9th Circuit Reverses District Court and Allows Inmates -- Who Allege They Acquired Valley Fever as a Result of Incarceration at Taft -- to Sue USA

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United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit Reverses U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California’s dismissal of plaintiff-inmates’ claims against USA alleging that they acquired Valley Fever infections as a result of their incarceration at Taft Correctional Institution. From Feldman & Wallach, LLP -- counsel to Plaintiffs

Inmates' lawsuits against the USA, alleging negligence and related to Valley Fever infections at Taft Correctional Facility, now moves forward

In the consolidated cases of Edison v. USA, et. al. (No. 14-14572) and Nuwintore v. USA, et al., (No. 14-17546), the 9th Circuit reversed the District Court's dismissal of inmates’ claims that they acquired disseminated Valley Fever at Taft Correctional Facility because of negligence of the USA. The Court provided a detailed history of the Valley Fever epidemic at Taft, the lifelong injury that results from such infections, and the heightened risk to those of African and Filipino descent to acquire the potentially-fatal form of the disease.

According to Court documents released today, the 9th Circuit set forth a three-part inquiry to be used in determining claims of governmental immunity raised by the USA under the Independent Contractor Exception to the Federal Tort Claims Act -- First, whether state law would impose a duty on a private individual in a similar situation. Second, whether the USA retained some portion of a duty for which it could be independently liable. And third, whether any of the duties at issue were nondelegable. Applying this test, the 9th Circuit determined that the USA can be liable to Appellants/Plaintiffs on three separate grounds: 1) failure to warn inmates of the disease prior to their arrival at the facility; 2) failure to take preventative measures (including building structures to decrease risk of exposure to the airborne fungus that causes the disease); and 3) failure to properly respond to the epidemic, in that the USA abandoned preventative measures, and instead focused exclusively on early diagnosis and treatment, and did so while excluding involvement from the private contractors.

The matter was argued before the 9th Circuit by Ian Wallach and Jason Feldman, of Feldman & Wallach, LLP for the Appellants (click here to view). Appellants/Plaintiffs were also represented by Boucher LLP and Mark Ozzello.

The 26 page opinion is attached and can be viewed on-line.

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Jason Feldman

Ian Wallach
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