Arnold Schwarzenegger Sued by Calif. Inmates Over Valley Fever

By Aditi Mukherji, JD on March 07, 2014 | Last updated on January 09, 2022

Former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is being sued by some California prison inmates who blame his actions while in office for getting them sick.

The inmates are suing Schwarzenegger in his official capacity over his and other officials' handling of a fatal outbreak of valley fever -- an infection caused by tiny spores of fungus, TMZ reports.

While prison inmate lawsuits are often dismissed as frivolous, does this one have merit?

What Is Valley Fever?

Valley fever is an infection caused by the coccidioides fungus, which is prevalent in the dry soil of the West and Southwest (especially Arizona and California). It often spreads through the air when dirt is disturbed or kicked up and then inhaled, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Most people exposed to the fungus don't get sick, but some people develop flu-like symptoms. In severe cases, valley fever can cause chronic pneumonia (lung infection), meningitis (spine and brain infection), infection in the bones and joints, or even death.

Anyone can get valley fever, but some people are at higher risk for developing severe forms of it, including African Americans, Filipinos, pregnant women, and people with weak immune systems or other medical problems (including those who have HIV/AIDS).

Calif. Prisoners' Valley Fever Lawsuit

Two California prisons have been plagued by valley fever outbreaks in recent years. Last year, officials at the California Department of Corrections had to comply with a federal court order to move about 2,600 inmates at risk of developing more serious cases of valley fever from the Avenal Prison and the (ironically named) Pleasant Valley Prison, ABC News reports.

But the recent lawsuit concerns actions (or the lack thereof) from years earlier.

A group of 22 current and former prison inmates are suing Schwarzenegger, current California Gov. Jerry Brown (for allegedly continuing with Schwarzenegger's policies), and other officials after a bout of valley fever swept through their cells in 2009.

They allege officials kept them housed in a California prison knowing the deadly disease had already claimed the lives of 30 other inmates. If the allegations are true, such failure to act may have violated prisoners' constitutional right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment.

To prevail in their lawsuit, the inmates must prove that Schwarzenegger and the other named defendants acted with "deliberate indifference" to the prisoners' constitutional rights. If their lawsuit is successful, they could recover compensatory damages for their medical costs plus pain and suffering.

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