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Braggs v. Dunn

United States District Court, M.D. Alabama, Northern Division

November 27, 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 INVOLUNTARY-MEDICATION SETTLEMENT FINAL APPROVAL OPINION

          MYRON H. THOMPSON, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         I. INTRODUCTION

         This class-action lawsuit brought by a group of seriously mentally ill prisoners in the custody of the Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC or Department) is before the court on a promised opinion explaining why, in partial resolution of this litigation, it previously approved a settlement of the group's claims challenging the Department's involuntary-medication policies and procedures.

         The plaintiffs in this phase, Phase 2A, of the lawsuit are a group of seriously mentally ill state prisoners and the Alabama Disabilities Advocacy Program (ADAP), which represents mentally ill prisoners in Alabama. The defendants are ADOC Commissioner Jefferson Dunn and the ADOC Associate Commissioner of Health Services Ruth Naglich, who are both sued in only their official capacities.

         The plaintiffs claim that the Department's involuntary-medication policies and procedures deprive prisoners of due process of law in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment, as enforced through 42 U.S.C. § 1983. See Fifth Amended Complaint (doc. no. 805) at 137-38. Specifically, they contend that the Department's involuntary-medication policies and procedures: (1) deny prisoners subject to involuntary-medication orders substantive due process by requiring them to be medicated absent a recent finding of dangerousness; (2) deny prisoners subject to involuntary-medication orders procedural due process by failing to provide them with adequate notice of hearings and other protections provided for in the applicable regulation; and (3) deny prisoners who are not subject to involuntary-medication orders substantive and procedural due process by coercing consent to take medications that they otherwise would refuse. The plaintiffs seek injunctive and declaratory relief. Jurisdiction is proper under 28 U.S.C. § 1331 (federal question) and § 1343(a)(3) (civil rights). Following months of negotiations, the parties have settled these claims.

         This case has twice been bifurcated for administrative convenience of the court and the parties. In September 2015, this case was divided into two distinct phases: Phase 1, which involves claims under Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (codified at 42 U.S.C. § 12131 et seq.) and § 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (codified at 29 U.S.C. § 794) (both of which statutes are, for ease of reference, referred to as the ADA), but which claims are unrelated to mental health; and Phase 2, which involves all other claims. A year later, in September 2016, the court further bifurcated this case into Phase 2A, encompassing an Eighth Amendment claim related to the treatment of prisoners with mental illness, an ADA claim of prisoners with only mental disabilities, and involuntary-medication claims; and Phase 2B, involving Eighth Amendment claims related to medical and dental care. The court has already granted relief on several of the plaintiffs' claims.

         In September 2016, the court approved a settlement of the plaintiffs' Phase 1 ADA claims for prisoners with physical disabilities. See Dunn v. Dunn, 318 F.R.D. 652 (M.D. Ala. 2016) (Thompson, J.). The court subsequently entered the parties' settlement as a consent decree.

         In June 2017, the court found the Department liable on the plaintiffs' Phase 2A Eighth Amendment claim. See Braggs v. Dunn, ___ F.Supp.3d ___, 2017 WL 2773833 (M.D. Ala. June 27, 2017) (Thompson, J.). Based upon a veritable mountain of evidence, the court found the Department's provision of mental-health care to be “horrendously inadequate” and constitutionally deficient under the Eighth Amendment. Id. at *68.

         In July 2017, the court approved a settlement of the plaintiffs' Phase 2A ADA claim, relating to prisoners with mental disabilities, see Braggs v. Dunn, ___ F.R.D. ___, 2017 WL 3151261 (M.D. Ala. July 25, 2017) (Thompson, J.), which resulted in the court entering a consent decree.

         The parties, with the able assistance of United States Magistrate Judge John E. Ott, have now reached a settlement on the plaintiffs' only remaining unaddressed claims for Phase 2A: the involuntary-medication claims. The court had previously certified a class for the plaintiffs' involuntary-medication claims. See Braggs v. Dunn, 317 F.R.D. 634 (M.D. Ala. 2016) (Thompson, J.).

         The parties filed a joint motion for preliminary approval of the proposed settlement of the involuntary-medication claims. After a hearing on the joint motion, the court preliminarily approved the proposed settlement. In its preliminary approval order, the court established a procedure for providing class members with notice of the agreement and an opportunity to object and submit comments on the agreement's fairness.

