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Case Name Briggs v. Mass. Dept. of Corrections PC-MA-0046
Docket / Court 1:15-cv-40162 ( D. Mass. )
State/Territory Massachusetts
Case Type(s) Disability Rights-Pub. Accom.
Prison Conditions
Attorney Organization Prisoners' Legal Services of Massachusetts
Washington Lawyers' Committee
Case Summary
On November 24, 2015, several inmates with hearing disabilities filed this class action in the District Court for the District of Massachusetts. The plaintiffs sued the Massachusetts Department of Correction and the Massachusetts Partnership for Correctional Healthcare under the Americans with ... read more >
On November 24, 2015, several inmates with hearing disabilities filed this class action in the District Court for the District of Massachusetts. The plaintiffs sued the Massachusetts Department of Correction and the Massachusetts Partnership for Correctional Healthcare under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Rehabilitation Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for violations of the First and Fourteenth Amendment rights, and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA). Represented by a combination of Prisoners' Legal Services, Washington Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights & Urban Affairs, and private counsel, the plaintiffs sought declaratory and injunctive relief on behalf of themselves and other similarly situated persons. They claimed that the Massachusetts Department of Correction failed to provide interpreters, appropriate assistive technology, and accommodations to deaf and hard of hearing prisoners over the course of nearly a decade.

Specifically, the plaintiffs claimed that the defendants denied them reasonable accommodation under the ADA. They alleged that they were denied technology such as teletypewriters and videophones that would make communicating with family possible. One named plaintiff alleged that because of the denial of assistive technology, she had not spoken to her family in several years. The plaintiffs also alleged that the lack of interpreters and accessible materials prevented them from engaging in programs that would allow them to earn good time. The denial of accommodations meant that the plaintiffs did not have meaningful access to healthcare, allegedly waiting nearly two years for hearing aid replacements and not being able to communicate with doctors.

On March 4, 2016, the plaintiffs filed a motion for a class certification. The court denied the motion without prejudice on June 29, 2016 as premature. The defendants subsequently filed a motion to dismiss Counts I and II of the complaint on January 26, 2017. The court assigned the case to Magistrate Judith G. Dein for discovery. After over a year of discovery and its related disputes, as well as multiple status conferences before the Magistrate, the parties began the negotiation process. The judge granted a stay in proceedings until parties completed Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) mediation. On March 30, 2018, the court denied the defendant's motion to dismiss, holding that it could not dismiss the plaintiffs' claims without a more developed factual record. On June 27, 2018, the plaintiffs stipulated dismissal as to the Massachusetts Partnership for Correctional Healthcare.

The plaintiffs continued to engage with the defendants in mediation proceedings until May 28, 2019 when the parties filed for preliminary approval of a class settlement. The proposed settlement established intake procedures to identify and provide the appropriate reasonable accommodations for people with hearing disabilities. The settlement emphasized that the individual's request as to what accommodation would suit him or her should weigh heavily in the Department's decision on the accommodation it would provide. It also agreed to provide qualified sign language interpreters so that individuals would enjoy meaningful access to the programs inside the prisons. The settlement's provisions on telecommunication provided that each facility would provide access to at least one of each type of technological service—Video Relay Services (VRI), captioned telephones, teletypewriters (TTY)—as well as sound amplification devices. Moreover, individuals would not be charged for use of their accommodations and would also be given extra time, considering the delays in communication that are inherent in these services. In addition to alternative means of notification, like vibrating watches and other tactile services, the settlement provided for training for prison administrators to be able to communicate more effectively with individuals with hearing disabilities.

The parties agreed to third-party monitoring during the enforcement period of the settlement, with three visits per year, and auditing. However, the monitor would only provide his or her reports to the parties. Final approval of the settlement would not enter a consent decree in the case. Instead, the plaintiffs would have to provide notice to the defendant DOC if they believed the prisons were in substantial non-compliance with the agreement, and meet and confer out-of-court if the plaintiffs are not satisfied with the defendant's justification. The court remained a last resort under the agreement to invoke its "equitable" authority to provide or deny relief to the plaintiffs. The parties agreed to negotiate reasonable plaintiffs attorneys' fees and the settlement will remain in effect for three years from the time of the court's final approval. In addition, the parties held final fairness hearings in late September and early October.
The case is ongoing.

