University of Michigan Law School
Civil Rights Litigation Clearinghouse
new search
page permalink
Case Name Williams v. Brann JC-NY-0074
Docket / Court 451069/2020 ( State Court )
State/Territory New York
Case Type(s) Jail Conditions
Special Collection COVID-19 (novel coronavirus)
Attorney Organization Legal Services/Legal Aid
Case Summary
COVID-19 Summary: An emergency petition for immediate release of individuals in pretrial detention or held on parole violation at Rikers Island or other NYC jails was denied on March 20, 2020 by Judge Joel M. Cohen, who held that continuing to hold the inmates did not constitute deliberate ... read more >
COVID-19 Summary: An emergency petition for immediate release of individuals in pretrial detention or held on parole violation at Rikers Island or other NYC jails was denied on March 20, 2020 by Judge Joel M. Cohen, who held that continuing to hold the inmates did not constitute deliberate indifference to the risk of serious medical harm under the Fourteenth Amendment. The court reaffirmed this finding after petitioners moved for the court to reconsider its decision.


On March 19, 2020, individuals in pretrial detention or held on a parole violation at Rikers Island and other New York County jails filed this habeas lawsuit in New York State trial court (which is called the New York Supreme Court). Represented by the Legal Aid Society of New York, petitioners, who were particularly vulnerable to COVID-19, sought immediate release on the grounds that continuation of their incarceration on bail and parole holds constituted "deliberate indifference to the risk of serious medical harm" in violation of their due process rights under the Fourteenth Amendment and the New York constitution. As of March 19, COVID-19 had already reached Rikers Island where at least one incarcerated person had tested positive for the virus.

The petition was denied March 20, 2020 by Judge Joel M. Cohen, who held that continuing to hold the inmates did not constitute deliberate indifference to the risk of serious medical harm under the Fourteenth Amendment.

On April 1, 2020, petitioners filed a motion for leave to reargue or renew their petition for habeas corpus. Petitioners argued that the deterioration of the situation in New York City jails and the emerging legal precedent that it was a violation of constitutional due process to continue to hold medically vulnerable pre-trial detainees warranted the immediate release of 79 individuals held on pre-trial bail decisions or parole holds.

On April 13, 2020, Judge Steven M. Statsinger issued his decision. Judge Statsinger granted the motion for leave to renew, but held that on renewal "the court adheres to its original ruling that the relief requested - the mass release of a large number of inmates without an individualized determination of each inmate's risk of non-appearance - is inappropriate." The court cited a "unique risk of non-appearance" because of a lack of a mechanism for warning each releasee of the consequences of failing to return as a reason in denying the release of the inmates. The court also held that continuing to hold detainees at Rikers Island did not constitute deliberate indifference to the inmates' medical needs. The court recognized that reducing prison populations furthered the public health, but argued that releasing detainees for that reason was beyond the scope of the court's authority.

Petitioners appealed this case on March 30. Petitioners' argument on appeal claimed that the lower court erred in three ways. First, it erred in claiming that respondents' actions to mitigate the spread of COVID in jails were sufficient to avoid being "deliberately indifferent." Second, they argued that the court incorrectly determined that the state's interest in detaining pretrial inmates outweighed the prisoner's interest in surviving the pandemic. Finally, the lower court claimed that habeas corpus should not be granted "holistically" (meaning granting habeas to scores of people at a time), but rather assessed on an individual level. Yet the lower court then declined to engage in these individualized assessments.

Several respondents filed briefs, including the Special Narcotics Prosecutor, the Attorney General, the New York County District Attorney, and the Department of Corrections. They all argued more or less the same points as the lower court had.

On July 23, the Appellate Division issued its ruling. They affirmed the lower court's decision refusing to grant habeas corpus. They argued that the respondents were taking the outbreak seriously, demonstrated by the fact that they had already voluntarily let many prisoners out. Therefore they were not deliberately indifferent to the inmates' risk of contracting COVID. They were also skeptical of the use of a "mass" writ for habeas corpus, preferring individualized assessment as well. However, the court said that the petitioners had not supplied the information necessary to make those determinations, even on a case-by-case basis.

The case is ongoing as of July 27, 2020.

