Case: T.R. v. South Carolina Department of Corrections

05-02925 | South Carolina state trial court

Filed Date: June 10, 2005

Case Ongoing

Clearinghouse coding complete

Case Summary

On June 10, 2005, inmates suffering from serious mental illness filed this class action lawsuit in the Fifth Circuit Court of South Carolina, a state trial court, against the South Carolina Department of Corrections. The suit alleged that the defendant violated the South Carolina Constitution's ban on "cruel," "corporal" and "unusual punishment" (Art. I § 15) as well as its duty under the South Carolina Constitution to provide basic care for prisoners (Art. XII § 2, a claim that was eventually …

On June 10, 2005, inmates suffering from serious mental illness filed this class action lawsuit in the Fifth Circuit Court of South Carolina, a state trial court, against the South Carolina Department of Corrections. The suit alleged that the defendant violated the South Carolina Constitution's ban on "cruel," "corporal" and "unusual punishment" (Art. I § 15) as well as its duty under the South Carolina Constitution to provide basic care for prisoners (Art. XII § 2, a claim that was eventually dropped). The plaintiffs, represented by private counsel, asked the court for declaratory and injunctive relief.

Specifically, the plaintiffs alleged that the defendant failed to properly treat the plaintiffs' mental illnesses by refusing to transfer them to facilities equipped to treat them, only sporadically giving them needed antipsychotic medication, and excessively using solitary confinement. The plaintiffs said that the lack of antipsychotics led patients to horde the medications and increased the risk of suicide and overdose; the plaintiffs also alleged that the defendant’s use of solitary confinement interfered with treatments for mental illnesses.

On November 1, 2007, the Circuit Court (Judge J. Michael Baxley), among other things, certified the case as a class action with the class defined as:

[A]ll individuals who, at any time since June 20, 2005 (the date that Plaintiffs filed their Complaint), have been or will be confined in an institution or facility maintained or operated by the South Carolina Department of Corrections and who, at any time since June 20, 2005, have been or will be: 1) Assigned to an SCDC Intermediate Care Services (“ICS”) unit; or 2) Hospitalized as an inpatient at Gilliam Psychiatric Hospital (“GPH”) or Columbia Care Center (“CCC”); or 3) Diagnosed by a psychiatrist with any of the following mental illnesses: a) Cognitive disorders (e.g., traumatic brain injuries, Cognitive Disorder Not Otherwise Specified); b) Schizophrenia (all subtypes); c) Schizoaffective Disorder (all subtypes); d) Paranoid Disorder (e.g., Delusional Disorders); e) Major Depressive Disorder (all subtypes); f) Bipolar Disorder (all subtypes); g) Other Psychotic Disorders (e.g., Schizophreniform, Psychotic Disorder Not Otherwise Specified); or 4) Diagnosed by a psychiatrist with another mental disorder, not listed above, that has resulted in a significant functional impairment, defined as: a) the inability to attend to and effectively perform the usual or necessary activities of daily living; b) an extreme impairment of coping skills, rendering the patient exceptionally vulnerable to unintentional or intentional victimization and possible mismanagement; or c) behaviors that are bizarre and/or dangerous to self or others.
The Court noted that the class definition tracked others approved in Alexander S. v. McLawhorn and Disability Advocates, Inc. v. New York State Office of Mental Health.

On September 29, 2010, Judge Baxley ruled on the standards that would govern the case. The Court ruled that the standards of Article I, Section 15 of the South Carolina Constitution would be construed consistently with the 8th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution (which prohibits "cruel and unusual punishments"). The Court held plaintiffs must prove that there is a substantial risk of serious harm and the objective nature of that risk may be proved by deficiencies in the system of administration of the Department of Corrections. To determine if the defendant's system is sufficient the Court considered the following six factors drawn from federal case law:

1. a systematic program for screening and evaluating inmates to identify those in need of mental health care;

2. a treatment program that involves more than segregation and close supervision of mentally ill inmates;

3. employment of a sufficient number of trained mental health professionals;

4. maintenance of accurate, complete, and confidential mental health treatment records;

5. administration of psychotropic medication only with appropriate supervision and periodic evaluation; and

6. a basic program to identify, treat, and supervise inmates at risk for suicide.

The order also explained that Article XII, Section 2 of the South Carolina constitution, which requires the General Assembly to “provide for the . . . health . . . of the inmates,” imposes a duty on the defendants to provide “minimally adequate” mental health services. And, despite noting that “cruel and unusual” and “minimally adequate” are “fundamentally different” concepts, the Court said it “intends generally to rely” on the same six factors to assess the plaintiffs’ Article I and Article XII claims.

The case proceeded to trial over the next four years, during which time the plaintiffs filed several amended complaints. For reasons unknown to the Clearinghouse, the plaintiffs’ Fourth Amended Complaint, filed June 7, 2011, dropped allegations that the defendants failed to provide minimally adequate health services under Article XII; it retained only the plaintiffs' Article I claims for cruel, corporal, and unusual punishment.

