Parsons v. Ryan

NJDC, along with several other juvenile justice and child welfare organizations, signed onto an amicus brief filed by Lowenstein Sandler LLP, in support of class certification in a prisoner’s right case against the Arizona Department of Corrections (AZ DOC). Although the instant case does not directly involve juveniles, the Ninth Circuit decision on whether to sustain class certification of the inmates will affect the rights of future classes including children in the juvenile justice system generally, and those committed to juvenile justice facilities more specifically. A victory in this case will provide support for future class action certifications of juveniles, while a loss will make filing such actions much more difficult, particularly for juveniles confined in detention or commitment facilities, as well as those subject to solitary confinement.

In this case, plaintiffs are inmates in various prisons administered by AZ DOC. The plaintiffs allege that Arizona violates the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution by systemically denying inmates minimally adequate medical, dental, and mental health care, and that the state imposes unconstitutional conditions of confinement in long-term solitary units.

Earlier this year a Federal District Court certified the inmates as a class. The State appealed, citing to the Supreme Court’s 2011 ruling in the Walmart sex-discrimination case as a basis to deny certification.

In their brief, amici argued first that Rule 23 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure authorize a class action by plaintiffs who face a common, unreasonable risk of harm by virtue of the policy and practice they seek to enjoin. Additionally, amici asserted that the plaintiffs do not need to show actual injury, but only that they are exposed to a risk of harm caused by the same unconstitutional policy or practice. Finally, amici argued that the AZ DOC promulgates and enforces the challenged policy and practice, and they are unified decision-makers with control over the class as a whole, distinguished from Walmart where the decisions were individualized and not proven to be a company-wide policy.

Amici noted that this case is of critical importance as it relates to the rights of all vulnerable institutionalized populations, including children, seeking class-wide relief for civil rights violations.

Court: United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
Amicus Brief Filed: October 8, 2013 (download .pdf)
Amicus Brief Discusses: Class Action Certification; Conditions of Confinement; Prisoners’ Rights
Oral Argument: Pending