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Supreme Court Rejects Appeal From Calif. Corrections Officers In COVID Case

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OPINION: This article may contain commentary which reflects the author's opinion.


The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday rejected an appeal from California corrections officials who were seeking immunity from lawsuits that alleged they acted with deliberate indifference, leading to a fatal COVID-19 outbreak at one of the world’s most renowned prisons four years ago.

According to a report from The Associated Press, the nation’s highest court turned down the request without comment.

The lawsuit originated from the relocation of infected inmates in May 2020 from a prison in Southern California to San Quentin. Before the transfer, San Quentin had not reported any cases of infection. Following the transfer, the coronavirus rapidly spread, infecting 75% of the inmates at the facility located north of San Francisco and resulting in the deaths of 28 inmates and one correctional officer. “California now faces four lawsuits from the relatives of those who died as well as from inmates and staff who were infected but survived,” the AP noted.

Michael J. Haddad, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, said in a statement following the ruling: “The state has had its due process to the Supreme Court. They’re not getting off on a technicality. Now it’s time to face the facts. Prison administrators killed 29 people in what the 9th Circuit called a ‘textbook case’ of deliberate indifference.”

The AP added: “Prison officials ‘ignored virtually every safety measure’ in making the transfers, Marin County Superior Court Judge Geoffrey Howard wrote in a 2021 tentative ruling in the case. In 2021, California workplace safety regulators hit San Quentin with a $421,880 fine, one of the largest pandemic-related penalties against an employer.”

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State Sen. Mike McGuire, a Democrat who represents the San Quentin area, called the deaths “completely avoidable,” adding that the transfer never should have happened. “I don’t say this lightly, but this is a failure of leadership,” McGuire noted during a 2020 Senate oversight hearing.

State attorneys have argued that prison officials implemented various measures to shield inmates from the virus, including a temporary 40% reduction in the population of the state’s oldest prison. In June 2020, health professionals recommended a 50% decrease, but this reduction fell short of that.

Prison officials described the botched transfer as a misguided yet well-meaning attempt to relocate 121 vulnerable inmates from an outbreak at the California Institution for Men in Chino.

The Supreme Court “quietly” handed American veterans a big win in a 7-2 ruling earlier this month, according to an analysis of the decision published in The Hill.

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The ruling pertained to the GI Bill, and it “could have a massive positive effect on America’s veterans, our communities, and our nation for years to come,” said Tommy Marquez, a Navy vet, former senior House staffer, and current board member of The Pipe Hitter Foundation, a group that assists in the protection of the rights and freedoms of men and women in uniform.

Marquez said that the nation’s highest court ruled that the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) improperly calculated GI Bill benefits for retired Army Captain James Rudisill, who now works in federal law enforcement.

Now an FBI agent, Rudisill falls into a group of veterans who have accrued credit under two iterations of the G.I. Bill. One variant applied to those who had served before the attacks on September 11, 2001. After the attacks, Congress passed new legislation regarding the additional benefits.

“Like so many others before him, Rudisill had separated from the military and wanted to use the educational benefits that we all earn while serving our country,” the Navy vet wrote. “However, Rudisill earned his benefits under two different versions of the GI Bill—the one that applied to those who served before the 9/11 attacks, and the one that applied to those afterward.”

The VA informed Rudsill, who served both before and after that terrible day in our history, that when he chose to use the benefits accumulated under the post-9/11 version, he forfeited his benefits under the old version. This decision thwarted his plans to attend Yale Divinity School and pursue a career as a military chaplain, Marquez said.

Instead of yielding to the VA, Rudsill took legal action against it, taking the case to the Supreme Court, which ruled in his favor.

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