Judge determines Moose Lake prison sufficiently contained COVID-19, dismisses ACLU lawsuit

A Minnesota judge has dismissed a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union against the Minnesota Department of Corrections alleging the Minnesota Correctional Facility-Moose Lake failed to protect prisoners from COVID-19.

The judge filed the ruling Monday morning dismissing the lawsuit that was originally filed in April, saying the ACLU failed to “meet their burden to establish deliberate indifference of the DOC or MCF-ML.”

The lawsuit said 12 prisoners had tested positive for the disease while 31 others were presumed to have contracted it. At that time, 11 staff members also tested positive for the disease. The ACLU claimed that, despite the outbreak, the prison was holding as many as eight men in a single cell while allowing unrestricted access to showers, phones and other facilities.

In the ruling Monday, Judge Leslie Beiers said the DOC has “taken the threat seriously and responded with reasonable and appropriate steps to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 and to identify, isolate and treat those who have contracted the disease.”

“Although the DOC website does not show the number of people now isolated or quarantined, the statistics indicate containment of the virus,” the Judge’s memorandum says.

In a statement, DOC Commissioner Paul Schnell welcomed the court’s decision:

Since the COVID-19 pandemic hit Minnesota, the Department of Corrections has taken a serious, adaptive, and coordinated approach to combating COVID-19 across state’s prison system. We welcome the court’s recognition of the reasonableness of our actions to date, but we do not minimize the serious risk that COVID-19 represents for those incarcerated and our staff. We will continue to coordinate with health experts on a multifaceted approach that minimizes the risk of mass infection through effective prevention and spread management strategies. We remain fully aware of our constitutional obligation to provide humane care for those who are in our custody.