Filed Date: June 17, 2014
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On June 17, 2014, prisoners and the Alabama Disabilities Advocacy Program (ADAP) filed this class action lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Alabama. The plaintiffs sued the Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC) under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), § 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, and 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Represented by the Southern Poverty Law Center, ADAP, and private counsel, the plaintiffs sought declaratory and injunctive relief. They claimed that ADOC provided inadequate medical and mental health services and involuntarily medicated prisoners.
On September 8, 2015, Judge Myron H. Thompson split the case into two phases: Phase 1 would include all ADA and Rehabilitation Act claims related to physical disabilities; and Phase 2 would include all ADA and Rehabilitation Act claims related to mental health together with all other claims. During the next year, the parties engaged in fractious discovery and crafted a settlement for the Phase 1 claims. The court also rejected ADOC's invitation to dismiss claims by plaintiffs who had been released from prison for lack of standing on October 6. 148 F. Supp. 3d 1329.
Judge Thompson approved the parties’ Phase 1 settlement and adopted it as a consent decree on September 9, 2016. The court found that the named plaintiffs had standing and certified a settlement class defined as "any current or future inmate in the physical custody of the Alabama Department of Corrections who has a disability . . . excluding those inmates whose disabilities relate solely to or arise from mental disease, illness, or defect." The agreement required ADOC to:
The agreement also contained the following provisions related to implementation:
Judge Thompson split the remaining Phase 2 claims into two parts on September 19: Phase 2A would consider the plaintiffs’ ADA, Rehabilitation Act, and Eight Amendment mental health claims along with their involuntary medication claims, and Phase 2B would consider the remaining Eight Amendment claims about inadequate medical and dental care.
Judge Thompson issued three important rulings on November 25, 2016. First, he largely denied ADOC’s motion for summary judgment, although he dismissed the claims of six individual plaintiffs who had already been released from prison. 219 F. Supp. 3d 1100. Second, he found that ADAP had associational standing under the Protection and Advocacy for Individuals with Mental Illness Act (PAIMI), 42 U.S.C. § 10805. 219 F. Supp. 3d 1163. Third, he certified two classes. The first consisted of prisoners with serious mental health problems who are or will be subject to ADOC’s mental health care policies, and the second consisted of prisoners with serious mental health problems who are or will be subject to ADOC’s involuntary medication policies. 317 F.R.D. 634
The Phase 2A trial took place in early 2017, and the parties concurrently worked towards a settlement. They proposed a class action settlement of the plaintiffs’ ADA and Rehabilitation Act claims on January 11, which Judge Thompson preliminarily approved on February 22. And on April 25, the parties proposed a settlement of the plaintiffs’ involuntary medication claims that Judge Thompson preliminarily approved on May 11. However, the parties were unable to resolve the plaintiffs’ Eight Amendment mental health claims.
On June 27, 2017, Judge Thompson issued a 302-page opinion and order on the Phase 2A Eighth Amendment mental health claim. He concluded that ADOC’s "horrendously inadequate" mental health services violated the constitutional prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. As reported in The Atlantic, the trial included testimony from a prisoner who had not received adequate mental health care in prison, became agitated during testimony, and had to be coaxed back to the stand from the judge's chambers. Judge Thompson was concerned and ordered a full report on the prisoner’s condition and steps taken to address it. Sadly, the prisoner committed suicide ten days after his testimony and before corrective measures were taken. In his opinion, Judge Thompson noted, "[w]ithout question, [the prisoner’s] testimony and the tragic event that followed darkly draped all the subsequent testimony like a pall." He added "[ADOC] could have taken [remedial] action in 2015, after the first meeting on suicides, or in 2016, after the second meeting, rather than waiting until January 2017. By that time, twelve more people, including a plaintiff in this lawsuit, had committed suicide." Judge Thompson found that ADOC acted with deliberate indifference towards its prisoners. He also rejected ADOC’s arguments that its leaders lacked the authority to fix the problems and that a federal court could not order a state to spend money on prisons. Emphasizing the "severity and urgency of the need for mental-health care," Judge Thompson declared that the proposed relief must be both immediate and long term and ordered the parties to meet to discuss a remedy. 257 F. Supp. 3d 1171.
