Case: Minich v. Spencer

14-cv-00448 | Massachusetts state trial court

Filed Date: March 31, 2014

Case Ongoing

Clearinghouse coding complete

Case Summary

This entry includes two cases called Minich v. Spencer. The parties and the claims are almost identical. But the cases were filed at different times in different counties and sought different kinds of relief. 2014 Norfolk County Suit for Injunctive Relief On March 31, 2014, three individuals held at Bridgewater State Hospital filed this putative class action lawsuit in the Superior Court of Massachusetts, Norfolk County. The plaintiffs sued the Commissioners of the Massachusetts Department of C…

This entry includes two cases called Minich v. Spencer. The parties and the claims are almost identical. But the cases were filed at different times in different counties and sought different kinds of relief.

2014 Norfolk County Suit for Injunctive Relief

On March 31, 2014, three individuals held at Bridgewater State Hospital filed this putative class action lawsuit in the Superior Court of Massachusetts, Norfolk County. The plaintiffs sued the Commissioners of the Massachusetts Department of Correction and the Massachusetts Department of Mental Health, the Superintendent of Bridgewater, the Massachusetts Partnership for Correctional Healthcare, LLC, and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and state law. Represented by Prisoners’ Legal Services, the Mental Health Legal Advisors Committee, and private counsel, the plaintiffs sought injunctive relief against the widespread use of restraints and seclusion against patients by Bridgewater staff. The plaintiffs claimed that Bridgewater’s restraint and seclusion of patients in non-emergency situations and without supervision by doctors violated state law, their right to adequate medical care under the U.S. Constitution, and the terms of a settlement Bridgewater had entered into to resolve O’Sullivan v. Secretary of Human Services, a similar case from the 1980s.

Bridgewater State Hospital provides care and treatment to civilly committed individuals suffering from mental illness and prisoners who develop mental illnesses while serving sentences in Massachusetts prisons. For many years, it has attracted criticism for treating patients inhumanely. In 1967, Frederick Wiseman released “Titicut Follies,” a film that exposed cruelty and indifference towards patients by Bridgewater staff. (Shortly after the film’s release, Massachusetts obtained a court order to stop the public from seeing it; another judge eventually allowed the public to see the film in 1991.) Two decades later, a lawsuit resulted in a preliminary injunction and settlement restricting Bridgewater’s use of seclusion and restraints to control patients. See O’Sullivan v. Secretary of Human Services, 521 N.E.2d 997 (1988). And in 2009, a patient died as he was being restrained by six security guards with little medical training. The resulting death was ruled a homicide, and the state and its contractors paid $3 million to settle the resulting lawsuit.

In this case, the litigation proceeded differently for the different named plaintiffs. One plaintiff, who claimed he had been chained to his bed in an isolated cell for much of the past year, reached an interim settlement agreement with the defendants on April 18, 2014. The Boston Globe reported that Bridgewater agreed to move that individual plaintiff from the Intensive Treatment Unit, where isolation was common, to the infirmary; the defendants also agreed to only use seclusion and restraints against him as a last resort.

Another plaintiff moved for a preliminary injunction. Justice Paul D. Wilson issued a preliminary injunction on July 2, 2014. Justice Wilson found that the plaintiffs’ state-law claims were likely to succeed and that no compelling reasons of public policy supported Bridgewater’s restraint and seclusion practices. The third plaintiff was not protected by the preliminary injunction, possibly because he had already been transferred from Bridgewater by the time the injunction issued. 2014 WL 3816980.

After the court granted the plaintiffs’ motion for a preliminary injunction, the defendants moved to dismiss the case, and the plaintiffs unsuccessfully asked the court to expand the injunction and review the adequacy of the treatment Bridgewater was providing to the individual plaintiff protected by the injunction. The parties also engaged in settlement negotiations. The parties proposed a settlement on December 19, 2014. Justice Wilson preliminarily approved the settlement on December 30 and approved a final version of the settlement on March 9, 2015.

