On May 27, 2011, twenty persons then confined in the Suffolk County Correctional Facility (SCCF), which consists of the Riverhead Correctional Facility, a medium/maximum security jail, and the Yaphank Correctional Facility, a minimum security jail, filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §1983. The lawsuit was filed pro se as a class action, on behalf of those individuals and all others similarly situated. The plaintiffs sought injunctive relief and compensatory and punitive damages alleging that the conditions of their confinement violated their constitutional rights. Specifically, the plaintiffs alleged unsanitary and hazardous living conditions, including, among other things, chronic exposure to human waste and presence of fungus, mold and other hazardous matters in the shower and housing areas, which caused various ailments to the plaintiffs.
The plaintiffs all sought to proceed in forma pauperis. The plaintiffs filed an Amended Complaint on June 17, 2011, adding additional eight plaintiffs detained in the SCCF. The Court (Judge Joanna Seybert), on June 23, 2011, granted the forma pauperis status, but denied the request to proceed as a class action due to the fact that all of the class representatives were proceeding without counsel.
The plaintiffs filed a motion to join four additional plaintiffs on June 30, 2011. On July 27, 2011, the plaintiffs filed a Supplemental Amended Complaint seeking to add seven additional plaintiffs as Supplemental Plaintiffs. The motion for joinder was granted by the order of the Court (Judge Joanna Seybert) on October 7, 2011, but the Court denied the motion to join Supplemental Plaintiffs. The Court also dismissed four plaintiffs with the same order.
On November 22, 2011, the Court (Judge Joanna Seybert) determined that the appointment of pro bono counsel was appropriate and directed the Court's Pro Se Office to find willing counsel. Afterwards, the Court received a large number of substantially similar complaints from inmates at SCCF, seeking damages, amounting to fifty-nine separate complaints alleging similar violations due to unsanitary conditions. On January 23, 2012, the Court (Judge Joanna Seybert) appointed Shearman & Sterling LLP as pro bono counsel, and ordered consolidation of all existing fifty-nine actions as well as any future complaints of the living conditions at SCCF with Shearman & Sterling's appointment extended to all of the plaintiffs in the newly consolidated action. By April 5, 2012, there were 163 plaintiffs.
On April 5, 2012, the pro bono counsel filed the Consolidated Amended Class Action Complaint, dropping all plaintiffs but for the named six plaintiffs, but seeking to represent the interests of all 163 plaintiffs, as well as other past, present or future persons imprisoned at SCCF, by proceeding as a class action, pursuant to Rule 23 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. The New York Civil Liberties Union joined in the representation. The complaint was filed against Suffolk County, the Sheriff of the Suffolk County and his deputies in their personal and official capacities. The plaintiffs alleged violations of constitutional rights, negligence and ministerial negligence under New York common law. The allegations included, among other things, overcrowding, and unsanitary and hazardous conditions at the jail-- including flawed plumbing that leads to chronic exposure to human waste and contaminated food and drinking water, which caused the prisoners various health issues. The plaintiffs sought injunctive and declaratory relief, compensatory and punitive damages.
On May 16, 2012, the County moved to dismiss the Consolidated Amended Complaint. On May 17, 2012, the plaintiffs filed a motion for class certification. On March 19, 2013, the Court (Judge Joanna Seybert) addressed both motions. The Court granted in part and denied in part the motion to dismiss, dismissing without prejudice claims against the Sheriff and his deputies of personal liability for cruel and inhuman treatment. The Court explained that for such liability to exist, the plaintiffs must demonstrate the defendants' actual knowledge of substantial risk of serious harm, while the complaint pleaded only constructive knowledge. The claim under the theory of supervisory liability against the Sheriff and his deputies was also dismissed, because the complaint was void of any allegations that the defendants made the decisions that allegedly constituted the violations. All other claims survived. The Court granted the plaintiffs' motion for class certification, creating two classes, injunctive and damages, constituted of all persons who are at present time or will at any time in the future be detained at SCCF, with separate subclasses for those persons detained at Riverhead and Yaphank, with the named plaintiffs ordered to be the class representatives. The counsel of the named plaintiffs was ordered to be appointed class counsel.
The case is still ongoing as of March 29, 2014.Zhandos Kuderin - 03/29/2014