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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.

Preliminary Injunction Sought Against Richmond

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PLAINTIFFS IN HOUSING DISCRIMINATION LAWSUIT ASK COURT FOR PRELIMINARY INJUNCTION AGAINST CITY OF RICHMOND

Residents of mobile home parks seek protection from threat of homelessness from discriminatory code enforcement while civil rights suit is pending.

Richmond, Virginia, October 9, 2015—Current and former mobile home park residents, plaintiffs in a civil rights lawsuit against the City of Richmond, filed a motion yesterday asking the federal court to prohibit the City from condemning or issuing further threats against mobile homes while the case moves forward.  The lawsuit was filed on August 18 alleging violations of the federal Fair Housing Act and other civil rights laws because the City has targeted overwhelmingly Latino-occupied mobile home parks for a campaign of aggressive building code enforcement.  The filing, asking the court for a preliminary injunction, argues that mobile home park residents suffer constant anxiety, worrying day-to-day that the City will condemn their homes and leave them suddenly homeless.

Resources

Motion for Preliminary Injunction (PDF)

Memorandum of Law with Exhibits (PDF)

News item from filing of lawsuit

Victory for Bill to Limit Restraint & Seclusion!

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The Legal Aid Justice Center was part of a coalition of 40 groups from across the state representing parents, children, students, advocates for people with disabilities, child abuse prevention advocates and legal advocates applauds the Virginia General Assembly for passing legislation that will limit the harmful use of seclusion and physical restraint in schools to emergency situations. The Coalition for the Improvement of School Safety advocated in support of H.B. 1443 and S.B. 782, which passed with overwhelming support from both houses and is expected to land on the desk of Gov. Terry McAuliffe soon.

“We are proud to have joined with our partners to support this legislation, which will provide meaningful protections to Virginia students and give school staff the tools they need to prevent and address challenging behaviors,” said Angela A. Ciolfi, legal director of the JustChildren Program at Virginia’s Legal Aid Justice Center. “Physical restraint and seclusion should never be a default form of school discipline.”

Resources

Press Release (PDF)

Media Coverage

 

The Roanoke Times, “Stories of trauma in Virginia prompt crackdown on seclusion rooms”

Report: Achievement Gap Widens

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ChartA new Report by the Legal Aid Justice Center finds that the achievement gap between low-income and other students has widened substantially since 2009 when the state slashed the education budget to address a short-term economic downturn.

“A widening achievement gap is an alarming trend, suggesting that budget cuts may be having a disproportionately negative impact on low-income students,” according to the Report’s author, policy researcher John Morgan. “This threatens to undo previous progress and to stall Virginia’s efforts to raise achievement levels of low-income students and struggling schools.”

Resources

Report: Budget Cuts Coincide with Widening Gap (PDF)

Press Release (PDF)

JustChildren Helps Exonerate Innocent Youth

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Coker TeamEdgar Coker was only 15 when, upon advice of court-appointed counsel, he entered a guilty plea to the rape of a 14-year-old neighbor and was ordered to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life. The complaining witness recanted her story two months later. However, it took seven years, several attorneys, dozens of law students, and a trip to the Virginia Supreme Court to remove Edgar Coker’s name from the sex offender registry. On February 10, Judge Jane Marum Roush issued an order vacating his conviction due to the constitutionally ineffective assistance provided by his trial counsel. The case is an unsettling reminder of why our youth desperately need highly skilled and motivated representation in juvenile court.

Photo: Edgar Coker outside the Virginia Supreme Court with his family and legal team, which includes attorneys from JustChildren and the UVA School of Law’s Innocence Project and Child Advocacy Clinic.

Judge Roush’s Order in E.C. v. DJJ

Press Coverage:

Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star, 02/10/14 (Exoneration)

Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star, 02/14/14 (Edgar’s Reaction)

Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star, 03/01/14 (Life Forever Changed)

Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star, 03/03/14 (No Retrial)

UVA Law School

The Daily Progress

The Washington Post, 02/12/14 (Exoneration)

The Washington Post, 02/17/14 (Brighter Future)

The Washington Times

New Report on Suspensions and Racial Disparities

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The University of Virginia’s Curry School of Education and the Legal Aid Justice Center have partnered on a new report documenting the scope of racial disparities in school suspension in Virginia. The Report finds that, in Virginia schools, black male students are at least twice as likely to be suspended as white male students. Most black students are being suspended for relatively minor misbehavior, such as being loud or disruptive in class.

The report also unveils the results of a new study demonstrating that use of the Virginia Student Threat Assessment Guidelines (VSTAG) is associated with lower rates of school suspensions, including a smaller racial discipline gap. Schools using VSTAG have substantially lower rates of school suspensions, especially among black males.

Press Release (PDF)

Report: Prevention v Punishment Report (PDF)

 

Press Coverage:

Washington Post

Richmond Times-Dispatch

UVA Today

C-Ville Weekly

WVIR NBC29

 

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