On October 22, 2015, individuals who had been found incompetent to stand trial on criminal charges filed this lawsuit in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania. The plaintiffs sued the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services, Norristown State Hospital, and ...
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On October 22, 2015, individuals who had been found incompetent to stand trial on criminal charges filed this lawsuit in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania. The plaintiffs sued the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services, Norristown State Hospital, and Torrance State Hospital under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and 42 U.S.C. § 12132 (Americans with Disabilities Act). Represented by the ACLU of Pennsylvania and private counsel, they asked the court for class certification (both for plaintiffs waiting in jails for placement and those in state hospitals who are unlikely to be declared competent) and declaratory and injunctive relief, including an immediate preliminary injunction.
The individuals who were declared incompetent to stand trial suffered from a range of mental status issues, including intellectual and cognitive disabilities, traumatic brain injury, and mental illness, including serious mental illness and even dementia. A court would rule that an individual was incompetent to proceed and would stay the proceedings. If, at some point, the individual became competent, the criminal charges could be reinstated. Once a court issued an order for competency restoration treatment, the person was transferred to a mental health facility to be treated. Upon issuance of the court order, the individual became a patient of DHS immediately.
The plaintiffs claimed that DHS’s denial of timely treatment and failure to address delays violated the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, the regulations promulgated under both the ADA and the RA, and court orders. Specifically, the plaintiffs claimed that DHS’s failure to allocate sufficient resources to provide competency restoration treatment resulted in some of the longest delays in the country (many over a year, while federal courts’ have deemed more than seven days unconstitutional), causing the plaintiffs to spend time in jail, where there is minimal to no mental health care, and often solitary confinement.
The case was assigned to Judge Judge Sylvia H. Rambo; she set the preliminary injunction hearing for Jan. 25, 2016, with expedited discovery prior to that. On January 27, 2016, the parties filed, and the Court approved, a settlement agreement enforceable by the court for three years. The defendants agreed not to oppose class certification for those plaintiffs waiting in jails for placement. The defendants also agreed to allocate necessary resources to remove currently incarcerated class members and prevent future jail detentions beyond constitutionally allowable times, including the creation of new placement options and making at least $1 million available to create supportive housing opportunities in Philadelphia. The DHS would also assess every person on waiting lists for NSH or TSH for restoration treatment and every person currently at NSH and TSH under the jurisdiction of the criminal court to determine who are eligible for less restrictive placement.
The parties agreed to postpone the impending preliminary injunction while they worked together to develop a strategic plan for reducing wait times and attempted to negotiate a maximum allowable wait time, which would be incorporated into the settlement agreement. If they are unable to agree, the plaintiffs may file a motion for an injunction setting the allowable wait time.
In addition, the defendants agreed to pay the plaintiffs’ reasonable costs and attorneys’ fees.Katrina Fetsch - 02/21/2016