In one of the most successful impact litigation cases brought against a federal prison for its systemic failed response to the COVID-19 pandemic, a Manatt team led by Naeun Rim and including David Boyadzhyan and C. Ryan Fisher obtained final approval of a settlement in a pro bono class action lawsuit brought against officials at FCC Lompoc and the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) for violations of the Eighth Amendment. Manatt co-counseled the case with Bird Marella, the Prison Law Office, and the ACLU Foundation of Southern California.
At the time the lawsuit was filed in May of 2020, Lompoc was 130% overcrowded and was the site of one of the largest COVID-19 outbreaks in the federal prison system. In Torres v. Milusnic, Rim and her team alleged that the communal nature of overcrowded prison settings prevented incarcerated people from socially distancing or taking other precautions and contended that the Bureau of Prisons’ leadership failed to follow Attorney General William Barr’s order to maximize the release of at-risk individuals to home confinement, thus violating their Eighth Amendment rights.
The lawsuit alleged that the Warden of Lompoc and the Director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons failed to undertake reasonable preventive measures, which allowed the virus to spread to 60% of those in custody—over 1,200 people—and accordingly sought declaratory and injunctive relief for improved conditions of confinement, as well as a writ of habeas corpus for release.
The pro bono team won a preliminary injunction in July of 2020 that require Lompoc to immediately review a provisional class of people over the age of 50 or who had certain underlying health conditions for home confinement and promptly transfer eligible people to their homes. In subsequent motions, the team also obtained orders prohibiting Lompoc from denying people home confinement based solely on the basis of the amount of time served or the nature of a prior offense. To date, 249 people have been transferred to home confinement from Lompoc since the preliminary injunction was granted.
The settlement agreement requires the BOP and Lompoc administrators to:
- Promptly review and transfer eligible class members to home confinement in accordance with the preliminary injunction orders, with substantial weight given to COVID-19 risk factors and without denying anyone based solely on the amount of time served or the nature of a prior offense.
- Perform daily symptoms checks for people placed in quarantine.
- Screen class members working in communal spaces for COVID-19 symptoms.
- Ensure that those being forced to isolate in the Special Housing Unit are treated as distinct from those being housed there for punitive reasons, including by providing access to watch/clock, radio, reading materials, personal property, and commissary.
This year, Rim is being honored by the National Lawyers Guild for the leadership role she played in the class action. In addition, in 2021, ACLU SoCal awarded Rim with its 2021 Humanitarian Award, recognizing the team’s extraordinary advocacy in the Lompoc class action lawsuit.