On September 25, 1979, this class action lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. The plaintiffs filed under 42 U.S.C. 1983 on behalf of all people who were or would be incarcerated at Green Haven Correctional Facility in Stormville, New York, against New York State, its Department of Correctional Services, Green Haven Correctional Facility, and their medical personnel. Represented by the Prisoners' Rights Project of the Legal Aid Society of New York, they sought declaratory and injunctive relief, alleging that Green Haven violated inmates' constitutional rights by providing grossly inadequate and unresponsive medical care.
On June 23, 1982, the parties entered a Stipulation for Entry of Final Judgment. On August 23, 1982, the court approved the consent decree after some modification. The final order was modified several times in the 1980s. On October 6, 1989, the plaintiffs asked the court (1) to find the State in contempt of the current version of the Final Judgment, (2) to modify the Final Judgment, and (3) to appoint a Special Master. On August 1, 1991, the parties settled these claims by proposing further modifications to the Final Judgment. On September 12, 1991, the court conducted a hearing to allow members of the plaintiff class to raise concerns about the proposed settlement. From that hearing, the court ordered some revision to the proposed Final Judgment. The parties submitted the revised settlement to the court for approval on September 27, 1991.
The Modified Final Judgment that the court approved represented a detailed blueprint of the system that would provide medical and dental care to Green Havens' inmates. The Modified Final Judgment established standards governing the operation of the Unit for the Physically Disabled (UPD), medical staff levels, transfer of unhealthy inmates to other correctional facilities, prioritization of medical cases, medical confidentiality, and timelines for treatment and response to specific ailments. Under the Modified Final Judgment, a Medical Auditor (Dr. Robert L. Cohen) was appointed to monitor the integrity of the system.
Quite a few inmates, after September 1991, individually petitioned the court to find the State in contempt of the Modified Final Judgment. On May 28, 1993, the court (Judge Robert J. Ward) held that an inmate was entitled to seek damages for Green Haven's failure to adequately care for his venereal warts, which became so severe that they bled. Milburn v. Coughlin, No. 79 Civ. 5077, 1993 WL 190279 (S.D.N.Y. May 28, 1993). The court, however, held that the plaintiff could not concurrently litigate his contempt claim and a separate claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The court offered to stay the contempt proceedings while the § 1983 claim was adjudicated. On May 11, 1995, the court (Judge Ward) refused to allow a second inmate, representing himself, to intervene in the lawsuit. Milburn v. Couglin, No 79-5077, 1995 WL 293686 (S.D.N.Y. May 11, 1995). The court reasoned that intervener status was inappropriate because the plaintiff was already represented in the action, but referred the plaintiff's grievances to the Medical Auditor.
On November 1, 1996, the court (Judge Ward) dismissed a third plaintiff's pro se motion to find the State in contempt. Milburn v. Coughlin, No. 79-5077, 1996 WL 633223 (S.D.N.Y. Nov. 1, 1996). That plaintiff had alleged the State had violated the Modified Final Judgment by transferring him from Green Haven to another correctional facility while he was awaiting a follow-up specialist appointment. Recognizing the need for continuity of medical care, the court conditioned dismissal of the motion on the arrangement of a neurological consultation for the plaintiff within sixty days.
On July 2, 1997, the court considered whether the transfer of a fourth inmate from the UPD to another correctional facility violated the Modified Final Judgment. The court (Judge Ward) held that the plaintiff's transfer violated the Modified Final Judgment even though the transfer was instigated after prison officials realized that the plaintiff was at risk of bodily harm from an unknown enemy at Green Haven. Milburn v. Coughlin, No. 79 Civ. 5077, 1997 WL 371144 (S.D.N.Y. July 2, 1997).
On March 13, 2002, the court (Judge Ward) awarded nominal compensatory damages to a fifth prisoner, James West, who alleged injuries resulting from violations of the Modified Final Judgment. Milburn v. Coughlin, No. 79 Civ. 5077, 2002 WL 392284 (S.D.N.Y. March 13, 2002). Specifically, the court found that the State had violated the Modified Final Judgment's due diligence and confidentiality provisions. Specifically, the court held that the state had not acted with due diligence in providing medical care to West, who was forced to wait five years for proscribed physical therapy. The court, however, found that a several-month delay between prescription of a test and the occurrence of that test was not unreasonable because the procedure had to be rescheduled. The court found that prison guards eavesdropped on conversations between medical staff and inmates by standing too close to the inmate being treated, in violation of the confidentiality requirements of the Modified Final Judgment. The court awarded the inmate $100 of the one million dollars that West sought and reasoned that West had not shown that a greater award was appropriate.