On January 8, 2014, Judge Baxley ruled in favor of the plaintiffs. Judge Baxley observed that “[t]his case, far above all others, is the most troubling” of “over 70,000 cases of every imaginable sort” heard in state courts over the previous fourteen years. The Court also criticized the defendants’ decision to “[fight] this case tooth and nail” over eight years rather than “accept the obvious” and “try to improve its mental health system.”

Specifically, the Court found that: [1] the mental health care services were "severely" understaffed and many were unqualified resulting in inadequate screening and delays in care, [2] the plaintiff class was exposed to disproportionate use of force and segregation without approval by psychiatrists through the use of solitary confinement that had caused several deaths, [3] the defendant did not have a complete process for tracking the treatment of mental ill inmates, [4] the defendant's mental health screening process neither identified all mentally ill inmates nor provided treatment for those who were identified, [5] the defendant's administration of psychotropic drugs was inadequately administered and evaluated, and [6] the defendant's crisis prevention system was inadequate and had resulted in the suicide of several prisoners.

To address these problems, the Court ordered the defendant to create a plan to improve mental health care. The Court directed the defendant to (1) develop an effective screening system; (2) develop a comprehensive treatment program that would not rely on segregation; (3) increase the number of mental health professionals; (4) maintain accurate records; (5) supervise and evaluate the use of psychotropic medicine; and (6) identify and treat individuals at risk of suicide.

The defendant filed a motion to alter or amend the judgment on the grounds that the court’s January 8, 2014 decision did not address several of its arguments, including that the plaintiffs lacked standing and did not enjoy a private right of action. Judge Baxley rejected the defendant’s arguments in an April 18 order. The defendant appealed “all pre-trial, trial, and post-trial bench rulings” along with twenty-four specific trial court orders on May 22.

Around the same time, the parties entered mediation, and the appeal was soon stayed. In July, the defendants opened the Self-Injurious Behavioral Unit at the Kirkland Correctional Institution in Columbia. The unit was designed to facilitate faster responses to inmates who feel the need to harm themselves.

On January 15, 2015, following months of mediation, the parties announced that they had agreed to terms for a preliminary remedial plan. Specifically, the plan would phase in $8.7 million in funding over three years (pending legislative approval); called for "significant" modifications to defendants' security policies and procedures; and required the development of an improved staff training curriculum and a more appropriate staff culture.

The parties signed a formal settlement agreement on May 2, 2016. The settlement bound the defendant to comply with hiring, construction, and recordkeeping plans as well as modify its own policies. In addition, the settlement established a panel to supervise the defendant’s implementation of the changes. The settlement was set to terminate once the mediator determined the defendant had substantially complied with the agreement’s terms for eighteen consecutive months, although the defendant agreed to preserve certain policies for two years after termination. The parties appear to have predicted that the agreement would last about four years because they set an “Implementation Target Date” four years in the future.

The parties jointly moved on June 1, 2016, for the approval of the settlement agreement from the South Carolina Supreme Court. The Supreme Court remanded the request to the Circuit Court (Judge Robert E. Hood) for evaluation. Judge Hood found that class members received adequate notice and approved the settlement agreement on September 29, 2016. On December 14, 2016, the Supreme Court granted a motion to vacate the 2014 ruling because the parties had settled.

There have been no further orders from the court since the settlement was signed, possibly because the parties agreed to resolve certain disputes involving the settlement in arbitration. However, one pro se prisoner has filed numerous objections to the settlement and made additional allegations of poor treatment since the settlement went into effect, continuing throughout 2019. Thus, the case appears to be ongoing.

Summary Authors

Brian Kempfer (2/14/2014)

Dan Whitman (4/4/2015)

Averyn Lee (6/10/2019)

Timothy Leake (1/8/2020)

People


Judge(s)

Baxley, J. Michael (South Carolina)

Attorneys(s) for Plaintiff

Andrews, Stuart M Jr, (South Carolina)

Patterson, Jeffrey S. (South Carolina)

Strickland, Angela Gilbert (South Carolina)

Westbrook, Daniel J (South Carolina)

White, Ashley K. (South Carolina)

Attorneys(s) for Defendant

Davidson, William Henry II (South Carolina)

Lindemann, Andrew F. (South Carolina)

Plyler, Daniel Clifton (South Carolina)

Shelton, Haile W. (South Carolina)

Judge(s)

Baxley, J. Michael (South Carolina)

Attorneys(s) for Plaintiff

Andrews, Stuart M Jr, (South Carolina)

Patterson, Jeffrey S. (South Carolina)

Strickland, Angela Gilbert (South Carolina)

Westbrook, Daniel J (South Carolina)

White, Ashley K. (South Carolina)

Attorneys(s) for Defendant

Davidson, William Henry II (South Carolina)

Lindemann, Andrew F. (South Carolina)

Plyler, Daniel Clifton (South Carolina)

Shelton, Haile W. (South Carolina)

