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Braggs v. Dunn

United States District Court, M.D. Alabama

May 11, 2017

EDWARD BRAGGS, ET AL., Plaintiffs,
v.
JEFFERSON S. DUNN, in his official capacity as Commissioner of the Alabama Department of Corrections, et al, Defendants.

          PHASE 2A OPINION AND ORDER PRELIMINARILY APPROVING INVOLUNTARY MEDICATION SETTLEMENT AGREEMENT

          MYRON H. THOMPSON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23(e), the parties jointly move the court to grant preliminary approval of their proposed Involuntary Medication Settlement Agreement in Phase 2A of this litigation; to approve the form of notice to class members of the proposed settlement agreement (“notice form”) (attached as Exhibit A); to approve the form for objecting to or commenting on the proposed settlement agreement (“comment form”) (attached as Exhibit B); and to approve the process for providing notice and collecting comments from interested parties, as further set out below. Based on the entire record before the court, the court finds as follows:

         First, the court finds that the proposed settlement agreement should be preliminarily approved, that notice should be provided to interested parties, and that a fairness hearing should be conducted.

         The court further finds it appropriate to provisionally certify a Rule 23(b)(2) injunctive-relief settlement class composed of “all persons with a serious mental health disorder or illness who are now, or will in the future be subject to defendants' formal involuntary medication policies and practices.” For reasons to be articulated in a final decision regarding whether to approve the settlement, the court preliminarily finds that the settlement class meets the requirements of Rule 23(a)--numerosity, commonality, typicality, and adequacy of representation--as well as the requirement of Rule 23(b)(2) that the issues involved “apply generally to the class, ” such that “relief is appropriate respecting the class as a whole.” The court preliminarily finds that plaintiffs' counsel in this case can capably serve as and should be appointed class counsel, based on the factors outlined in Rule 23(g).

         Finally, the court finds that the notice and comment forms attached as exhibits to this order, and that the process for distributing and collecting these forms outlined below, constitute sufficient notice of and--together with the fairness hearing described below--opportunity to be heard on the proposed settlement agreement, as is required by due process and Rule 23(e).

         It is therefore ORDERED that the joint motion for preliminary approval and notice of proposed settlement (doc. nos. 1248) is granted as follows:

         1. The proposed settlement agreement (doc. no. 1248-1) is preliminarily approved; final approval will be subject to a hearing and review by this court of any objections to or comments about the agreement's terms submitted by class members, and to the court's resolution of certain outstanding issues identified in a telephone conference held on May 9, 2017, and set for briefing below.

         2. An injunctive-relief settlement class, defined as “all persons with a serious mental health disorder or illness who are now, or will in the future be subject to defendants' formal involuntary medication policies and practices” is provisionally certified under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23(a) and 23(b)(2).

         3. The Southern Poverty Law Center, the Alabama Disabilities Advocacy Program, and Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz, PC, are appointed as class counsel to represent the settlement class under Rule 23(g).

         4. The Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC) is to provide notice of the proposed settlement agreement as outlined below by June 2, 2017, and to collect comments from class members as further outlined below by the submission deadline of July 17, 2017 (referred to herein as the “comment period”).

a. As a preliminary matter, the proposed settlement agreement (doc. no. 1248-1) and notice and comment forms (Exhibits A and B) are to be translated into Spanish, and printed in both Braille and large print, and these alternative format documents are to be distributed to each ADOC facility prior to June 2, 2017. Although posted documents need not be provided in any alternative format, any individual inmate with mental illness known to or believed to read only Spanish or to be vision-impaired must be provided individual copies of both the notice and comment forms in an appropriate alternative format, and must be provided the agreement itself in an appropriate alternative format upon request. As to an inmate with mental illness who is illiterate or partially illiterate as to English or reads only Spanish or is vision-impaired and has difficulty reading any of the different format documents or has difficulty writing, if that inmate requests that the forms or the agreement itself be read to him or her, or requests assistance in completing a comment form, this request must be promptly accommodated by ADOC.
b. For the duration of the comment period, copies of the proposed settlement agreement are to be made available for inmates to review in the law library of each ADOC prison or work-release facility or, for facilities that have no law library, in the area where information for inmates is made available. At least one copy is to be made available per 250 inmates housed in any particular facility.
c. A copy (including an alternative format copy, as appropriate) of the proposed settlement agreement is to be provided promptly upon request to any inmate who is not authorized or able to access the law library or other area where copies of the agreement are being made available.
d. Copies of the notice form are to be made available for inmates to review in the dining areas and mental health office waiting areas of every major facility for ...

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