Medical & Mental Health

Briggs, et al. v. Department of Correction, et al. – This is a class action was filed on December 2015 on behalf of prisoners with hearing impairments who allege that the DOC discriminates against them in virtually all aspects of prison life. Specifically, DOC (1) failing to provide access to auxiliary aids and services, such as hearing aids or ASL interpreters, necessary to permit access to educational, vocational, and rehabilitative programming, medical and mental health care, and religious services; (2) denies deaf and hard of hearing individuals adequate, equally effective, and reliable means of communication with individuals outside of prison by failing to provide videophones or other assistive technology; (3) places deaf and hard of hearing individuals at serious risk of harm by not having an adequate emergency notification system; (4) failing to provide adequate interpretative services and auxiliary aids at disciplinary and classification hearings and (5) discriminating against deaf and hard of hearing prisoners in work assignments. We are co-counseling with Wilmer Hale and the Washington DC Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights. Settlement discussions have not proved fruitful and we are proceeding with discovery. The Court denied our motion for class certification without prejudice, but allowed discovery to proceed on a class-wide basis.

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.

Jane Doe, guardian of John Doe v. Luis Spencer, et al. – This is an action seeking monetary damages and declaratory and injunctive relief on behalf of a client found incompetent to stand trial and committed to Bridgewater State Hospital. His legal guardian is the plaintiff. The client suffers from an advanced incurable degenerative brain disorder, which significantly impairs his physical, cognitive, and behavioral functioning. Since his arrival at BSH, he has spent more than 14,900 hours in seclusion in BSH’s Intensive Treatment (ITU) – his longest period of continuous seclusion in the ITU lasted a staggering 445 days – and he has been subjected to additional seclusion in the BSH Maximum Security Units on so-called Special Treatment Status. We claim that Defendants have subjected the client to prolonged isolation in non-emergency situations, sensory deprivation, and inhumane treatment and, at the same time, failed and continue to fail to provide him with appropriate medical treatment and therapies in keeping with the standard of care for this disease. These actions violate his rights under the Massachusetts Restraint law as well as his constitutionally protected right to be free from undue restraints and unsafe treatment, his rights to be free from discrimination on the basis of his disability, and his right to adequate health care. On January 26, 2017, the court held a hearing on (1) the DOC defendants’ motion to dismiss and (2) plaintiff’s motion to exclude defendant MPCH from the medical malpractice tribunal.

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 gave final approval to the agreement on February 23, 2015. We also settled the claim for attorneys’ fees with approximately $31,000 received by PLS. We have been monitoring compliance and have asked the court to rule that the Defendants are not in substantial compliance with the Settlement Agreement based on their failure to prevent a patient from committing suicide while in seclusion and the continued excessive use of seclusion and restraint.

Minich v. Spencer, II – This is an action for damages and declaratory relief brought by the three named plaintiffs in the a class action case that challenged 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. On May 12, 2016, the court denied Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss in a groundbreaking decision stating that Bridgewater patients had stated a claim that their abysmal treatment and confinement under conditions more onerous than those in DMH hospitals violated the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Massachusetts Restraint Law, as well as their due process rights under the Federal Constitution. We are co-counseling with Eric MacLeish of Clark, Hunt, Ahern & Embry.

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.

Paszko, et al. v.Commissioner of Correction, et al – This class action case was filed on June 10, 2015 in federal court and seeks to compel DOC to treat prisoners with Hepatitis C with the new medications that were approved by the FDA in 2014. These medications are a dramatic improvement over their predecessors, curing nearly one hundred percent of patients, with few side effects. Yet DOC has treated only a handful of prisoners primarily because the medications are extremely expensive. The complaint alleges that the failure to provide this essential treatment violates the Eighth Amendment rights of the more than 1,500 prisoners in DOC custody who have Hepatitis C. PLS is co-counseling the case with National Lawyers Guild member firms Shapiro, Weissberg & Garin and David Kelston. The court has certified the case as a class action and we are in discovery.

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.

Reaves v. Department of Correction, et al. – Timothy Reaves is a fifty year old quadriplegic man who has been serving a life sentence in DOC prisons for almost 20 years. He is suffering from grossly incompetent medical care, a total failure to accommodate his disabilities to allow him to participate in the programs and services of the prison, and near total isolation and sensory deprivation. The Complaint, filed in Federal Court, alleges that this treatment violates the Eighth Amendment and the Americans with Disabilities Act. We have asked the court to issue a preliminary injunction directing DOC to transfer Mr. Reaves to an appropriate medical facility since DOC has proved incapable of providing minimally adequate care. After conducting seven days of evidentiary hearings, Judge Hillman, on July 15, 2016, issued a comprehensive preliminary injunction, which included appointment of a monitor to ensure compliance. The court extended the preliminary injunction for another 90 days on October 17, 2016. We are proceeding with discovery on the rest of the case. We are also in settlement discussions on the equitable relief portions of the case.

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.