Smith, James Emory Jr. (South Carolina)

Stepp, Robert Erving (South Carolina)

Woodington, Kenneth P. (South Carolina)

Expert/Monitor/Master

Dunlap, Linda (South Carolina)

Jay, Joy C (South Carolina)

Martin, Steve J. (Texas)

Martin [dup], Steve J (South Carolina)

Documents in the Clearinghouse

Document

Docket

Jan. 17, 2020 Docket

Summons and Complaint

June 20, 2005 Complaint

Order

T.R. v. State of South Carolina

Nov. 2, 2007 Order/Opinion

Order Setting Forth Applicable Constitutional Standards

Protection and Advocacy for People with Disablities, Inc v. State of South Carolina

Sept. 29, 2010 Order/Opinion

Combined Site Visit Reports

Protection and Advocacy for People with Disabilities, Inc v. State of South Carolina

No Court

Dec. 30, 2010 Monitor/Expert/Receiver Report

[Untitled]

Protection and Advocacy for People with Disabilities, Inc v. State of South Carolina

No Court

March 11, 2011 Monitor/Expert/Receiver Report

Fifth Amended Complaint

Protection and Advocacy for People with Disabilities, Inc v. South Carolina Department of Corrections

Oct. 6, 2011 Complaint

Order Granting Judgment in Favor of Plaintiffs

T. R. v. South Carolina Department of Corrections

Jan. 8, 2014 Order/Opinion

Order Denying Defendants' Motion to Alter or Amend

April 7, 2014 Order/Opinion

Term Sheet for Settlement Agreement

T.R. v. S.C. Department of Corrections

No Court

Jan. 12, 2015 Settlement Agreement

Resources

Title Description External URL

Website provides information about S.C. class-action lawsuit on behalf of prisoners with mental illness.

Protection and Advocacy for People with Disabilities (SC)

Background: Protection and Advocacy for People with Disabilities on behalf of inmates with serious mental health needs filed a class-action lawsuit in June 2005 alleging inadequate mental health trea… Nov. 4, 2016 http://www.mentalhealth4inmates.org/

Agency Accountability Report - Fiscal Year 2017-2018

Stirling, Bryan P., Director

The original correctional system in South Carolina was established in 1866 when the South Carolina Legislature passed an Act creating the first State-level prison for felons housed in county faciliti… Sept. 21, 2018 http://www.doc.sc.gov/research/AccountabilityReportFY2018.pdf

Docket

Last updated May 11, 2022, 8 p.m.

Docket sheet not available via the Clearinghouse.

State / Territory: South Carolina

Case Type(s):

Prison Conditions

Special Collection(s):

Solitary confinement

Key Dates

Filing Date: June 10, 2005

Case Ongoing: Yes

Plaintiffs

Plaintiff Description:

Mentally ill prisoners in the South Carolina Department of Corrections

Plaintiff Type(s):

Private Plaintiff

Public Interest Lawyer: No

Filed Pro Se: No

Class Action Sought: Yes

Class Action Outcome: Granted

Defendants

South Carolina Department of Corrections, State

Defendant Type(s):

Corrections

Case Details

Causes of Action:

State law

Constitutional Clause(s):

Cruel and Unusual Punishment

Availably Documents:

Trial Court Docket

Complaint (any)

Injunctive (or Injunctive-like) Relief

Outcome

Prevailing Party: Plaintiff

Nature of Relief:

Injunction / Injunctive-like Settlement

Declaratory Judgment

Source of Relief:

Settlement

Litigation

Form of Settlement:

Court Approved Settlement or Consent Decree

Amount Defendant Pays: 0

Order Duration: 2016 - None

Content of Injunction:

Reasonable Accommodation

Discrimination Prohibition

Develop anti-discrimination policy

Monitor/Master

Recordkeeping

Monitoring

Required disclosure

Training

Issues

General:

Bathing and hygiene

Bathrooms

Buildings

Classification / placement

Commitment procedure

Conditions of confinement

Confidentiality

Confinement/isolation

Counseling

Discharge & termination plans

Disciplinary procedures

Disciplinary segregation

Disparate Impact

Disparate Treatment

Excessive force

Failure to supervise

Failure to train

Improper treatment of mentally ill suspects

Protective custody

Record-keeping

Recreation / Exercise

Rehabilitation

Restraints : physical

Sanitation / living conditions

Solitary confinement/Supermax (conditions or process)

Staff (number, training, qualifications, wages)

Suicide prevention

Discrimination-basis:

Disability (inc. reasonable accommodations)

Disability:

Mental impairment

Mental Disability:

Brain injury

Depression

Intellectual/developmental disability, unspecified

Mental Illness, Unspecified

Schizophrenia

Medical/Mental Health:

Intellectual/Developmental Disability

Intellectual disability/mental illness dual diagnosis

Mental health care, general

Mental health care, unspecified

Self-injurious behaviors

Suicide prevention

Type of Facility:

Government-run