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Case Name Disability Rights Network of Pennsylvania v. Wetzel PC-PA-0031
Docket / Court 1:13-cv-00635-JEJ ( M.D. Pa. )
State/Territory Pennsylvania
Case Type(s) Prison Conditions
Special Collection Post-PLRA Jail and Prison Private Settlement Agreements
Solitary confinement
Attorney Organization ACLU Chapters (any)
NDRN/Protection & Advocacy Organizations
Case Summary
On March 11, 2013, the Disability Rights Network (DRN), a Pennsylvania non-profit, filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania against the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (PDOC). ... read more >
On March 11, 2013, the Disability Rights Network (DRN), a Pennsylvania non-profit, filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania against the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (PDOC). DRN alleged that the PDOC violated the Eighth Amendment's prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment in its use of solitary confinement "Restrictive Housing Units" (RHUs). There are no prisoner plaintiffs, and the case is not a class action; DRN has been designated by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania as an entity that can advocate for and protect the rights of Pennsylvanians with mental illness, pursuant to the Protection and Advocacy for Individuals with Mental Illness Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 10801-07.

According to the complaint, the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections violated the rights of prisoners with severe mental illness by creating a cycle of solitary confinement and mental deterioration through the use of RHUs. DRN alleged that the PDOC regularly disciplined mentally ill prisoners for behavior symptomatic of their mental illnesses, and failed to take account of the role of mental illness in their behavior and the particularly detrimental effect of solitary confinement on the mentally ill, whose conditions worsened when deprived of human contact and adequate treatment. DRN further alleged that the PDOC did not maintain adequate therapeutic alternatives to RHUs for the number of mentally ill prisoners in the system and that PDOC nevertheless underutilized the treatment facilities it had by placing mentally ill prisoners in solitary confinement, even when there were significant numbers of beds available in appropriate treatment programs.

On January 5, 2015, the parties executed a Settlement Agreement providing for the dismissal of the matter without prejudice and retention of limited jurisdiction by the Court to enforce the agreement. In accordance with the parties' wishes, the Court dismissed the matter on January 15, 2015. Under the terms of the agreement, the PDOC neither admitted nor conceded any liability, wrongdoing, or violation of law, but agreed to continue with the implementation of specified improvements to its policies, practices, and facilities, under the supervisions of DRN. In particular, under the settlement, the PDOC will evaluate all incoming prisoners for serious mental illness, including schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and major depressive disorder, and will place prisoners with serious mental illness in the RHUs only in "exceptional" circumstances; even then, a prisoner with serious mental illness can be kept in solitary confinement for no longer than 30 days and must be allowed out of their cells for 20 hours per week. The settlement provided for a monitor to report on compliance.

The PDOC also agreed to pay DRN $750,000, in full satisfaction of all existing claims, fees, and costs. On May 5, 2015 the parties jointly filed an addendum to the settlement agreement. As of June 3, 2015 the case is ongoing: the settlement agreement provided that it would remain in effect for 3 years (less if the defendant could demonstrate substantial compliance for a period of 18 months). If the plaintiffs feel during that three years that the defendant is in noncompliance, the settlement specifies a procedure to follow, which could lead to an order of specific performance if the court agrees.

Kenneth Gray - 07/23/2013
Robert Lake - 06/05/2015


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Issues and Causes of Action
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Issues
Constitutional Clause
Cruel and Unusual Punishment
Content of Injunction
Implement complaint/dispute resolution process
Monitor/Master
Monitoring
Reporting
Defendant-type
Corrections
Jurisdiction-wide
Disability
Mental impairment
General
Administrative segregation
Conditions of confinement
Disciplinary procedures
Disciplinary segregation
Restraints : physical
Solitary confinement/Supermax (conditions or process)
Medical/Mental Health
Mental health care, general
Self-injurious behaviors
Suicide prevention
Plaintiff Type
Private Plaintiff
Type of Facility
Government-run
Causes of Action Protection and Advocacy for Individuals with Mental Illness (PAIMI) Act, 42 U.S.C. § 10801
42 U.S.C. § 1983
Defendant(s) Pennsylvania Department of Corrections
Plaintiff Description The Disability Rights Network (DRN), a Pennsylvania non-profit designated by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 10801-07 as an entity that can advocate for and protect the rights of Pennsylvanians with mental illness.
Indexed Lawyer Organizations ACLU Chapters (any)
NDRN/Protection & Advocacy Organizations
Class action status sought No
Class action status granted No
Prevailing Party Plaintiff
Public Int. Lawyer Yes
Nature of Relief Attorneys fees
Injunction / Injunctive-like Settlement
Source of Relief Settlement
Form of Settlement Private Settlement Agreement
Order Duration 2015 - 2018
Case Closing Year n/a
Case Ongoing Yes
Additional Resources
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Case Studies Civil Rights Injunctions Over Time: A Case Study of Jail and Prison Court Orders
N.Y.U. Law Review
By: Margo Schlanger (Washington University)
Citation: 81 N.Y.U. L. Rev. 550 (2006)
[ Detail ] [ PDF ] [ External Link ]

