On September 30, 2009, following a two year investigation, the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court of the Western District of New York under the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act of 1980 (CRIPA), 42 U.S.C. § 1997 against Erie County. The DOJ asked the court for declaratory and injunctive relief, claiming that confinement conditions at Erie County Holding Center (ECHC) and the Erie County Correction Facility (ECCF) violated the federal constitutional rights of inmates incarcerated there. The complaint and the attached findings letter detailed the defendants' alleged failures in the areas of protection from harm, environmental safety, medical care, mental health care, and suicide prevention.
On March 6, 2010, the Court (Judge William M. Skretny) ordered expedited discovery related to suicide prevention and mental health treatment protocols at ECHC. United States v. Erie Cnty., NY, 09-CV-849S, 2010 WL 986505 (W.D.N.Y. Mar. 17, 2010). On March 19, 2010, the Court granted additional motions to expedite discovery, granted in part and denied in part the plaintiff's motion to compel, and granted in part and denied in part the defendants' motion for a protective order. United States v. Erie Cnty., NY, 09-CV-849S, 2010 WL 1038650 (W.D.N.Y. Mar. 19, 2010).
On June 22, 2010, the Court approved the parties' stipulated settlement agreement concerning suicide prevention and related mental health issues. As part of this stipulation, the parties agreed to select a "Joint Compliance Officer," or "JCO," with relevant experience in the field of corrections, mental health care, suicide prevention, or medical care, to file with the court and provide the parties with reports describing the steps taken by the defendants to implement this settlement, and to evaluate the extent to which the defendants were in compliance with each substantive provision of the settlement. These reports were to be issued every four months, after a two week comment period afforded to the parties.
On July 9, 2010, the Court denied the defendants' motion to dismiss, holding that CRIPA was not unconstitutional as applied to the defendants. However, despite technical compliance, the original complaint violated the spirit underlying Rules 8 and 10 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Consequently, the Court ordered the DOJ to file an amended complaint within 14 days. United States v. Erie Cnty., NY, 724 F. Supp. 2d 357 (W.D.N.Y. 2010). On July 23, 2010, the DOJ filed an amended complaint.
On August 25. 2011, the Court ordered a stipulated dismissal of the action agreed upon by the parties. This second Stipulated Order of Dismissal resolved the remaining protection from harm, provision of medical and mental health treatment, and environmental health and safety claims. This stipulation recognized that, without any admission of liability on their part, the defendants would continue developing and implementing policies, practices, and procedures to address concerns at ECHS and ECCF. The Stipulated Order stated general goals with respect to each of the areas of concern raised, as well as more specific actions for achieving these goals, such as procedure development, additional training and staffing, and enhanced record keeping.
On June 21, 2012, the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) moved for leave to intervene and to unseal the the previously filed compliance reports and vacate the standing order permitting future sealed filings. The Court denied the motion to unseal the records and vacate the standing order on August 30, 2013 and terminated NYLCU from the case. United States v. Erie Cnty., N.Y., 09-CV-849S, 2013 WL 4679070 (W.D.N.Y. Aug. 30, 2013). NYCLU appealed this decision to the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, docket number 13-3653, and the appeal is ongoing as of April 12, 2014. Jessica Kincaid - 04/12/2014