Segregation

Cantell, et al. v. Commissioner of Correction, et al. – A class action case filed on January 20, 2012, bringing due process claims on behalf of all prisoners who are or will be confined in long term non-disciplinary segregation in a SMU. As in LaChance v. Commissioner, it requests that all prisoners confined under conditions as restrictive as a DSU be given the procedures described in the DSU regulations. The court granted defendants’ motion to dismiss on grounds that the Department of Correction has agreed to apply LaChance to all prisoners. Since the court rejected our claim that the DOC is misapplying LaChance, we appealed. In August of 2015, the Appeals Court dismissed the case as moot over a strong dissent, Cantell v. Commissioner of Correction, 87 Mass. App. Ct. 629, 630 (2015). The SJC then granted our request for further appellate review, and on October 21, 2016 ruled that the case was not moot, and clarified that DOC continues to be obligated to follow the DSU regulations in all restrictive segregation units. We are now back in the Superior Court and have filed a renewed motion for class certification and a motion to amend the complaint.

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.

Ivey et ano. v. Spencer et al. – This case is brought by prisoners sentenced to long-term solitary confinement in the Departmental Disciplinary Unit (DDU). It challenges the DOC’s practice of denying credit towards a DDU sentence for any month in which a prisoner is convicted of a serious disciplinary offenses, is convicted of two less serious disciplinary offenses, or fails to attend a monthly review session. The suit argues that this practice extends DDU sentences without due process, and violates regulations requiring a special DDU hearing before a DDU sentence is imposed. The court granted summary judgment to the Defendants on May 7, 2014. We appealed, and the Appeals Court reversed in August of 2015, declaring DOC’s practice was unlawful.

LaChance v. Commissioner – This case is part of the long effort by PLS to ensure that prisoners in segregation receive due process, building on the foundation established by the SJC more than 20 years ago in Hoffer, and reaffirmed in Haverty. On April 6, 2010, the superior court allowed our motion for partial summary judgment, ruling that because conditions in the Special Management Unit (SMU) at Souza Baranowski Correctional Center were substantially equivalent to conditions in the Department Segregation Unit (“DSU”) described in Hoffer, its operations must be governed by the DSU regulations. On August 25, 2010, the court denied the defendants’ motion for reconsideration. Defendants appealed on qualified immunity grounds. On November 27, 2012, the Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the lower court decision that plaintiff’s due process rights had been violated, but held that the defendants were entitled to qualified immunity because the law had not previously been clearly established. Although the Court held that the DSU regulations were not constitutionally required, it ruled that prisoners are entitled, as a matter of due process, to a hearing within 90 days of placement in segregation. In 2014, the court awarded us $28, 578 in attorneys’ fees. The Defendants motion for reconsideration was denied but they appealed. The SJC sua sponte took direct appellate review, and, October 21, 2016 affirmed the trial court’s award of fees and also ruled that LaChance is entitled to fees and costs for successfully defending the fee award.

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. On March 3, 2017 the court held a hearing on this motion and scheduled further evidentiary hearings.

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.