In May 2020, a prison called the California Institution for Men was in the throes of a COVID-19 outbreak. California officials transferred 122 prisoners from that prison to San Quentin State Prison, which had recorded no COVID cases at that time. The prisoners were packed into crowded buses, without the use of infection control measures and without being tested for COVID-19. When the prisoners arrived at San Quentin, they were not isolated from other prisoners. Twenty-five of them tested positive for COVID-19 within days of arriving at San Quentin. And within weeks, there were 499 confirmed cases of COVID-19 at the prison; the number soon grew to more than 2,000.
Michael Hampton, a 62 year-old man incarcerated at San Quentin with a parole hearing scheduled for August 2020, was one of those cases. He died of complications from COVID-19 in September 2020. Mr. Hampton’s wife sued the State of California and prison officials alleging violations of Mr. Hampton’s constitutional rights and various other California and federal laws. After the district court denied California’s motion to dismiss on the bases of qualified immunity and immunity under the Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness (PREP) Act, the officials filed an interlocutory appeal to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.
On appeal, Public Citizen filed an amicus brief responding to the officials’ argument that the PREP Act created immunity for claims against medical officials alleged to have failed to take appropriate infection control measures. The brief explains that the PREP Act, a statute enacted in 2005 to encourage the production and distribution of vaccines and other medical devices and products, does not apply in this case, because the complaint does not allege Mr. Hampton’s death was caused by the “administration to or use by an individual of a covered countermeasure,” as required by the statute.
In October 2023, the Ninth Circuit largely affirmed the district court’s decision. As to the PREP Act, the Court adopted the position advanced in our brief, and held that the statute does not apply to claims based on a failure to use adequate infection control measures.