In 2004, Arjang Panah was sentenced to six years’ imprisonment for his involvement in a methamphetamine conspiracy. Panah was originally housed in New York before the Bureau of Prisons transferred him to the Taft (CA) Correctional Institution, a BOP contract facility, where he contracted Coccidioidomycosis(a.k.a., cocci or Valley Fever). Panah filed suit and, last August, survived the government’s motion for summary judgment.
Panah’s lawyers, Ian Wallach and Jason K. Feldman of Feldman & Wallach, argued that prison officials were negligent in failing to educate Panah about the symptoms and ways to prevent Valley fever, even though the disease had stricken more than 80 inmates in the two years before Panah arrived at Taft, according to court documents. They also alleged that prison authorities failed to limit inmates’ exposure through basic safeguards like paving over dirt areas or prohibiting outdoor activities on dusty days.
“[The prison] had an obligation under California law to provide a safe environment for inmates and knew there was a risk,” Wallach said in an interview. “Inmates are extremely vulnerable.”
Lawyers with the U.S. attorney’s office argued in court documents that officials at Taft did take precautions, including transferring some inmates with compromised immune systems away from the facility and bringing in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to assess the situation and make recommendations after an outbreak in 2003 and 2004.
But in his Aug. 25 ruling, U.S. District Judge Gary Allen Feess said the government’s actions were not enough. “Whether or not defendant acted to protect some inmates does not take away from the fact that they took no preventative measures to protect inmates that remained at the facility,” Feess wrote. He also wrote that officials “could have taken preventative measures to protect [Panah] against exposure.”
Last week, the government settled Panah’s case before trial. Panah was awarded $425,000, and the government did not admit fault. In a press release, Parah’s attorney Jason Feldman offered: “Our client feels vindicated[.…] This award is very meaningful to him and his ability to continue to fight against the effects of this terrible disease.”