Cedar Hobbs - 03/20/2020
Jack Hibbard - 07/27/2020


compress summary

- click to show/hide ALL -
Issues and Causes of Action
click to show/hide detail
Issues
Constitutional Clause
Cruel and Unusual Punishment
Due Process
Defendant-type
Corrections
General
Conditions of confinement
Sanitation / living conditions
Medical/Mental Health
COVID-19 Release Denied
COVID-19 Release Requested
Medical care, general
Plaintiff Type
Private Plaintiff
Special Case Type
Habeas
Type of Facility
Government-run
Causes of Action State law
Defendant(s) New York
New York
Plaintiff Description Individuals in pretrial detention or being held on a parole violation at Rikers Island and other New York County jails.
Indexed Lawyer Organizations Legal Services/Legal Aid
Class action status sought No
Class action status granted No
Filed Pro Se No
Prevailing Party None Yet / None
Public Int. Lawyer Yes
Nature of Relief None yet
Source of Relief None yet
Filed 03/19/2020
Case Ongoing Yes
Docket(s)
No docket sheet currently in the collection
General Documents
Writ of Habeas Corpus
JC-NY-0074-0001.pdf | Detail
Date: 03/20/2020
Source: Plaintiffs' counsel
Statsinger Transcript
JC-NY-0074-0002.pdf | Detail
Date: 03/20/2020
Source: Plaintiffs' counsel
Verified Petition in Support of Motion for Leave to Reargue or Renew Writ of Habeas Corpus
JC-NY-0074-0003.pdf | Detail
Date: 04/01/2020
Appendix A: Brief of Amici Curiae by Physicians for Human Rights
JC-NY-0074-0004.pdf | Detail
Date: 04/08/2020
Affirmation and Memorandum of Law in Opposition to Petitioners' Motion for Leave to Reargue or Renew Writ of Habeas Corpus
JC-NY-0074-0005.pdf | Detail
Date: 04/08/2020
Affirmation of Martin Bowe in Opposition to Writ of Habeas Corpus
JC-NY-0074-0007.pdf | Detail
Date: 04/08/2020
Decision and Order
JC-NY-0074-0006.pdf | Detail
Date: 04/13/2020
Brief for Petitioners-Appellants
JC-NY-0074-0009.pdf | Detail
Date: 05/01/2020
Source: Plaintiffs' counsel
Brief for State Respondent
JC-NY-0074-0011.pdf | Detail
Date: 05/22/2020
Source: Plaintiffs' counsel
Respondent's Brief for New York County District Attorney's Office
JC-NY-0074-0012.pdf | Detail
Date: 05/22/2020
Source: Plaintiffs' counsel
Brief for Respondent Cynthia Brann
JC-NY-0074-0013.pdf | Detail
Date: 05/22/2020
Source: Plaintiffs' counsel
Respondent's Brief for Office of the Special Narcotics Prosecutor
JC-NY-0074-0014.pdf | Detail
Date: 05/22/2020
Source: Plaintiffs' counsel
Reply Brief for Petitioners-Appellants
JC-NY-0074-0010.pdf | Detail
Date: 05/27/2020
Source: Plaintiffs' counsel
2020 NY Slip Op 04236
JC-NY-0074-0008.pdf | Detail
Date: 07/23/2020
Source: Plaintiffs' counsel
show all people docs
Judges Friedman, Marcy Court not on record show/hide docs
JC-NY-0074-0008
Mazzarelli, Angela M (State Supreme Court) show/hide docs
JC-NY-0074-0008
Moulton, Peter H. Court not on record show/hide docs
JC-NY-0074-0008
Statsinger, Steven M Court not on record show/hide docs
JC-NY-0074-0002 | JC-NY-0074-0006
Plaintiff's Lawyers Billingsley, David (New York) show/hide docs
JC-NY-0074-0001 | JC-NY-0074-0003
Gottesman, Lauren (New York) show/hide docs
JC-NY-0074-0001 | JC-NY-0074-0002 | JC-NY-0074-0003
McGrath, Michelle (New York) show/hide docs
JC-NY-0074-0001 | JC-NY-0074-0003
Ndiaye, Marie (New York) show/hide docs
JC-NY-0074-0001 | JC-NY-0074-0002 | JC-NY-0074-0003
Quackenbush, Robert Matthew (New York) show/hide docs
JC-NY-0074-0001 | JC-NY-0074-0003
Sabel, Janet E. (New York) show/hide docs
JC-NY-0074-0009 | JC-NY-0074-0010
Simpson, Kayla (New York) show/hide docs
JC-NY-0074-0001 | JC-NY-0074-0003
Stoughton, Corey (New York) show/hide docs
JC-NY-0074-0001 | JC-NY-0074-0002 | JC-NY-0074-0003 | JC-NY-0074-0009 | JC-NY-0074-0010
Vela, Veronica (New York) show/hide docs
JC-NY-0074-0001 | JC-NY-0074-0003
Werlwas, Mary Lynne (New York) show/hide docs
JC-NY-0074-0001 | JC-NY-0074-0003
Defendant's Lawyers Bailey, Patricia J (New York) show/hide docs
JC-NY-0074-0012
Brennan, Bridget G (New York) show/hide docs
JC-NY-0074-0014
Brenner, Deborah (New York) show/hide docs
JC-NY-0074-0013
Cooney, James Brennan (New York) show/hide docs
JC-NY-0074-0002
Galvin, Harriett (New York) show/hide docs
JC-NY-0074-0012
James, Letitia (New York) show/hide docs
JC-NY-0074-0011
Johnson, James E. (New York) show/hide docs
JC-NY-0074-0013
Levitz, Phillip J (New York) show/hide docs
JC-NY-0074-0011
Rowser, Jannine (New York) show/hide docs
JC-NY-0074-0014
Vance, Cyrus R. Jr. (New York) show/hide docs
JC-NY-0074-0005 | JC-NY-0074-0012
Wu, Steven C. (New York) show/hide docs
JC-NY-0074-0011
Other Lawyers Cohen, Tabitha P. (New York) show/hide docs
JC-NY-0074-0004
Moloney, Thomas J. (New York) show/hide docs
JC-NY-0074-0004
Scherker, Emily R. (New York) show/hide docs
JC-NY-0074-0004

- click to show/hide ALL -

new search
page permalink

- top of page -