizona prison inmates, the 9th Circuit has let stand “serious misinterpretations” of federal law, a dissent warns Tuesday.
     The plaintiffs in Parsons v. Ryan claimed in 2012 that critically inadequate medical, dental and mental health care in Arizona’s prisons had exposed them to “preventable injury, amputation, disfigurement, and death,” in violation of the Eighth Amendment.
     In addition to delaying or denying emergency treatment and other medical care, Arizona allegedly made it difficult for inmates to secure medications and medical devices, and provided substandard dental care that focused largely on extracting rather than healing offending teeth.
     Arizona complained to the 9th Circuit that the inmates had failed to demonstrate the “commonality and typicality” required for class certification, but a three-judge panel sided with the inmates last year, finding evidence of “the existence of the statewide ADC policies and practices that allegedly expose all members of the putative class to a substantial risk of serious harm.”
     The state asked the federal appeals court to reconsider the issue before an 11-judge, en banc panel, but the parties reached a settlement just before the case went to trial. The agreement requires the Arizona Corrections Department to, among other things, request more funding from the Arizona Legislature – funds it must use to better staff medical and mental health positions, an ongoing problem for the ADC.
     The 9th Circuit denied the state’s motion to vacate the opinion in February, and, on Tuesday, refused to reconsider the issue en banc.
     In a long dissent, Judge Sandra Ikuta, joined by Judges Alex Kozinski, Diarmuid O’Scannlain, Consuelo Callahan, Carlos Bea and Milan Smith, argued that the denial violates “two straightforward principles” established by the U.S. Supreme Court.
     “First, before certifying a class, a court must ensure that all members of the potential class have the same sort of claim, and that the claim is susceptible to classwide resolution,” she wrote. “Second, a prisoner does not have an Eighth Amendment claim merely because the prisoner is incarcerated in a prison with a defective medical system.”
     Ikuta argued that, “because the proposed class here includes healthy prisoners who do not have an Eighth Amendment claim (or a nonexistent institutional reform Eighth Amendment claim),” the action does not meet the “commonality requirement.” (Parentheses in original.)
     Mootness issues aside, Ikuta said the court should vacate class certification in the case to “avoid having the panel’s serious misinterpretations of Supreme Court Eighth Amendment and class action jurisprudence become the law of our circuit.”

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