The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, however, vacated the damage award and remanded for assessment of a more appropriate award. Milburn v. Coughlin, 83 Fed. Appx. 378 (2d Cir. 2003). While recognizing the difficulty of setting monetary values on intangible injuries to an incarcerated plaintiff, the appellate court concluded that $100 was insufficient compensation. The appellate court instructed the district court to enter an award in keeping with the fact that inadequate medical care had caused West to be confined to a wheel chair for several years, during which time he developed bilateral ankle contractures. On Feb. 3, 2005, the defendants filed a Motion to Dismiss West's Motion for Contempt. In July 2005, the court (Judge Shira A. Scheindlin) directed the doctors involved in West's medical care to develop a treatment plan. On January 27, 2006, the court (Judge Richard C. Casey) entered an Order and Stipulation between the parties concerning the extension of the medical auditor's term. We do not have a copy of this stipulation.
On March 22, 2007, Judge Richard C. Casey passed away, and the case was reassigned to Judge Loretta A. Preska on May 21, 2007. Four months later, the court (Judge Preska) granted defendants' motion to dismiss plaintiffs' complaint for contempt, though the court's reasoning is not available. On the same day, the court denied West's motion to set the amount of compensatory damages because of conflicting evidence regarding whether harm to plaintiff was caused by lack of medical attention - the court deemed this a factual question that would be important in determining how much in compensatory damages should be awarded to plaintiff.
After a number of filing extensions and delays, on October 26, 2010, the court dismissed the case and signed a consent decree requiring the defendants to pay West $9,400 for damages and attorney fees. The following year, West moved the court for relief from the judgment, alleging that he was fraudulently induced to sign the agreement. On July 24, 2012, the court denied this motion because West did not provide sufficient evidence to support his claim. 2012 WL 3060394. West appealed this decision, but on February 27, 2013, the court of appeals dismissed his appeal for lacking a basis in law or fact.
Over the years, many other inmates filed pro se motions to hold the defendants in contempt of the Milburn decree. However, most of them were denied because the inmates did not provide sufficient evidence of their claims. For example, on April 27, 2011, an inmate filed a pro se motion to sanction defendants for lack of dental care in violation of the Milburn Consent Decree. However, this motion was denied on January 12, 2012, because the movant did not provide sufficient evidence. 2012 WL 112251. On January 18, 2012, the court also denied another inmate's pro se motion to hold defendants in contempt of the Milburn decree for falsifying his medical record and denying him medical care. The court found that this inmate did not exhaust the administrative requirements under the terms of the Milburn decree. 2012 WL 163242.
Months later, another inmate moved the court to hold the defendants in contempt of the Milburn decree after defendants refused to treat him after a health screening indicated that he did not need treatment. Because the defendants were taking action to treat the inmate, the court denied the motion for contempt on March 28, 2013.
In August of 2012, an inmate filed a pro se motion for contempt of the Milburn decree and for pro bono counsel. The court denied this motion on March 29, 2013, because the inmate did not provide sufficient evidence of a violation of the decree.
One inmate successfully moved the court on November 18, 2011, when the court signed a consent decree for pro se movant John Vera Moreno requiring defendants to pay him $199,500 in damages and attorney fees.
On July 31, 2014, the defendants moved to terminate the decree under the Prison Litigation Reform Act. The defendants sought termination because the current decree was approved in 1991 before the enactment of the PLRA and lacked the PLRA's required court findings that the relief was narrowly drawn, extended no further than necessary to correct the violation of a federal right, and was the least intrusive means necessary to correct the violation of a federal right.
In response, on September 15, 2014, the plaintiffs moved to modify the decree and opposed the motion to terminate the decree. The plaintiffs argued that despite some significant improvements, medical treatment at Green Haven continued to violate the class members‘ Eighth Amendment rights.
Subsequently, the plaintiffs withdrew their motion to modify the decree and withdrew opposition to the defendant's motion to terminate the decree. Accordingly, on March 9, 2015, the Court granted the defendant's motion to terminate the decree. Elizabeth Chilcoat - 06/27/2006
Maurice Youkanna - 07/25/2014
Jessica Kincaid - 02/04/2016