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Case Name Colvin v. Inslee PC-WA-0033
Docket / Court 983178 ( State Court )
State/Territory Washington
Case Type(s) Prison Conditions
Special Collection COVID-19 (novel coronavirus)
Attorney Organization Columbia Legal Services (formerly Evergreen)
Case Summary
COVID-19 Summary: Columbia Legal Services filed this suit on March 24, 2020 on behalf of individuals in state custody against Governor of the State of Washington and the Secretary of the Washington State Department of Corrections. The plaintiffs sought a Writ of Mandamus requiring the defendants to ... read more >
COVID-19 Summary: Columbia Legal Services filed this suit on March 24, 2020 on behalf of individuals in state custody against Governor of the State of Washington and the Secretary of the Washington State Department of Corrections. The plaintiffs sought a Writ of Mandamus requiring the defendants to take actions necessary to prevent the spread of COVID-19 to vulnerable populations in custody of Washington State DOC.

On March 24, 2020, Columbia Legal Services filed a petition for a Writ of Mandamus with the Supreme Court of the State of Washington on behalf of five incarcerated individuals. The petition named the Governor of the State of Washington and the Secretary of the Washington State Department of Corrections (DOC) as defendants. The plaintiffs sought an order from the court declaring that the defendants must take necessary actions to prevent the spread of COVID-19 to vulnerable populations in the custody of the DOC. Specifically, the plaintiffs asked the court to require the defendants to immediately identify all incarcerated individuals at high risk of contracting serious cases of COVID-19 based on the Center for Disease Control guidelines and ensure the immediate release of all such people.

The plaintiffs filed this suit after Washington State became one of the largest COVID-19 outbreaks in the United States, and one of the largest in the world. Washington State reported the first case in the United States in January 2020. The plaintiffs alleged in the petition that incarceration at Washington State DOC prison facilities exponentially increases the risks of COVID-19 for vulnerable populations because correctional facilities are congregate environments. Other congregate environments include long-term care facilities and cruise ships, both of which had become epicenters of several outbreaks by the time the plaintiffs filed this petition.

The petition alleged that the public health risks inside Washington State DOC facilities make people generally more vulnerable to disease and illness due to overcrowding, inadequate medical care, inadequate access to hygiene items, and interaction with staff entering from and exiting the larger community. The plaintiffs asserted that the defendants had a legal duty to release people from custody who are most susceptible to serious illness or death from exposure to COVID-19 to mitigate their risk of harm. The named plaintiffs in this suit were among such high risk individuals due to their inability to practice social distancing while incarcerated.

On April 6, 2020, the plaintiffs submitted an additional brief in support of the original petition for a Writ of Mandamus. This filing came after a press release from the DOC confirming the first case of COVID-19 of a person in a Washington prison. As a result of the diagnosis, the entire housing unit where the infected person lived, consisting of approximately 120 people including a named plaintiff in this suit, has been placed on quarantine.

The defendants filed a response brief on April 13, 2020. In the brief, the defendants alleged that the plaintiffs' requested relief, the release of nearly two-thirds of the State's prison population, would actually increase the risk of those individuals contracting COVID-19. The defendants stated that many of those released would have no access to medical care or stable housing. Further, the defendants argued that the court must dismiss the petition because the petitioners have other adequate legal remedies, the court lacks jurisdiction, and the petitioners failed to show an existing duty that the Governor or Secretary failed to perform.

Specifically, the brief stated that the petitioners have an adequate remedy because the petitioners could file an action in superior court seeking injunctive relief. Additionally, the defendants argued that while the Washington State Supreme Court retains jurisdiction to consider the issues raised by the petitioners, the plaintiffs must first file in superior court instead of the state Supreme Court. Finally, the brief asserted that a Writ of Mandamus is only appropriate where there is a "currently existing mandatory duty to act." The brief argued that the defendants do not have such a duty because the petitioners' broad claims that the defendants violated the Washington State Constitution do not suffice. The defendants also argued that the relief requested by the plaintiffs would violate separation of powers by allowing the court to interfere with control of legislative and executive functions under the guise of protecting constitutional rights.

In addition to filing a response brief, the defendants also filed a report on the steps the state has taken to mitigate the risk of COVID-19 to the incarcerated population in DOC custody. The report stipulated that the DOC continued to develop risk management protocols following the first confirmed case of COVID-19 in a correctional facility. The report stated that the DOC began tracking COVID-19 early and supported statewide response efforts beginning in February 2020.

