9th Circuit Reverses and Remands Dismissal of Inmates’ Claims Against USA

by feldmanwallach

May 20, 2016 – After over 3 years since filing their complaints, plaintiffs, in the consolidated cases of Edison v. USA and Nuwintore v. USA, were allowed to move forward litigating their claims against the USA. The 9th Circuit reversed the District Court’s dismissal of these inmates’ claims and ruled that the USA can be liable for inmates acquiring Valley Fever as a result of their incarceration at the federal correctional facility located in Taft, California.  

           In its opinion, the 9th Circuit provided a detailed history of the Valley Fever epidemic, its lifelong injury, and its heightened risk to inmates of African and Filipino descent (like our clients). Over 40 inmates of African descent have died from Valley Fever in the past 7 years. Over 800 inmates are infected and require lifelong care. The majority are in the state system however, and this opinion is limited to those infected in the federal facility (Taft). 

           The USA contracted with Management & Training Corporation (also defendants in these matters), a private company, to operate and oversee the day-to-day activities of Taft Correctional Facility. However, the 9th Circuit disagreed with defendant USA and the lower court in determining government immunity against plaintiffs’ claims and held that the Independent Contractor Exception to the Federal Tort Claims Act did not apply here as the USA retained some responsibilities. 

            In reversing the District Court’s dismissal based on sovereign immunity, the 9th Circuit agreed that the USA can be liable for plaintiffs’ claims on three separate grounds: 1) failure to warn inmates of the disease; 2) failure to take preventative measures (including building structures to decrease risk of exposure); and 3) failure to properly respond to the epidemic.

            Ian Wallach and Jason Feldman argued on behalf of plaintiffs before the 9th Circuit in these matters on February 8, 2016.  The arguments can viewed here and the Court’s opinion read here

             The decision was covered by the Associated Press and other agencies. Articles include:

  • Monterey Herald, May 20, 2016 “Appeals court reinstates Valley Fever suits against US” (click here for article) 
  • SF Gate, May 20, 2016 “U.S. court allows private-prison inmates to sue over valley fever” (click here for article)
  • UC Hastings Law, May 20, 2016Q&A: Ian Wallach ’99 on today’s 9th Circuit reversal of the District Court’s dismissal of inmates’ claims in the consolidated cases of Edison v. USA and Nuwintore v. USA (click here for article) 
  • Courthouse News Service, May 23, 2016, “U.S.A. Is Liable for Valley Fever in Prison” (Ian Wallach quoted in article) (click here for article) 
  • Los Angeles Daily Journal, May 23, 2016, “Valley Fever suit by prisoners revived” (click here for article)

            In addition, based on his experience leading up to this ruling, Ian Wallach wrote an article that was published by the California Lawyer providing tips on complaint drafting when bringing claims under the Federal Tort Claims Act.  

Plaintiffs are represented by Feldman & Wallach, LLP, Arias Ozzello & Gignac, LLP and Boucher, LLP.

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