         After receiving written comments from class members, the court held two days of fairness hearings in August 2017. During the first day, the court heard from a representative group of class members--selected by the court with input of the parties--who had submitted comments on the proposed agreement. During the second day, counsel for the parties responded to various witnesses' comments and questions raised by the court.

         After the fairness hearings, the court, on September 6, 2017, entered an order granting final approval of the Proposed Phase 2A Involuntary Medication Settlement Agreement and granted the parties' request to enter their settlement agreement as a consent decree. This opinion discusses the court's reasons for doing so.

         II. DESCRIPTION OF PROPOSED SETTLEMENT

         Generally speaking, the proposed settlement is designed to address all disputed issues related to involuntarily medicating ADOC inmates and remedy all claims arising from that process. It is meant to include all procedural and substantive due-process claims. See Proposed Phase 2A Involuntary Medication Settlement Agreement (doc. no. 1248-1) at 5.

         The agreement includes the following eight substantive provisions:

         Revised Involuntary-Medication Regulation:

         The Commissioner agrees to adopt and implement the revised Administrative Regulation (AR) 621, which is the Department's involuntary-medication regulation. The revised regulation contains the following provisions, in relevant part: (1) a policy against threatening or coercing prisoners to accept psychotropic medications; (2) a requirement that the Department consider and document whether there is a current and substantial likelihood of serious physical harm towards self or others when deciding to place a prisoner on an involuntary-medication order; (3) a requirement that the Involuntary Medication Review Committee find that involuntary-medication is in the patient's best medical interest before deciding to issue an involuntary-medication order; (4) a policy requiring an independent and knowledgeable advisor to review involuntary-medication orders and assist prisoners in challenging an adverse involuntary-medication order, where appropriate; (5) the creation of an involuntary-medication review board, consisting of providers who were not involved in the patient's treatment; and (6) a requirement that a patient be afforded an opportunity to be unmedicated for 30 days if on an involuntary-medication order for 180 days.

         Dismissal of Claims:

         The parties agree, and jointly move, to dismiss plaintiff Quang Bui's claims with prejudice.

         No Admission of Liability:

         The parties submit that the agreement may not be construed as an admission of liability against Commissioner Dunn, Associate Commissioner Ruth Naglich or the Department. Moreover, nothing in the agreement is to be construed as evidence of liability as to any claim or case against the Department or any of its officials.

         Placement of Agreement in Law Libraries:

         The Department agrees to place the agreement, including the revised involuntary-medication regulation, in the law library of every major correctional facility.

         Provision of Mental-Health Records to ADAP:

         The Department will provide information and documentation to ADAP for review on a monthly basis for 24 months, including (1) a roster of all prisoners on involuntary-medication orders; and (2) all medical, mental-health, or other records concerning the Department's involuntary-medication proceedings pertaining to up to four prisoners on involuntary-medication orders.

         Collaborative Oversight:

         ADAP may then prepare and submit a monthly report to the Department regarding the Department's compliance with this agreement and the revised involuntary-medication regulation, including by providing any recommendations it believes necessary to ensure the Department is in substantial compliance with the agreement or the revised involuntary-medication regulation. The Department may object, comment on, or provide a remedial plan to any suggestions contained in ADAP's monthly report.

         Attorneys' Fees and Expenses:

         The Department will pay the plaintiffs' attorneys $ 230, 000.00 in fees and costs. This agreement, unlike the parties' settlements of the plaintiffs' ADA claims, does not provide for additional fees for monitoring services or fees associated with any litigation necessary to enforce the agreement or any resulting consent decree.

         Disposition of Claims:

         The parties also agree that the settlement fully resolves the plaintiffs' “Third Cause of Action: Deprivation of Due Process Prior to Involuntarily Medicating Prisoners” claims in the Fifth Amended Complaint. As a result, no member of the certified settlement class may bring a claim that the revised involuntary-medication regulation deprives prisoners of procedural due process during the settlement term. Finally, the parties agree that named plaintiff Bui will not to assert a substantive due-process claim seeking prospective injunctive relief against the Department concerning its revised involuntary-medication regulation.

         In addition to these substantive provisions, the agreement contains the following “Other Terms and Conditions:”

         No Monetary Compensation:

         Nothing in the agreement imposes any obligation to provide any form of monetary payment to any current or future prisoners housed within the Department.

         No Appeal:

         The parties have agreed to waive the right to appeal the imposition of the agreement.

         Court's Retention of Jurisdiction:

         The parties agree that, after the court's approval of the agreement, the court ...


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