On June 22, 2009, a group of civilly committed residents of the Missouri Department of Mental Health's ("DMH") Sex Offender Rehabilitation and Treatment Services ("SORTS") facilities filed this class action lawsuit pro se
in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri. The plaintiffs sued the DMH and the Missouri Department of Corrections under 42 U.S.C. § 1983.
Each of the plaintiffs had previously been found guilty of a sexually violent crime and have also been declared a sexually violent predator ("SVP") under Missouri's SVP Act, Mo. Rev. Stat. §§ 632.480-632.525. Prisoners found guilty of a sexually violent crime are declared SVPs when there is probable cause to believe that they are likely to engage in sexually violent predatory criminal behavior upon their release. Individuals declared SVPs are committed to a SORTS facility for rehabilitation.
The plaintiffs alleged that the SORTS treatment program was ineffective and harmful, and that the true purpose of SORTS was institutionalization and indefinite detention. The plaintiffs claimed a violation of their Fifth Amendment rights against double jeopardy, their Eighth Amendment rights to be free of cruel and unusual punishment, and their Fourteenth Amendment rights of Equal Protection and Due Process. The plaintiffs requested that the court declare the Missouri SVP statute unconstitutional, both on its face and as applied, and require the DMH to reform SORTS as needed. Private counsel was appointed for the plaintiffs on September 2, 2009, but was replaced by attorneys from the ACLU of Missouri on March 23, 2010.
On June 25, 2010, the defendants moved to dismiss the case for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. On July 25, 2011, District Judge Audrey G. Fleissig denied that motion in large part, holding that many of plaintiffs' claims needed faculty development to adjudicate. 2011 WL 3099919. On September 30, 2011, Judge Fleissig certified the matter as a class action; she agreed to a "Treatment Class" of all persons who are, or will be, during the pendency of this action, residents of SORTS of the State of Missouri as a result of civil commitment, and "Charging Class" of all persons who are, or will be, during the pendency of this action residents, and former residents, of SORTS of the State of Missouri as a result of civil commitment, and who have been, or will be, billed or charged for care, treatment, room or board by SORTS or by the SMMHC. 2011 WL 4600688. (Judge Fleissig also granted the plaintiffs' proposal for notification to class members on November 7, 2011.)
The plaintiffs filed their fifth and final amended complaint on February 19, 2014, adding a violation of Title II of the Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) to their allegations. On March 28, 2014, the plaintiffs also moved for a preliminary injunction, but both parties reached a stipulation regarding the preliminary injunction on October 2, 2014, which made the motion moot. On April 22, 2014, the defendants moved to dismiss the plaintiffs' fifth amended complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. October 17, 2014, Judge Fleissig granted the motion in part, dismissing the plaintiffs' Sixth and Eighth Amendment claims, but denied the motion with respect to the plaintiffs' Fourteenth Amendment and ADA claims. The plaintiffs filed a motion to reconsider the dismissal of the Sixth and Eighth Amendment claims on December 1, 2014, but this motion was denied by Judge Fleissig on February 10, 2015.
The defendants moved for summary judgment on December 12, 2014. Judge Fleissig granted summary judgment with respect to the plaintiffs' Equal Protection claims, but denied summary judgment for their Due Process claims. On April 20, 2015, the plaintiffs moved to dismiss their ADA claim, leaving their Due Process claim as the only issue remaining for trial. On December 18, 2014, the plaintiffs filed an uncontested motion to bifurcate trial by first conducting a separate trial on the question of whether the defendants were liable, and if so, then conducting a second trial to determine the appropriate remedies and relief. Judge Fleissig granted the motion on December 19, 2014.
The initial bench trial began on April 21, 2015, and ended on April 30, 2015. On September 11, 2015, Judge Fleissig ruled for the plaintiffs. Judge Fleissig held that the Missouri SVP statute was not unconstitutional on its face, but was indeed unconstitutional as applied. Judge Fleissig also held that it was now appropriate to move onto a second trial to determine appropriate remedies and relief.
This case is still ongoing in the U.S. District Court.John He - 10/23/2015