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Updated Jul 18, 2013 - 6:45 pm

US court to consider scope of Arizona prison case

PHOENIX -- A federal appellate court will consider whether 13 inmates' lawsuit over health care provided by Arizona prisons and conditions of confinement should be expanded into broader litigation on behalf of nearly 34,000 fellow prisoners.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has agreed to accept a pretrial appeal by the state, which wants to erase a class-action certification granted by U.S. District Judge Neil Wake, the Arizona Capitol Times reported.

In asking to be allowed to challenge the certification, the state said the inmates' lawyers hadn't provided evidence of systemwide shortcomings.

Citing lengthy class-action cases over conditions in California's prison system, Arizona's request also urged the appellate court to set a standard for allowing class-action cases alleging unconstitutional conditions in state prison systems.

A ruling upholding the certification likely would mean many more years of litigation, the state said in its motion.

Wake certified the suit as a class action in March, saying a case could be made that the Department of Corrections shows ``deliberate indifference to serious medical needs'' and that systemic problems expose all prisoners to a substantial risk of serious harm.

Wake ruled the class would include prisoners who are not provided access to necessary and timely care. He also included a subclass of prisoners who are confined to their cells 22 hours a day.

The state has a total inmate population of approximately 40,500.

Along with agreeing to hear the appeal, the 9th Circuit also ordered that it be put on a fast track. Written briefs from both parties will be filed by Sept. 18, and the appeal will be put on the first available calendar for oral argument.

Dan Pochoda, an American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona attorney helping represent the inmates, expressed confidence in Wake's ruling, which Pochoda called well-reasoned.

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