The next day, Judge Thompson adopted the parties’ Phase 2A ADA and Rehabilitation Act settlement as a consent decree. His order certified an injunctive relief settlement class defined as “any current or future inmate in the physical custody of ADOC who has a disability . . . relating to or arising from mental disease, illness, or defect.” Under the terms of the settlement, ADOC agreed to provide adaptive behavior/life skills training to inmates with certain mental disabilities. The training would be designed to help prisoners make good decisions, manage stress, communicate, identify consequences of their actions, advocate for themselves, access prison services, maintain hygiene, make good use of time, and understand prison rules. ADAP obtained access to ADOC’s facilities and records to monitor ADOC’s compliance. ADOC could request termination once the consent decree was in place for at least five years and it was in substantial compliance for at least twelve consecutive months. As part of the order, the plaintiffs obtained $250,000 of attorneys' fees and $12,000 per year of monitoring fees. On July 25, Judge Thompson issued an opinion that provided a legal basis for his approval of the settlement. 321 F.R.D. 653.
Judge Thompson issued a final approval order and consent decree for the involuntary medication settlement on September 6, 2017. ADOC agreed to strengthen the procedural safeguards for prisoners facing involuntary medication. It also agreed to provide ADAP with monthly reports of involuntary medication proceedings and pay $230,000 in attorneys' fees. The consent decree was set to expire in two years.
The resolution of the plaintiff’s involuntary medication claims left outstanding only the Phase 2A Eighth Amendment remedy and Phase 2B claims. On September 13, Judge Thompson decided to address the remedies for the Phase 2A Eight Amendment violations in parts, starting with ADOC's chronic staffing shortfalls. He also severed Phase 2B’s medical and dental claims on September 28, 2017.
In early 2018, the plaintiffs informed the court that ADOC was holding prisoners with serious mental illnesses in segregation (that is, solitary confinement). Judge Thompson ordered ADOC to provide information on certain mentally ill prisoners who had been confined in segregation for at least 30 days on February 8, 2018. And on February 16, he expanded the order to require ADOC to provide weekly lists of prisoners in segregation to the plaintiffs.
On February 20, 2018, Judge Thompson issued the first opinion on the Phase 2A Eighth Amendment remedies. The opinion largely adopted ADOC’s plan to address understaffing. Under the plan, (1) ADOC would retain consultants to analyze its flaws and develop mental health staffing guidelines; (2) ADOC would contract with a mental health services vendor to hire additional staff immediately; and (3) ADOC’s Office of Health Services Staffing would reorganize and begin to exercise oversight over ADOC’s facilities. 2018 WL 985759.
In a series of orders issued in April, May, and June 2018, Judge Thompson ordered ADOC to:
In early 2019, the plaintiffs moved for a temporary restraining order to stop ADOC from placing prisoners with serious mental illnesses in segregation. In response, Judge Thompson ordered ADOC to provide a comprehensive list of prisoners with serious mental illnesses in segregation on January 22. The court decided to treat the motion as a request for a preliminary injunction on February 14 and consider it within the context of unresolved Phase 2A remedial measures.
Litigation over remedial measures ground on into May 2019, when Judge Thompson decided to act more aggressively because of a spate of prisoner suicides: fifteen in the prior fifteen months. On May 4, he found that “ADOC continues to fail to provide adequate suicide-prevention measures” and granted the plaintiffs’ motion for immediate relief on the issue of suicide prevention. His opinion, largely based on an expert report prepared by outside investigators, ordered ADOC to:
The court ordered ADOC to track its progress towards compliance and decided to appoint an external monitor (whose identity was left to the parties) with the power to review records and conduct site visits. After two years, either party can move to terminate the external monitoring. 2019 WL 1978476.