The report alleged that DOC facilities complied with CDC Correctional Facility Guidelines. Specifically, DOC took steps to significantly reduce the number of individuals entering DOC facilities, implemented health screening of all incoming inmates as well as mandatory screening of all staff, reduced transfers, and implemented guidelines for use of personal protective equipment. Within the facilities, DOC implemented strict cleaning and disinfection procedures, provided hygiene supplies, and implemented social distancing measures in all facilities and precautionary measures for vulnerable populations as well as isolation and quarantine procedures.

The court has placed this case on an accelerated schedule and heard oral arguments on April 23, 2020. That same day, the court denied the petition for writ of mandamus and the motion to amend the petition, finding that the petitioners had not proved that the respondents had failed to perform a mandatory duty.

Richa Bijlani - 05/11/2020


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Issues and Causes of Action
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Issues
Constitutional Clause
Cruel and Unusual Punishment
Defendant-type
Corrections
General
Conditions of confinement
Over/Unlawful Detention
Sanitation / living conditions
Medical/Mental Health
COVID-19 Release Requested
Plaintiff Type
Private Plaintiff
Special Case Type
Appellate Court is initial court
Type of Facility
Government-run
Causes of Action State law
Defendant(s) Governor of the State of Washington
Secretary of the Washington State Department of Corrections
Plaintiff Description Columbia Legal Services on behalf of five individuals in the custody of Washington State Department of Corrections
Indexed Lawyer Organizations Columbia Legal Services (formerly Evergreen)
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 03/24/2020
Case Ongoing Yes
Additional Resources
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  Advocacy Related to COVID-19
Columbia Legal Services
Date: Jan. 21, 2020
By: Columbia Legal Services
[ Detail ] [ External Link ]

Docket(s)
983178 (State Court of Appeals)
PC-WA-0033-9000.pdf | Detail
Date: 07/23/2020
Source: State Court Website
General Documents
Petition for a Writ of Mandamus
PC-WA-0033-0001.pdf | External Link | Detail
Date: 03/24/2020
Source: Public.Resource.Org
Petitioners' Brief in Support of Petition for Writ of Mandamus
PC-WA-0033-0002.pdf | External Link | Detail
Date: 04/06/2020
Source: Public.Resource.Org
Declarations in Support of Petition for a Writ of Mandamus
PC-WA-0033-0003.pdf | External Link | Detail
Date: 04/09/2020
Source: Public.Resource.Org
Petitioners' Emergency Motion to Accelerate Review, for Appointment of a Special Master and for Immediate Relief
PC-WA-0033-0004.pdf | External Link | Detail
Date: 04/09/2020
Source: Public.Resource.Org
Order on Motion
PC-WA-0033-0008.pdf | Detail
Date: 04/10/2020
Source: State Court Website
Brief of Respondents
PC-WA-0033-0005.pdf | External Link | Detail
Date: 04/13/2020
Respondents' Report on the Department of the Corrections' COVID-19 Response
PC-WA-0033-0007.pdf | Detail
Date: 04/13/2020
Petitioners' Brief in Reply to Respondents' Response Brief
PC-WA-0033-0006.pdf | External Link | Detail
Date: 04/16/2020
show all people docs
Plaintiff's Lawyers Allen, Nicholas B. (Washington) show/hide docs
PC-WA-0033-0001 | PC-WA-0033-0002 | PC-WA-0033-0003 | PC-WA-0033-0004 | PC-WA-0033-0006
Chung, Janet S (Washington) show/hide docs
PC-WA-0033-0001 | PC-WA-0033-0002 | PC-WA-0033-0003 | PC-WA-0033-0004 | PC-WA-0033-0006
Straley, Nicholas Broten (Washington) show/hide docs
PC-WA-0033-0001 | PC-WA-0033-0002 | PC-WA-0033-0003 | PC-WA-0033-0004 | PC-WA-0033-0006
Defendant's Lawyers Lang, Timothy Norman (Washington) show/hide docs
PC-WA-0033-0005 | PC-WA-0033-0007
Samson, John Joseph (Washington) show/hide docs
PC-WA-0033-0005 | PC-WA-0033-0007

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