Media Contact

Lynette Kalsnes,, 612-270-8531 

April 1, 2021

A judge just ruled that the ACLU of Minnesota’s lawsuit against MNDOC over its lax handling of COVID-19 can continue, and granted class action status. 

Ramsey County District Judge Sara Grewing ruled Wednesday afternoon that the ACLU-MN's lawsuit can include all inmates in the Minnesota Department of Corrections, and allowed the ACLU-MN to add Gov. Walz, the Minnesota Department of Health and MDH Commissioner Jan Malcolm to the lawsuit. The ACLU-MN filed suit along with the state public defender’s office, the chief appellate public defender and the Sixth District chief public defender. 

Judge Grewing denied a writ of mandamus, but allowed the lawsuit to move ahead. Next up, she’ll decide whether MNDOC’s vaccination process and other actions violate the state constitutional rights of equal protection, due process and protection against cruel or unusual punishment. 

“... the allegation that only 1,672 of the roughly 7,600 – just over 20% – of the Minnesotans incarcerated at the DOC are fully vaccinated is deeply troubling. At this point in the fight against COVID-19, it is universally accepted that people working and living together are at exponentially heightened risk for contracting COVID-19,” Judge Grewing wrote. 

“We are pleased and gratified by the Court’s decision, which will allow us to continue to press ahead vigorously to require the State to comply with its legal duty to protect those in its care and custody from COVID-19 so long as the pandemic is with us,” said ACLU-MN staff attorney Dan Shulman. 

The MNDOC told the judge it will vaccinate all inmates by April 9, and the judge said she expects the MNDOC to produce information verifying that claim. The judge pointed out that she previously ruled in this case that MNDOC has a duty to protect prisoners from COVID-19 and has failed to do so.  

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.  

Numerous medical and public health officials say prisons need to follow the same commonsense rules as everywhere else to keep people safe: social distancing, widespread and regular testing, strictly enforced mask-wearing, disinfection of surfaces and common areas, and safe and non-punitive quarantine for people infected or exposed. But these measures require extreme diligence in prisons, where people are often crowded together in unsanitary spaces. 

The ACLU-MN is asking the court to force DOC to do its job and protect the people in its care and custody from COVID-19, including vaccinating all inmates. View the most recent order at:

The ACLU of Minnesota is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that works to protect and promote the civil liberties of all Minnesotans through legislation, litigation and community engagement.