Later that month, Judge Thompson directed the parties to file a report on their “pursuit of a path” to “global resolution” of the remaining issues in the case. On June 10, 2019, the court agreed to stay the proceedings regarding mental and dental-care claims and several Phase 2A remedial orders. The continuing matters, however, included remedying ADA-noncompliance, preventing prisoner suicides, and addressing ADOC’s chronic understaffing.
On September 5, 2019, the parties jointly submitted a notice of an agreed-upon schedule for implementing ADA alterations (such as installing ADA-compliant restrooms and improving access to outdoor spaces), and the next day, they submitted a notice describing agreed-upon suicide prevention remedies (including increasing the number of staff on hand and stipulating training and preparation requirements for staff).
The court conducted a hearing on October 21, 2019, during which the parties requested to modify the Phase 1 consent decree, and on October 24, Judge Thompson granted them leave to revise the consent decree to reschedule evidentiary hearings and status conferences. 2019 WL 5459721. The parties conducted a status conference before Judge Thompson on October 31, after which the defendant moved to redact the transcript of that meeting. Judge Thompson ordered oral argument on the redaction request, which took place on December 6, 2019.
After the December 6 hearing, Judge Thompson ordered the parties to file a joint report updating the court with ADOC’s mental-health statistics and caseload information by December 20. He also commanded that the Phase 2A remedial efforts regarding suicide prevention would go into effect beginning December 13. On December 11, Judge Thompson approved the parties’ proposal for a mental-health staffing plan, and on December 13, he agreed to grant the redaction request. 2019 WL 6833843.
On December 19, the judge ordered the parties to come up with a process to “identify functional segregation,” instructing the defendants to identify spaces that, although not officially built or designed to be segregation units, could safely and effectively serve as such units. Judge Thompson specified that he was interested most in how the parties’ evaluated what made a functional segregation unit, “with the goals of creating a manageable, not overly burdensome, and yet objectively verifiable process.” 2019 WL 7041620.
On January 10, 2020, the court issued several interim injunctions as the result of several joint stipulations by the parties, including several instituting procedures and practices regarding mental health classification and mental illness identification, stopgap measures for removing inmates with serious mental illnesses from segregation, confidentiality orders, understaffing remedies, and functional segregation unit solutions. On January 14, 2020, Judge Thompson, expressing concerns about whether transferring mentally ill patients might present due process concerns, requested that the parties meet to discuss this issue. 2020 WL 398557. The parties met on January 17, after which the issue was dismissed and set aside.
On January 22, the court instituted a notice-and-comment period for the proposed modifications to the parties’ ADA settlement. ADOC was instructed to collect comments from the class members and to respond to objections and concerns raised by those members. ADOC was also instructed to provide accommodations to inmates who had difficulty reading, writing, or accessing the notice. Because the parties failed to reach a final agreement, on March 20, 2020, the court issued more interim injunctions, extending the previous injunctive relief to last until December 30, 2020.
The court ordered the parties to file a joint proposed opinion approving the proposed modifications to the 2016 consent decree for Phase 1 ADA modifications by April 21, 2020. On May 12, 2020, the court approved the parties’ primary proposed modification of the 2016 consent decree extending ADOC’s deadline for remediation by approximately eight years, until November 1, 2027. The proposal broke down remediation into three phases, with the first round of remediation of facilities to be completed by 2023 and the second and third by 2027. Another proposed modification included extending monitoring by ADAP from 2022 until one year after the remediation is completed, including associated monitoring fees. In his opinion approving the modifications, Judge Thompson emphasized the accommodations provided for the notice and comment period, including availability of the proposed modification in Spanish, braille, and larger print sizes; copies of the proposed modifications were posted in all dormitories and libraries, and delivered to class members with mobility challenges. The court held that the proposed modifications were justified because an architectural survey revealed that almost every facility would need to be at least partially updated but the 2016 consent decree anticipated that only up to half of ADOC facilities would need to be remediated to achieve compliance with the ADA. The court appointed a magistrate judge to serve as an arbitrator for disputes arising out of the Phase 1 consent decree and Phase 2A ADA Consent decree on July 7, 2020.