Raul Noguera-McElroy - 02/08/2019
Chelsea Rinnig - 08/09/2020

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Issues and Causes of Action
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Constitutional Clause
Equal Protection
Content of Injunction
Provide antidiscrimination training
Reasonable Accommodation
Hearing impairment
Accommodation / Leave
Disability (inc. reasonable accommodations)
Access to public accommodations - governmental
Communication skills
Effective Communication (ADA)
Individualized planning
Reasonable Accommodations
Reasonable Modifications
Screen readers and similar accessibility devices
TTY/Close Captioning/Videophone/etc.
Plaintiff Type
Private Plaintiff
Special Case Type
Non-court arbitration/mediation
Type of Facility
Causes of Action 42 U.S.C. § 1983
Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), 42 U.S.C. §§ 12111 et seq.
Religious Freedom Rest. Act/Religious Land Use and Inst. Persons Act (RFRA/RLUIPA)
Section 504 (Rehabilitation Act), 29 U.S.C. § 701
Defendant(s) Commissioner
Massachusetts Partner for Correctional Healthcare
Plaintiff Description Deaf or hard of hearing prisoners in the Massachusetts Department of Corrections.
Indexed Lawyer Organizations Prisoners' Legal Services of Massachusetts
Washington Lawyers' Committee
Class action status sought Yes
Class action status outcome Pending
Filed Pro Se No
Prevailing Party Plaintiff
Public Int. Lawyer Yes
Nature of Relief Injunction / Injunctive-like Settlement
Source of Relief Settlement
Form of Settlement Court Approved Settlement or Consent Decree
Order Duration 2019 - n/a
Filed 11/24/2015
Case Ongoing Yes
Additional Resources
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Court Docket(s)
D. Mass.
PC-MA-0046-9000.pdf | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
General Documents
D. Mass.
Complaint [ECF# 1]
PC-MA-0046-0001.pdf | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
D. Mass.
Order Denying Motion to Certify Class [ECF# 42]
PC-MA-0046-0002.pdf | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
D. Mass.
Settlement Agreement [ECF# 199-2]
PC-MA-0046-0004.pdf | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
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Judges Dein, Judith Gail (D. Mass.) [Magistrate] show/hide docs
O'Toole, George A. Jr. (D. Mass.) show/hide docs
PC-MA-0046-0002 | PC-MA-0046-9000
Plaintiff's Lawyers Durkin, William J. (Massachusetts) show/hide docs
Fornaci, Phillip Jerome (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
PC-MA-0046-0004 | PC-MA-0046-9000
Gargiulo, Rachel L. (Massachusetts) show/hide docs
Golden, Deborah Maxine (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
PC-MA-0046-0001 | PC-MA-0046-9000
Keider, Jocelyn M. (Massachusetts) show/hide docs
Kosan, Lindsay (Massachusetts) show/hide docs
Lavin, Alexandra B. (Massachusetts) show/hide docs
Lewis, Jessica L. (Massachusetts) show/hide docs
Mackey, Katherine V. (Massachusetts) show/hide docs
Matos, Elizabeth D. (Massachusetts) show/hide docs
PC-MA-0046-0001 | PC-MA-0046-9000
Mincberg, Elliot M. (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
Moskowitz, Seth (Massachusetts) show/hide docs
Pingeon, James R. (Massachusetts) show/hide docs
Pirozzolo, Lisa J. (Massachusetts) show/hide docs
PC-MA-0046-0001 | PC-MA-0046-0004 | PC-MA-0046-9000
Porter, Alathea E. (Massachusetts) show/hide docs
PC-MA-0046-0001 | PC-MA-0046-9000
Pritchard, Tatum A. (Massachusetts) show/hide docs
PC-MA-0046-0001 | PC-MA-0046-0004 | PC-MA-0046-9000
Defendant's Lawyers D'Angelo, Dennis N (Massachusetts) show/hide docs
DiGangi, Thomas Vincent (Massachusetts) show/hide docs
Dray−Siegel, Anna Rachel (Massachusetts) show/hide docs
PC-MA-0046-0004 | PC-MA-0046-9000
Hanson, Kirk G. (Massachusetts) show/hide docs
PC-MA-0046-0004 | PC-MA-0046-9000
Pomarole, Timothy M. (Massachusetts) show/hide docs

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