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Federal appeals court upholds $1.4 million fine for Arizona over prison health care settlement
© WikiMedia (Michael Coghlan)
Federal appeals court upholds $1.4 million fine for Arizona over prison health care settlement

The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit on Wednesday upheld a lower court’s order that had required Arizona’s Department of Corrections to pay a $1.4 million fine. The lower court issued the fine after the Department of Corrections failed to abide by the terms of an earlier settlement it agreed to in Parson v. Ryans, a lawsuit over the poor healthcare given to Arizona’s inmates. The Department had challenged the fine, arguing that the lower court had no authority to make them pay it, but the Ninth Circuit disagreed.

The 2012 class action lawsuit had alleged that Arizona provided deficient health care to its inmates and was indifferent to the risks this posed for incarcerated people. Just before the case went to trial, the parties settled. The terms of the agreement included numerous measures the Department of Corrections would take to improve its healthcare. But in the intervening years, the class of inmates has raised repeated complaints over the Department’s non-compliance. They took these disputes to court, where a number of rulings including the $1.4 million fine resulted.

The Department of Corrections argued that because the settlement included its own terms for resolving disputes, the plaintiffs could not go to court. But given the facts of the case, the Ninth Circuit on Wednesday disagreed. An earlier order by the court was permitted under the terms of the settlement, the court said, and “noncompliance with that order may properly serve as the basis for the Contempt Order” that resulted in fines. The Department also appealed a number of questions about other orders from the lower court and the manner in which it assessed their noncompliance and calculated fees. The Ninth Circuit found none of these arguments successful either.