“The Federal Court’s ruling against GEO is a strong affirmation of the just fight by former and currently detained immigrants at Adelanto in the pursuit of justice against GEO for all the harm and suffering they caused during the early stages of the Covid-19 pandemic by the misuse of a dangerous chemical called HDQ. CLUE is proud to continue to stand with immigrants to demand justice and hold GEO accountable. We pray and continue to fight along immigrants with the hope of closing all inhumane immigration prisons.”
— Guillermo Torres, CLUE Immigration Program Director
Federal Judge Rejects GEO Group’s Attempt to Dismiss Toxic Tort Lawsuit
Adelanto, CA – On Thursday, July 6, 2023, a Federal Court denied The GEO Group (“GEO”)’s Motion to Dismiss in Ronduen et al. vs. The Geo Group, Inc. The lawsuit, filed in March 2023, was brought by seven individuals on behalf of themselves and more than 1,300 detained people harmed by GEO’s reckless use of a toxic chemical, HDQ Neutral, at Adelanto Detention Center – one of the many detention centers nationwide owned and operated by GEO. Plaintiffs are represented by The Social Justice Legal Foundation (SJLF) and attorneys from the law firm Hueston Hennigan.
The lawsuit details how during the COVID-19 pandemic GEO recklessly sprayed HDQ Neutral every 15 to 30 minutes in the air and on surfaces where detained people were held at Adelanto, including where they slept and ate. The level and frequency of spraying continued for months. Detained people developed serious symptoms as a result of the spraying, including difficulty breathing, skin irritation, and headaches. When they complained to staff at the Facility, they were told the spraying was necessary and safe, and their complaints were dismissed. A subsequent EPA investigation revealed, amongst other things, that GEO was improperly diluting the chemical – against manufacturer and regulatory guidelines.
On May 12, 2023, GEO attempted to dismiss Plaintiffs’ case. In his order denying Defendant’s motion, Judge Jesus Bernal stated: “Plaintiffs’ allegations that GEO had significant knowledge about HDQ Neutral are more than plausible, not least because the safety information and warnings were listed on every container that Defendant purchased.”
The lawsuit also alleged how GEO engaged in a scheme to hide its improper use of the chemical and lied to the public, government authorities, and detained people alike. Judge Bernal stated, “The many specific deceptive acts Plaintiffs allege in the Complaint of lying and covering up the scope of Defendant’s use of HDQ Neutral further demonstrate knowledge of the falsity of its safety-related representations.”
“GEO guards lied to us for many months. When we raised concerns they ignored us. I feel vindicated by the court’s decision to deny GEO’s motion and excuses. Myself, the other plaintiffs, and the people who continue to be detained in Adelanto will now have a chance for our full story to be heard by the court and to get justice,” said Miriam Rodriguez, Plaintiff and Organizer at the Inland Coalition for Immigrant Justice.
“Our clients are one step closer to holding GEO accountable for their actions and preventing this from happening again,” stated SJLF’s Senior Attorney, Vanessa Domenichelli. “We will continue to fight alongside our coalition and community partners and with the full support of directly impacted folks. We hope this lawsuit will put an end to GEO’s profiting off human suffering,” added SJLF’s Managing Attorney, Pilar Gonzalez Morales.
Solidarity is Sacred
Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice educates, organizes, and mobilizes faith leaders and community members to walk with workers and immigrants in their struggles for good jobs, safe workplaces, and healthy communities.
We can accompany low-wage workers—mostly immigrants and communities of color—because people like you support an organized, connected interfaith movement for economic justice.
Please join the movement to build an economy that works for everyone, not just those at the top.