On May 29, 2020, Judge Thompson ordered that, with regards to Phase 2A’s inpatient treatment remediation, ADOC was required to submit the following to the court: (1) a plan to ensure the creation of more and adequate inpatient treatment beds; (2) a plan to ensure the creation of more and adequate treatment space; (3) a plan to make all SU cells suicide-resistant; and (4) a plan to manage high temperature for patentients on psychotropic medication. The court agreed with the plaintiffs that a monitoring scheme would be necessary to ensure compliance with the remedies ordered by the court, but reserved resolution for a later date.
After reviewing ADOC’s quarterly staffing report, the court ordered on June 8, 2020, ADOC to provide a response to the court’s concern that ADOC’s staffing efforts were insufficient to ensure compliance by the February 20, 2022. ADOC’s response highlighted the dual challenges of staving off COVID-19 and reversing a decade of declining correctional staffing. The parties were ordered to conduct mediation on the issue of correctional staffing and file joint or separate briefs by July 27, 2020 detailing how, if any, disputes were resolved and which issues remained for the court to address. Extensions to the deadline were granted until September 2020. Ultimately, this deadline was extended by the 2021 omnibus order, detailed below.
On July 27, 2020, one of the class members committed suicide after being segreated for 796 days. The class member was the seventh person (and sixth Black person) to die by suicide in ADOC custody since the court issued its remedial opinion regardingsuicide prevention in May 2019. Plaintiffs once again emphasized the lack of mental health care and out-of-cell time granted to class members incarcerated in segregation and segregation-like facilities in their notice informing the court of the member’s suicide.
The court issued an opinion on monitoring Phase 2A on September 2, 2020, finding that such a scheme was necessary because of the ADOC’s pattern of failure to implement improvements to mental health care over the course of several years. The court divided the monitoring scheme into three phases: (1) assessment and monitoring of ADOC’s compliance with court’s remedial orders by an external monitoring team (EMT); (2) the EMT, as part of its monitoring, training the ADOC how to monitor itself via an internal monitoring team (IMT); and (3) the ADOC monitoring itself through the IMT with the EMT available for consultation. The shift from phase one to phrase two was to occur automatically after one year.
The ADOC attempted to end some injunctive relief by arguing that §3626(a)(1)(A) required that the court find both a “current and ongoing violation” of federal law and that the relief at issue meets the need-narrowness-intrusiveness test as to the ongoing violation. On September 14, 2020, the court held that the defendants’ position conflated the requirements under (a)(1)(A) and (b)(3). The former, which governed entry of injunctive relief, required meeting the need-narrowness-intrusiveness standard. The latter, which covered termination, was the only of the two provisions which included the language regarding an ongoing violation of a constitutional right. Therefore, the court concluded that, absent a proper motion for termination, there was no need to find an ongoing constitutional violation in order to maintain injunctive relief.
Following this decision, the ADOC filed a proper motion to terminate. The court observed that the motion covered fifteen different remedial orders. Of those, the court found that thirteen pertained to the defendants’ failure to comply with prior orders. Additionally, one of the remaining two orders required the defendants to maintain a designation system for persons with serious mental illnesses in the prison system. The court did not rule on these fourteen provisions on September 23, and its language suggested reluctance to even consider termination. The ADOC ultimately withdrew its motion to terminate those fourteen orders on October 5. As to the fifteenth “order,” the court found that this was merely a private settlement agreement that did not involve the possibility of court enforcement; thus, it was not something the court could consider for termination.
The ADOC also sought dismissal of 15 suicide-prevention stipulations that were originally entered without the “need-narrowness-instrusiveness” findings required by the PRLA. The court decided on September 23, 2020 that the suicide-prevention stipulations were never subject to court enforcement and therefore were not terminable.