The settlement provided for class certification of a class of patients committed to Bridgewater. It also required Bridgewater to limit its use of seclusion and restraint, provide basic hygiene to secluded patients, permit secluded patients to receive visitors, prepare plans to help patients subjected to seclusion or restraint for extended periods, and comply with various training, reporting, and monitoring requirements. The plaintiffs also received $31,000 in attorney’s fees. The court retained jurisdiction to enforce the settlement. Little docket activity took place during the next two years. But in early 2017, the plaintiffs accused the defendants of failing to abide by the settlement agreement. The defendants disagreed, and the court issued an order to resolve the dispute on May 8, 2017. The Clearinghouse is unaware of the order’s contents, but the parties moved to dismiss the case with prejudice on July 26, 2017. The court approved the dismissal on October 26, 2017. As of October 2019, there has not been any further activity on the docket, but the Clearinghouse does not know if the case is closed.

2015 Suffolk County Suit for Damages and Declaratory Relief

On January 29, 2015, around the time when the parties were finalizing the settlement in the 2014 case, the plaintiffs filed another lawsuit against the defendants (except the Commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Mental Health) in the Superior Court of Massachusetts, Suffolk County. They also added the Massachusetts Department of Correction and various medical professionals and contractors as defendants and again sued under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and state law. But this time, they sought compensatory and punitive damages and declaratory relief. They also alleged additional facts about Bridgewater, including findings by the State Disabled Persons Protection Protection Commission that the plaintiffs had been abused, three additional deaths linked to restraints, and misconduct by the Commissioner of Corrections, who the Governor had reprimanded for covering up a 2009 death and later fired for mishandling another case where a guard assaulted a patient.

At the parties’ request, the court assigned Justice Paul D. Wilson to the case. The defendants moved to dismiss, and the plaintiffs filed an amended complaint adding claims under the Americans with Disabilities Act and § 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. Justice Wilson issued orders of dismissal nisi (used when a plaintiff fails to act on a defendant’s default) against the defendants (other than the Warden and Commissioner), which led to stipulated dismissals of the claims against the medical professionals and the Massachusetts Partnership for Correctional Healthcare on October 30, 2015. Later filings say the plaintiffs “have settled with the remaining defendants,” apparently in reference to these defendants, so it is possible that the dismissals took place pursuant to a settlement agreement.

On May 17, 2016, Justice Wilson issued an order that largely denied the defendants’ motion to dismiss. He found that the plaintiffs had pled a plausible theory of supervisory liability for constitutional violations to support their § 1983 claim. He also found that the plaintiffs had a private right of action under state law regulating the use of restraints under G.L.c. 123, § 21. Finally, he noted that the settlement agreement from the 2014 suit did not forbid subsequent suits for money damages or foreclose litigation about what counts as a “restraint” under state law. However, he found that sovereign immunity barred the plaintiffs’ state-law claims against the state and its agencies but allowed the suit against the Warden and Commissioner to proceed. And the court dismissed the ADA and Rehabilitation Acts against the Warden and Commissioner (but not the state and its agencies).

The plaintiffs then moved to amend their complaint to add class action allegations. Justice Wilson granted the motion on October 7, 2016. While noting that the deadline for amendments had long since passed, Justice Wilson reasoned that the litigation was still in its early stages and that the delay was caused by a combination of logistical difficulties (Justice Wilson had to move between courts to hear the case) and the motion to dismiss. The plaintiffs filed a second amended complaint on October 14. They sought certification of a class of individuals confined in Bridgewater who spent more than 60 hours in seclusion or 15 hours in restraints during any consecutive 30 day period.

The parties engaged in discovery over the next two years. However, the amount of litigation activity declined during this period. On July 9, 2018, Justice Wilson told the plaintiffs to “resolve or move forward” the “elderly” case. Still, very little took place over the next year. The case is ongoing as of October 2019.

Summary Authors

Timothy Leake (10/16/2019)

People


Judge(s)

Wilson, Paul D. (Massachusetts)

Attorneys(s) for Plaintiff

Delinsky, Stephen R. (Massachusetts)

Garand, Melissa J. (Massachusetts)

Honig, Jennifer (Massachusetts)

Kassel, Phillip J (Massachusetts)

Kassel [inactive], Phillip (Massachusetts)

MacLeish, Roderick Jr. (Massachusetts)

Pingeon, James R. (Massachusetts)

Pritchard, Tatum A. (Massachusetts)

Simoneau, Blakely E. (New York)

Judge(s)

Wilson, Paul D. (Massachusetts)

Attorneys(s) for Plaintiff

Delinsky, Stephen R. (Massachusetts)

Garand, Melissa J. (Massachusetts)

