Medical & Mental Health

Burns v. UMass Correctional Health Program, et al. – This case sought injunctive relief and damages for a prisoner who for years was denied surgery to repair a torn ankle ligament, despite recommendations by orthopedic specialists for surgical intervention. Defendants denied surgery for ever-changing reasons that included Burns’ mental illness and a belief that he did not need a stable ankle to function in his segregation unit. The medical malpractice tribunal approved the malpractice claim. The court denied Defendants motion for summary judgment. The case settled in February of 2015.

Disability Law Center v. Commissioner of Correction, et al. – This case is a challenge to the practice of confining prisoners with mental illness in DOC segregation units, including the DDU. PLS is partnering with the Disability Law Center, the Center for Public Representation, Bingham McCutchen and Nelson Mullins. We filed the Complaint in federal court on March 8, 2007. The parties signed a settlement agreement in November of 2011 that requires the DOC to maintain sufficient high security treatment units to house inmates with serious mental illness who would otherwise be in segregation. After several difficult hearings, Judge Wolf approved the settlement on April 14, 2012 and retained jurisdiction to enforce the agreement during a three year monitoring period. Our most recent monitoring site visits took take place on March 9 and 10th. Although there are still significant issues with treatment of prisoners with mental illness placed in segregation, the DOC has, for the most part, been responsive to the concerns expressed by our expert. Although the agreement is scheduled to terminate in April of 2015, the Legislature has enacted a statute which embodies the key elements of the agreement. See G.L. c. 127, § 39, as amended in January 2015.

Minich v. Spencer This is a class action brought to challenge the excessive and abusive use of seclusion and restraint at Bridgewater State Hospital, which uses these techniques 100 times more frequently than any other psychiatric hospital in the country. We are co-counseling with Eric MacLeish of Clark, Hunt, Ahern & Embry and the Mental Health Legal Advisors Committee. After long and contentious negotiations we entered into a settlement agreement calling for substantial changes in seclusion and restraint practices. The court preliminarily approved the agreement on December 29, 2014 and gave final approval to the agreement on February 23, 2015. The Disability Law Center has been appointed as an independent monitor to assure compliance. We have also filed a motion for attorneys’ fees.

Nunes v. UMass Correctional Health, et al.This state court case seeks injunctive relief and damages for a prisoner seeking timely, proper dental treatment rather than delays that necessitated extractions, and who seeks adequate physical therapy and accommodations for his confirmed leg, back, and neck ailments. The Court granted defendants’ motion on the leg, back, and neck issues, but allowed the case to go forward on plaintiff’s dental claims. The case settled in February 2015.

Pappargeris v. MHM Correctional Services, Inc., et al. – This is an action for wrongful death and civil rights violations brought by the family of a very mentally ill prisoner who committed suicide at Old Colony Correctional Center after all his medications were taken away. The defendants include Department of Correction staff who failed to take proper emergency measures after he was discovered hanging in his cell. The case was filed in July of 2013. Defendants removed the case to federal court, but it was remanded back to state court on December 30, 2013. We have reached separate settlement with both the Department of Correction and MHM defendants. The court approved the settlement in January of 2015.

Porter v. Sheriff, Middlesex County This is a claim for damages brought by a prisoner with severe mental illness who was improperly placed in a restraint chair at the Middlesex House of Correction for excessively prolonged period of time and under conditions that caused serious and emotional harm. We have negotiated significant changes in the Middlesex County restraint policies and practices, and have reached a settlement of Mr. Porter’s damage claim for $27,000.

Souza v. Hodgson – Class action challenge to pay-for-stay fees, as well as fees for medical care, haircuts, and GED services, at Bristol County Jail and House of Correction. The court allowed our motion for summary judgment in July of 2004. In August 2004, the single justice denied the Sheriff’s motion relief pending appeal. On March 30, 2005, the court allowed our motion for class certification, and ordered the Sheriff to return the fees. The Sheriff appealed the judgment. On January 5, 2010, the Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the lower court’s ruling in all respects. On January 7, 2011, the court approved the process for prisoners to get back the fees with interest. Checks were mailed to eligible class members on May 3, 2012. Approximately $75,000 remains in the Settlement Fund, which will be distributed to four organizations in Bristol County that provide drug treatment and other services to former prisoners or individuals at risk of becoming prisoners.