Scott Plaintiffs Win Injunction Against VDOC

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:

Contact:
Angela Ciolfi, (434) 529-1810, aciolfi@justice4all.org

Court Issues Injunction Against Virginia Department of Corrections:
Judge finds VDOC to have breached its duty under the Settlement Agreement in Scott v. Clarke to provide adequate medical care at the Fluvanna women’s prison

Charlottesville, Virginia (January 2, 2019) —This evening, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia issued an injunction against senior officials at the Virginia Department of Corrections (VDOC) ordering them to comply with the Settlement Agreement approved by the Court in 2016 in Scott v. Clarke.

Citing “egregious facts” and “material and significant” breaches, Judge Norman K. Moon found that the VDOC Defendants are in violation of eight of the standards outlined in the Settlement Agreement governing medical care at FCCW. “[T]he record shows that VDOC’s and FCCW’s own officials had—by their own admission—actual knowledge that FCCW was not complying with parts of the Settlement Agreement.” The opinion concludes, “Over six years ago, women at FCCW filed this lawsuit, seeking a remedy for pervasive constitutionally deficient medical care. Their quest continues. Some women have died along the way. But this case has survived because Defendants have upheld neither their Eighth Amendment obligations nor the Settlement Agreement they reached to effectuate those obligations.”

“The state was willing to blame everyone else for their failures—the lawyers, the media, the settlement agreement, even the patients themselves,” said Shannon Ellis, attorney at the Legal Aid Justice Center. “Today’s opinion flatly rejects the state’s attempts to point the finger elsewhere and confirms that the state has only itself to blame for the tragic state of healthcare at FCCW.”

The Court’s opinion tersely rejects each of the Defendants’ defenses:

  • Rejecting the contention that the Settlement Agreement was too vague and subjective to be enforced, the Court writes: “No reasonable person could read the Settlement Agreement and think that it was permissible, e.g.: for Andrea Nichols to wait three years for a colonoscopy while cancer rotted her body and invaded her liver; or for a medical prison to lack ready access to emergency medical equipment; or for nurses to fail to (and even not know how to) reorder medications; or for extreme chest pain, wheezing, and excessive weight changes to go uncharted and unexamined by a doctor.”
  • Rejecting Defendants’ arguments that they were not given enough time to comply with the Settlement Agreement, the Court’s opinion chides, “The Settlement Agreement does not condone lollygagging.”
  • Rejecting the Defendants’ suggestion that they were prevented from complying with the requirements regarding adequate staffing due to bad publicity, the Court notes that “the bad publicity surrounding FCCW is Defendants’ own fault, as it stems from FCCW’s original failures and the underlying lawsuit challenging them.”

Although the Court held that technical reasons and Fourth Circuit precedent prevented it from holding the Defendants in contempt, the Court wrote: “Yet if ever a case evinced forfeiture of a Rule 65(d) argument, or warranted a functional rather than formalist approach to the rule, it would be this one.”

The Court’s injunction orders the Defendants to correct the violations, including but not limited to:

  • Maintaining a nursing staff equivalent to 78 full-time nurses
  • Training nurses on dispensing medication and ensuring continuity of supply
  • Outfitting FCCW buildings with basic emergency equipment and supplies
  • Developing a protocol to ensure unimpeded access to timely medical care
  • Improving the medical grievance system

Finding of Fact and Conclusions of Law on Plaintiffs’ Motion to Show Cause

Injunction order

Overview:
Scott v. Clarke is a class action lawsuit, filed by Legal Aid Justice Center (LAJC), Wiley Rein LLP, and the Washington Lawyers’ Committee, challenging the constitutionality of the medical care provided at FCCW. The lawsuit asserted that the 1,200 women incarcerated at FCCW are being provided constitutionally inadequate medical care, leaving their health and lives at serious risk. 

On November 26, 2014, the Legal Aid Justice Center announced that it had reached a settlement. The settlement came in the wake of two sweeping opinions in favor of the Plaintiffs from the court—an order granting class certification and an order granting Plaintiffs’ partial motion for summary judgment and denied Defendants summary judgment with respect to all their defenses. The Settlement Agreement was approved by Judge Norman K. Moon on February 5, 2016, and required an independent Compliance Monitor to supervise the medical care systems at the prison for at least three years. The settlement provides a framework for significant reforms of the medical care at FCCW. The settlement also outlines a process by which the parties will jointly review and revise the Virginia Department of Corrections (VDOC) policies regarding health care. 

In September 2017, the women incarcerated at FCCW filed a motion for contempt in the Federal District Court in Charlottesville. The motion asked the court to enforce the class action Settlement Agreement decided upon in February 2016. The women charged that prison continued to fail to provide constitutionally adequate medical care in violation of the agreement. The law firms of Consumer Litigation Associates, P.C. and Kelly & Crandall PLC joined the plaintiffs’ legal team to prosecute the contempt motion.

About the Legal Aid Justice Center
The Legal Aid Justice Center (LAJC) fights injustice in the lives of individual Virginians while rooting out exploitative policies and practices that keep people in poverty. LAJC uses impact litigation, community organizing, and policy advocacy to solve urgent problems in areas such as housing, education, civil rights, immigration, workers’ rights, healthcare and consumer finance. LAJC’s primary service areas are Charlottesville, Northern Virginia, Richmond and Petersburg, but the effects of their work are felt statewide.