Honig, Jennifer (Massachusetts)

Kassel, Phillip J (Massachusetts)

Kassel [inactive], Phillip (Massachusetts)

MacLeish, Roderick Jr. (Massachusetts)

Pingeon, James R. (Massachusetts)

Pritchard, Tatum A. (Massachusetts)

Simoneau, Blakely E. (New York)

Turner, Seth C. (Massachusetts)

Weltman, Jeremy Y (Massachusetts)

Attorneys(s) for Defendant

Benedon, Carrie M. (Massachusetts)

Cohen, Michael H. (Massachusetts)

Garand [inactive], Melissa (Massachusetts)

Hornstine, Adam (Massachusetts)

Jacobson, Joshua D. (Massachusetts)

Koufman, Victor (Massachusetts)

Lee, Kenneth Y (Massachusetts)

McLaughlin, Anne M (Massachusetts)

Documents in the Clearinghouse

Document

14-cv-00448

Docket

Oct. 26, 2017

Oct. 26, 2017

Docket

1584CV00278

Docket

July 21, 2019

July 21, 2019

Docket

14-cv-00448

Memorandum of Decision and Order on Plaintiff John Doe's Motion for Preliminary Injunction

2014 WL 3816980

July 2, 2014

July 2, 2014

Order/Opinion

14-cv-00448

Settlement Agreement

Dec. 15, 2014

Dec. 15, 2014

Settlement Agreement

1584CV00278

Memorandum of Decision and Order on Defendants' Motion to Dismiss

2016 WL 3479000

May 17, 2016

May 17, 2016

Order/Opinion

1584CV00278

Memorandum of Decision and Order on Plaintiffs' Motion for Leave to Amend Their Complaint

2016 WL 11395254

Oct. 7, 2016

Oct. 7, 2016

Order/Opinion

1584CV00278

Second Amended Complaint (with Class Action Allegations)

2016 WL 11396635

Oct. 14, 2016

Oct. 14, 2016

Complaint

Resources

Docket

Last updated Aug. 18, 2022, 3:03 a.m.

Docket sheet not available via the Clearinghouse.

Case Details

State / Territory: Massachusetts

Case Type(s):

Prison Conditions

Key Dates

Filing Date: March 31, 2014

Case Ongoing: Yes

Plaintiffs

Plaintiff Description:

Three individuals confined at Bridgewater State Hospital, a Massachusetts facility for patients with mental illnesses.

Plaintiff Type(s):

Private Plaintiff

Public Interest Lawyer: Yes

Filed Pro Se: No

Class Action Sought: Yes

Class Action Outcome: Granted

Defendants

Superintendent of the Bridgewater State Hospital (Bridgewater, Plymouth), State

Commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Correction (Milford, Worcester), State

Massachusetts Partnership for Correctional Healthcare (Westborough, Worcester), Private Entity/Person

MHM Services, Inc. (Vienna), Private Entity/Person

Massachusetts Department of Correction (Milford, Worcester), State

Commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Mental Health (Boston, Suffolk), State

Defendant Type(s):

Corrections

Case Details

Causes of Action:

42 U.S.C. § 1983

Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), 42 U.S.C. §§ 12111 et seq.

Section 504 (Rehabilitation Act), 29 U.S.C. § 701

State law

Constitutional Clause(s):

Due Process

Availably Documents:

Trial Court Docket

Complaint (any)

Injunctive (or Injunctive-like) Relief

Outcome

Prevailing Party: Plaintiff

Nature of Relief:

Injunction / Injunctive-like Settlement

Attorneys fees

Preliminary injunction / Temp. restraining order

Source of Relief:

Settlement

Litigation

Form of Settlement:

Court Approved Settlement or Consent Decree

Order Duration: 2015 - None

Content of Injunction:

Discrimination Prohibition

Monitor/Master

Monitoring

Preliminary relief granted

Issues

General:

Administrative segregation

Classification / placement

Conditions of confinement

Disciplinary procedures

Disciplinary segregation

Food service / nutrition / hydration

Restraints : physical

Sanitation / living conditions

Visiting

Discrimination-basis:

Disability (inc. reasonable accommodations)

Disability:

Mental impairment

Medical/Mental Health:

Intellectual/Developmental Disability

Intellectual disability/mental illness dual diagnosis

Mental health care, general

Type of Facility:

Government-run