The American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota filed a class action lawsuit to force the Minnesota Department of Corrections to protect people in its custody from COVID-19. The lawsuit was filed in Ramsey County District Court against the DOC and its Commissioner Paul Schnell.  

The lawsuit Arnold Baker et al. v. Minnesota Department of Corrections alleges that the Minnesota Department of Corrections has failed to put in place measures to stop or even slow the transmission of coronavirus, and has violated its legal obligation to protect the people in its custody from COVID-19, including denying medical release to people with conditions that put them at grave risk. The allegations of mishandling the crisis include: 

  • An almost complete absence of social distancing throughout the prison system. 
  • Staff not wearing masks and mocking those who did. 
  • Staff denying testing to someone with Lyme disease who had a 103.7 fever and other symptoms. 
  • Confining people who aren’t sick with those who have tested positive for COVID or show symptoms. 
  • People being denied COVID-testing, or access to a doctor while showing symptoms. 
  • Ventilation being connected room to room, recirculating air. 
  • Hand sanitation stations being located outside of people’s reach, and frequently empty of sanitizer; and communal showers lacking cleaning supplies. 

UPDATE ON SEPT. 27, 2021: The judge dismissed the case after finding that the State was doing what the ACLU-MN asked in terms of controlling COVID in the prisons.


Daniel Shulman, Teresa Nelson, Ian Bratlie, Isabella Salomão Nascimento and Clare Diegel, ACLU of Minnesota; Bill Ward, Minnesota state public defender; Cathryn Middlebrook, chief appellate public defender; Dan Lew, Sixth District chief public defender

Date filed

October 22, 2020


Ramsey County District Court



Case number