Appeals court says youth inmates can sue state

Mar 28, 2018

Inmates sent to prison as children can sue the state over sexual abuse and other alleged misconduct, under a ruling from the Michigan Court of Appeals.

The lawsuit claims minors aged 13 to 17 who were sent to prison were beaten and sexually abused by adult inmates and prison staff. The state tried to get the lawsuit dismissed under a 1999 amendment to Michigan’s civil rights act that barred legal actions filed by inmates under that law.

The court struck that down.

“The amendment violates the constitutional mandate that the legislature craft laws for the protection of its individual citizens,” read the opinion, adopted by a 2-3 majority of the appeals court.

A dissenting opinion said the government is immune from the lawsuit.

Deborah LaBelle is an attorney with the ACLU. She says inmates do not lose all their rights when sent prison.

“You have a right under the Constitution to be treated with decency,” she said, “and if you’re not, you have a right to go to the courts, and say ‘stop.’”

The case, filed in 2013, will now go to trial unless Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette decides to appeal the decision to the state Supreme Court.