  Judicial Policy Making and the Modern State: How the Courts Reformed America's Prisons
By: Malcolm M. Feeley & Edward Rubin (UC Berkeley Boalt Hall School of Law & Vanderbilt School of Law Faculty)
Citation: (1998)
[ Detail ]

Docket(s)
1:13-cv-635 (M.D. Pa.) 05/05/2015
PC-PA-0031-9000.pdf | Detail
PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
General Documents
Complaint 03/11/2013
PC-PA-0031-0001.pdf | Detail
Document Source:
PA DOC Sued on Behalf of Prisoners with Serious Mental Illness Held in Solitary Confinement 03/11/2013
PC-PA-0031-0002.pdf | Detail
Document Source:
Settlement Agreement and General Release 01/09/2015
PC-PA-0031-0003.pdf | Detail
Document Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Order Dismissing Case 01/15/2015 (M.D. Pa.)
PC-PA-0031-0004.pdf | Detail
Document Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Addendum to Settlement Agreement 05/05/2015
PC-PA-0031-0005.pdf | Detail
Document Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Judges Jones, John E. III (M.D. Pa.)
PC-PA-0031-0004 | PC-PA-0031-9000
Schwab, Susan (M.D. Pa.) [Magistrate]
PC-PA-0031-9000
Monitors/Masters None on record
Plaintiff's Lawyers Bonthuis, Mari Esq. (New York)
PC-PA-0031-0001 | PC-PA-0031-0003 | PC-PA-0031-9000
Darr, Kelly L. (Pennsylvania)
PC-PA-0031-0001 | PC-PA-0031-0003 | PC-PA-0031-9000
Formichelli, Michael (New York)
PC-PA-0031-0003 | PC-PA-0031-9000
Hellerman, Eric (New York)
PC-PA-0031-0001 | PC-PA-0031-0003 | PC-PA-0031-9000
Kornblau, David L. Esq. (New York)
PC-PA-0031-0001 | PC-PA-0031-0003 | PC-PA-0031-9000
Love, Angus R. (Pennsylvania)
PC-PA-0031-0001 | PC-PA-0031-0003 | PC-PA-0031-9000
Meek, Robert W. (Pennsylvania)
PC-PA-0031-0001 | PC-PA-0031-0003 | PC-PA-0031-0005 | PC-PA-0031-9000
Roper, Mary Catherine (Pennsylvania)
PC-PA-0031-0001 | PC-PA-0031-9000
Rudovsky, David (Pennsylvania)
PC-PA-0031-0001 | PC-PA-0031-0003 | PC-PA-0031-9000
Skakalski, Jeffrey M. Esq (Pennsylvania)
PC-PA-0031-0001 | PC-PA-0031-0003 | PC-PA-0031-9000
Walczak, Witold J. (Pennsylvania)
PC-PA-0031-0001 | PC-PA-0031-0003 | PC-PA-0031-9000
Yeh, Su Ming (Pennsylvania)
PC-PA-0031-0001 | PC-PA-0031-0003
Defendant's Lawyers Fulginiti, Joseph (Pennsylvania)
PC-PA-0031-0003 | PC-PA-0031-9000
Gates, Timothy (Pennsylvania)
PC-PA-0031-0003 | PC-PA-0031-9000
Kramer, Barry N. (Pennsylvania)
PC-PA-0031-0003 | PC-PA-0031-9000
Lewis, Maryanne (Pennsylvania)
PC-PA-0031-0003 | PC-PA-0031-0005 | PC-PA-0031-9000
Perez, Theron (Pennsylvania)
PC-PA-0031-0003
Other Lawyers None on record

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