On October 29, 2020, the Court terminated several provisions pursuant to the parties’ joint statement of remedial stipulations. Terminated provisions fell under staffing, segregation, mental health coding, mental health referral, treatment planning, confidentiality, disciplinary, and level of care orders. All of the provisions under the stopgap remedial orders were terminated.
On April 6, 2021, the plaintiffs filed an updated notice stating that three individuals imprisoned in the ADOC committed suicide in the preceding four months. This brought the number of individuals who had committed suicide in ADOC custody since the Phase 2A liability opinion was issued in 2017 to twenty-seven.
The court issued the Phase 2A omnibus remedial opinion on December 27, 2021. The opinion was broken up into three parts: Part I addressed the history of the litigation and the legal standards governing the court’s provision of relief; Part II addressed the ways in which conditions in ADOC facilities had changed since the 2017 liability opinion; and Part III broke the order down into fifteen overarching sections, with each section reviewing each parties’ proposal, the court’s determination, and discussion of how the court’s determination met the requirements of the PRLA. Throughout the opinion, the court balanced the need to protect imprisoned individuals with realistic guidelines and timelines for the ADOC. For instance, the remedial orders regarding correctional staffing that were originally required to be implemented by February 20, 2022 were extended until July 1, 2025, with requirements that the ADOC propose realistic benchmarks annually to keep the court updated on progress.
On January 14, 2022, the court ordered that, based on representations made during the status conference on January 7, 2022, it would take no further action on the Phase 2A ADA aspects of the case. The court noted that the parties would retain the option of resorting to the ADA consent decree dispute resolution process when necessary. In order to prevent the ADA aspects of the case from falling through the cracks, the court scheduled tri-annual status conferences through February 7, 2025 to be heard in tandem with the Phase 2A Eighth Amendment claim conferences.
The ADOC sought to stay the implementation of the Phase 2A omnibus remedial opinion and order issued on December 27, 2021 for the duration of their interlocutory appeal and contended that the court had erred by entering relief on a systemwide basis. On February 14, 2022, the court ordered that, given the ADOC’s history of systemic and failure to appeal prior findings of systemic violations, systemwide relief remained appropriate. The court granted the motion to stay the components of the Phase 2A omnibus remedial order pertaining to compliance with the “Checklist for the ‘Suicide-Resistant’ Design of Correctional Facilities” in Restrictive Housing Units (RHUs). The court emphasized that it was granting the motion to stay because of ADOC’s need for a reasonable time frame, and that the need for reform in RHUs and other facilities remained “urgent.”
This case is ongoing as of April 21, 2022.
Soojin Cha (7/4/2016)
Susie Choi (3/21/2017)
Kaley Hanenkrat (3/6/2018)
Timothy Leake (6/30/2019)
Elizabeth Helpling (3/12/2020)
Hannah Juge (4/21/2022)
For PACER's information on parties and their attorneys, see: https://www.courtlistener.com/docket/4125874/parties/braggs-v-hamm/
Austin, Ashley Nicole (Alabama)
Barry-Blocker, Jonathan Michael (Alabama)
Baxter, Glenn Nelson (Alabama)
Blocker, Jonathan (Alabama)
Addison, Alyce Robertson (Alabama)
Moorer, Terry Fitzgerald (Alabama)
Thompson, Myron Herbert (Alabama)
See docket on RECAP: https://www.courtlistener.com/docket/4125874/braggs-v-hamm/
Last updated July 11, 2023, 11 p.m.
State / Territory: Alabama
Filing Date: June 17, 2014
Case Ongoing: Yes
Plaintiffs are disabled prisoners in Alabama and the Alabama Disabilities Advocacy Program.
Public Interest Lawyer: Yes
Filed Pro Se: No
Class Action Sought: Yes
Class Action Outcome: Granted
Causes of Action:
Prevailing Party: Plaintiff
Nature of Relief:
Source of Relief:
Form of Settlement:
Amount Defendant Pays: $1,730,000+
Order Duration: 2016 - None
Content of Injunction:
Type of Facility: