Gibbs et al v. Carney et al
MEMORANDUM OPINION. Signed by Judge Stephanos Bibas on 09/07/2021. (smg)
Case 1:20-cv-01301-SB Document 682 Filed 09/07/21 Page 1 of 3 PageID #: 2923
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF DELAWARE
DION D. GIBBS, et al.,
JOHN CARNEY, et al.,
Douglas D. Herrmann, James Harry Stone Levine, Kenneth A. Listwak,
TROUTMAN PEPPER HAMILTON SANDERS LLP, Wilmington, Delaware.
Counsel for Plaintiffs.
September 7, 2021
Case 1:20-cv-01301-SB Document 682 Filed 09/07/21 Page 2 of 3 PageID #: 2924
BIBAS, Circuit Judge, sitting by designation.
More than a hundred prisoners have sued a Delaware prison for failing to take
precautions against COVID. Because their claims are not frivolous, I will let them
Last March, the pandemic hit Delaware. That April, prison officials banned face
masks for all Delaware prison inmates. Compl. ¶ 8.
Then 128 inmates at the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center tested positive,
and seven died. Compl. ¶ 13. So officials quarantined the entire prison. Id. ¶ 14. They
also let inmates there wear masks and practice social distancing. Id. Yet they did not
take these measures at other prisons. Id. ¶ 15, 17.
In June, a new inmate arrived at Delaware’s Sussex Correctional Institution. Id.
¶ 18. He had been in close contact with someone with COVID. Id. The prison did not
quarantine him. Instead, it transferred him to the infirmary where other prisoners
came to get their medicine. Id. ¶¶ 19, 21. One of these prisoners later tested positive.
Id. ¶ 26. Only then did officials let these prisoners wear masks. Id. ¶ 27. Officials also
had all inmates tested. Id. ¶ 28. Of the nearly 1000 inmates, 300 had COVID. Id. Five
Now, prisoners from Sussex have sued prison officials and the Department of Corrections. I appointed counsel and granted the prisoners’ requests to proceed in forma
pauperis. For this case to go on, I must now direct service on the defendants. 28 U.S.C.
§ 1915(d). Before I do so, I have to decide if the prisoners’ claims are frivolous.
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§ 1915(e)(2); § 1915A(b); Brown v. Sage, 941 F.3d 655, 660 (3d Cir. 2019) (en banc).
They are not.
Prison officials may not be deliberately indifferent to inmates’ serious medical
needs. U.S. Const. amend. VIII; Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 104 (1976). The prisoners have pled just that. COVID posed a “substantial risk,” causing “debilitating
symptoms” for many and death for some. Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 828
(1994); Compl. ¶ 32. Prison officials knew of this risk. See Farmer, 511 U.S. at 837.
The Centers for Disease Control had recommended that inmates be distanced and
wear masks. Compl. ¶ 29. Plus, there had been an outbreak at another prison two
months earlier. Yet prison officials allegedly disregarded the risk by refusing to let
prisoners wear masks or socially distance and failing to quarantine incoming inmates. See Farmer, 511 U.S. at 837. And because they were allegedly deliberately
indifferent because the Department of Corrections failed to teach its officers how to
follow public health guidance, it could be held liable too. Compl. ¶ 41; City of Canton
v. Harris, 489 U.S. 378, 388 (1989).
Taking these allegations as true, I find that the prisoners have stated non-frivolous claims against the prison officials and the Department of Corrections. I will thus
order that the complaint be served on the defendants. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(d); Fed. R.
Civ. P. 4(c)(3).
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