Colvin v. Inslee (Majority and Dissent)Annotate this Case
This matter came before the Washington Supreme Court on a petition for a writ of mandamus from five inmates serving criminal sentences at different Washington Department of Corrections (Department) facilities. The Supreme Court retained jurisdiction because of the extraordinary nature of the relief petitioners sought, and because of the extraordinary danger COVID-19 (coronavirus disease) posed to inmates in Washington’s prisons. Rather, the parties agreed on a record that mainly included descriptions of the prison conditions, expert opinions on the risks that COVID-19 presented in the prison environment, and petitioners’ declarations as to their individual situations. For purposes of the Court's decision, it accepted petitioners’ factual descriptions as true. The petitioners claimed close confinement created a substantial risk of harm because of the current public health emergency caused by COVID-19. "These concerns are legitimate and well founded:" the current widely reported medical evidence suggested COVID-19 risks of serious complications or death are highest for offenders over age 50 and those with certain preexisting medical conditions, but it could also be serious for younger people and those in good health. And serious outbreaks have occurred at other prisons and jails nationwide. "But mandamus is not the answer for every emergency, and it cannot deliver the relief petitioners seek here." The Washington Supreme Court concluded that without a showing an official in the executive branch failed to perform a mandatory nondiscretionary duty, courts had no authority under law to issue a writ of mandamus, no matter how dire the emergency. Petitioners alternatively sought leave to amend their petition by filing a personal restraint petition. But on the record before the Court, they did not show respondents acted with deliberate indifference to the extreme risk that COVID-19 created for the incarcerated. "Amending their mandamus petition would therefore be futile." For these reasons, the Supreme Court dismissed the mandamus action and denied the motion to amend.