Charlottesville, VA, September 16, 2015—The settlement agreement between the women prisoners at the Fluvanna Correctional Center for Women (FCCW) and the Virginia Department of Corrections (VDOC) was officially submitted on Tuesday, September 15. The agreement proposes to settle a class action lawsuit concerning the medical care provided at the Fluvanna County prison. Federal District Judge Norman Moon granted preliminary approval of the settlement on Wednesday, September 16. Notice will be sent to the women prisoners, and Judge Moon must review and approve the settlement agreement, considering any objections by prisoners, before it becomes final.
The Legal Aid Justice Center, Wiley Rein LLP of Washington, D.C., and the Washington Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs represent the women in the class action lawsuit. Legal Aid Justice Center attorney Brenda Castañeda said, “After suffering years of pain and neglect due to inadequate medical care, these women will finally receive justice through a major overhaul of the medical services provided at the Fluvanna prison.”
On July 24, 2012, five women incarcerated at FCCW filed the lawsuit, Scott v. Clarke, in the U.S. District Court in Charlottesville. The plaintiffs stated that inadequate medical care at FCCW violated the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which prohibits cruel and unusual punishment. The lawsuit asked the federal court to order VDOC to provide adequate medical care—asking only for injunctive relief and requesting the court to enter specific requirements to ensure that proper care was consistently provided for all 1,200 women prisoners. The suit did not ask for monetary damages.
Ted Howard, pro bono counsel from Wiley Rein, said, “The plaintiffs and attorneys in this case have spent years working to improve conditions for all women incarcerated at FCCW. The terms of this agreement should finally formalize the adequate care and treatment these women should have been receiving all along.”
Court rulings. On November 20, 2014, Judge Moon granted the prisoners’ Motion for Partial Summary Judgment and denied the VDOC’s similar motion. The court granted the prisoners’ motion ruling that, among other things:
a. As a class, the women at FCCW suffer from, or may in the future suffer from, “serious medical needs.”
b. The VDOC cannot delegate its duty to provide constitutional medical care to a private contractor, meaning that VDOC, not a private contractor, is ultimately responsible for the well-being of the prisoners.
c. The facts did not support VDOC’s argument that it had provided constitutional care.
Proposed terms of settlement. The women and the VDOC have proposed an agreement that will, if approved by the court, settle this case. The agreement requires VDOC to overhaul its medical care at FCCW. A summary of the settlement follows:
a. VDOC will provide constitutionally adequate medical care.
b. VDOC’s operating procedures for medical care at FCCW will change. Among other changes, the procedures will include better accommodations for women with disabilities, timely and continuous access to medication and medical supplies, timely access to specialists when necessary, and follow-up treatment in accordance with specialists’ recommendations except in medically justifiable circumstances.
c. A Compliance Monitor will measure compliance with new standards. Nicholas Scharff, M.D., M.P.H., the former Chief Medical Officer for the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections, will be the Compliance Monitor. He will regularly visit FCCW to evaluate whether the medical care is adequate and meets the agreed upon standards. After each visit, the Compliance Monitor will write a report that will be public information and rate the medical care as non-compliant, partially compliant, or fully compliant with the standards.
d. The class may enforce the agreement in the U.S. District Court. If the Compliance Monitor finds any part of the medical care to be constitutionally inadequate, he will give VDOC 30 days to fix the problem. If the women notify their lawyers of constitutionally deficient medical care, the women’s lawyers may also give VDOC notice in writing. If VDOC does not fix a problem within 30 days, the women’s lawyers may ask the judge to order VDOC to comply with the Constitution and/or the settlement agreement, or to hold VDOC in contempt of court, or both.
Agreement terminates. The agreement will be in effect for at least 3 years unless the parties determine otherwise. After that, it will end when the Compliance Monitor finds that DOC has provided medical care that is constitutionally adequate on a consistent basis for at least one year.
Brenda Castañeda – Legal Director, Civil Advocacy Program
Legal Aid Justice Center
About the Legal Aid Justice Center
The Legal Aid Justice Center provides civil legal assistance to low-income families and individuals in Virginia with a focus on vulnerable populations, including children, immigrants, the elderly, and the institutionalized. Their mission is to seek equal justice for all by solving legal problems, strengthening the voices of low-income communities, and rooting out the inequities that keep people in poverty.
About Wiley Rein LLP
With more than 250 lawyers, Wiley Rein has earned international prominence by representing clients in complex, high-stakes regulatory, litigation, and transactional matters. Wiley Rein generously gives back to the community, providing significant pro bono legal services and charitable contributions to more than 450 local and national organizations every year. www.wileyrein.com
About the Washington Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs
The Committee’s DC Prisoners’ Project advocates for the humane treatment and dignity of persons convicted or charged with a criminal offense under DC law housed in prisons, jails, or community corrections programs, or living in the community on parole. The Project also works to assist formerly incarcerated and strives to promote progressive criminal justice reform. http://www.washlaw.org/
FEE PETITION DOCUMENTS FOR SETTLEMENT: