Arizona fights $1.4 million fine before Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals

Arizona fights $1.4 million fine before Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals
United States Courts for the Ninth Circuit (Source: United States Courts for the Ninth Circuit)

TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - On Tuesday, the Arizona Department of Corrections challenged a 2018 contempt-of-court ruling that came with a $1.4 million fine before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Timothy Berg, an attorney representing the ADC, argued Magistrate Judge David Duncan did not have the authority to find the department and its leadership in contempt and impose that fine.

“Judge Duncan may have had other tools in his tool box, but contempt wasn’t one of them,” Berg said.

He argued contempt was not a remedy available at law to enforce a settlement agreement, and said a court order was needed to enforce through contempt powers. Berg asked the panel to reverse the judgement in this case.

Corene Kendrick, an attorney for the inmates, argued the district court did not abuse its discretion, and the contempt order came after years of noncompliance by the state.

“In October 2014, the defendants in this case promised to provide constitutionally adequate healthcare to the 34,000 people incarcerated in Arizona prisons. Their failure to meet that promise and their scorched earth litigation strategy of contesting every effort by the district court to hold them accountable is why we are here before you yet again," Kendrick said.

In 2012, Arizona inmates filed a statewide class action lawsuit against the ADC and its leadership for failure to provide adequate healthcare.

The parties settled in 2014, but in 2018, they were back in court where Judge Duncan ruled the department failed to meet certain standards set forth in the settlement.

The company handling health care services for the ADC at the time of the ruling reimbursed the state that $1.4 million, which is frozen until the appellate court makes a ruling.

Earlier this month, due to continued healthcare issues at ADC facilities, the inmates asked a judge to take over health care operations and appoint an official to run them. The judge has not ruled on this request.

The KOLD Investigates Team requested legal fee data from the ADC.

According to the document we obtained, the department has spent more than $19 million since the Parson v Ryan lawsuit was filed in 2012.

We spoke with Kendrick following Tuesday’s hearing.

“The panel did not appear to accept the state’s argument that the federal district court had no power to enforce the Stipulation through a finding of contempt. ADC had hinged their entire appeal on this argument, as they even admitted in a brief filed with the 9th Circuit that they were not contesting the factual basis for the order. We are hopeful that the 9th Circuit will quickly issue a strong opinion affirming the Arizona district court, and lift the stay on the contempt order, so that District Judge Silver can direct how the $1.4 million would best be spent to improve care for the more than 34,000 people in the ten state prisons,” Kendrick said.

We have reached out to the Arizona Department of Corrections for comment.

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