Arizona Asking 9th Circuit To Invalidate Prison Health Care Fines

By Jimmy Jenkins
Published: Monday, September 23, 2019 - 8:20am
Updated: Wednesday, April 8, 2020 - 11:44am

Arizona Department of Corrections building
Arizona Department of Corrections
Arizona Department of Corrections building in Phoenix.

Arizona will challenge fines levied against the Arizona Department of Corrections in oral arguments at the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Tuesday.

The Parsons v. Ryan lawsuit was settled in 2014 with inmates and Department of Corrections officials agreeing to a set of conditions that would improve prison health care.

Since then, attorneys for the inmates have argued that conditions have not substantially improved, and they won in district court. In 2018, a federal magistrate judge fined the Department of Corrections $1.4 million for system-wide failures.

On Tuesday, the state will argue at the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals that the district court lacks the authority to render a civil contempt judgement.

Attorneys for the plaintiffs argue the court was acting within its judicial scope and the fine is appropriate.

The 9th Circuit’s ruling will have a significant impact on an already costly legal process for the Department of Corrections.

According to a new breakdown of charges provided to KJZZ, the Department of Corrections has spent more than $19 million on the Parsons lawsuit as of Aug. 31.

Due to a contract amendment with former health care provider Corizon Health, Arizona was able to recoup $3 million in expenses related to the settlement.
For health care delivered beginning July 1, 2019, and onward, the new health care contractor, Centurion, will be responsible for indemnifying the Department of Corrections against certain legal costs and fines.

Department spokesman Andrew Wilder said the amounts provided are subject to pending litigation in the 9th Circuit. “The outcome of the trial court litigation and appellate rulings likely will have a material effect on these numbers,” Wilder said.

Wilder said the Arizona Attorney General’s Office performed some of the legal work related to Parsons through fiscal year 2018. According to the Attorney General’s Office, all other legal work is handled by the private Phoenix law firm Struck, Love, Bojanowski and Acedo. The Department of Corrections says it has paid more than $9.7 million for outside counsel.

Corizon Health still owes the state money. According to Wilder, “There is currently approximately $325,000 pending reimbursement by the contracted health care provider from FY 2019 and FY 2020. Additional amounts remain undetermined pending the outcome of appeals in the Ninth Circuit.”

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