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Case Name Disability Rights Montana v. Opper PC-MT-0008
Docket / Court 2:14-cv-00025-SEH ( D. Mont. )
Additional Docket(s) 2:15-cv-00022-SEH  [ 15-22 ]  District of MT (U.S.)
State/Territory Montana
Case Type(s) Disability Rights-Pub. Accom.
Prison Conditions
Special Collection Solitary confinement
Attorney Organization ACLU Chapters (any)
Case Summary
On March 31, 2014, Disability Rights Montana, Inc., a not-for-profit advocating for individuals with serious mental illness incarcerated at the Montana State Prison, filed this lawsuit in the United States District Court for the District of Montana. The plaintiff sued under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, ... read more >
On March 31, 2014, Disability Rights Montana, Inc., a not-for-profit advocating for individuals with serious mental illness incarcerated at the Montana State Prison, filed this lawsuit in the United States District Court for the District of Montana. The plaintiff sued under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging violations of mentally ill prisoners' Eighth Amendment rights to be free from cruel and unusual punishment. The plaintiff also brought claims under the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act. The plaintiff brought this lawsuit against the officials running various Montana governmental entities, including the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services (DPHHS), the Montana State Hospital, and the Montana Department of Corrections (DOC). The plaintiff was represented by the ACLU of Montana and private attorneys, and asked the court for declaratory and injunctive relief.

The complaint alleged that the Montana State Prison violated the Eighth Amendment rights of prisoners with serious mental illness by, among other things, withholding medication, misdiagnosing prisoners with a long history of mental illness, and punishing prisoners for behavior caused by their mental illness. The complaint further alleged that prisoners with mental illness were routinely subjected to years of solitary confinement or so-called behavior modification plans that deprived them of clothing, working toilets, and proper food, all of which needlessly magnified the harms these prisoners suffered.

With regard to a subset of prisoners—individuals who had been sentenced as "guilty but mentally ill" (GBMI)—the plaintiff also alleged violations of their due process rights under the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments. Specifically, the plaintiff alleged that these individuals sentenced as GBMI, who pursuant to that determination had been remanded to custody of DPHHS, were being transferred to the Montana State Prison anyway, either because the Hospital wanted to open up bed space, or because it wanted to avoid treating prisoners who were disliked by staff. The plaintiff claimed these transfers would occur without giving patients any real opportunity to challenge them.

On July 24, 2014, United States District Judge Sam E. Haddon dismissed parts of the case against the defendant officers who represented the DPHHS and the Montana State Hospital. The court found that the complaint did not contain any allegations of conduct that could be traced to those defendants because neither had been working there at the time these underlying events occurred. The court also found that the allegations related to the GBMI transfers failed to provide the necessary claim-related and fact specificity mandated by pleading standards.

The plaintiff responded by filing two rounds of amended complaints, which named new individual officers as representative of the defendants. The Montana DPHHS and Montana State Hospital defendants moved to dismiss the second amended complaint for failure to state a claim but the district court summarily denied it on September 3, 2015.

However, on March 31, 2016, the parties stipulated to a dismissal without prejudice with regard to the DPHHS and the Montana State Hospital defendants. As for the case against the Department of Corrections, things became complicated. The docket on this case says that the case is closed, but it seems as if the Eighth Amendment claims against the Department of Corrections continued to be pursued in another case.

Disability Rights Montana filed a lawsuit on May 15, 2015 against an official (Batista) in his official capacity as Director of the Montana Department of Corrections and another official (Kirkegard) in his official capacity as warden of Montana State Prison. Both of these defendant officials had been named as defendants in the amended pleadings in Disability Rights Montana v. Opper. That new case was again before Judge Haddon in the District Court for the District of Montana. The defendants moved to dismiss for failure to state a claim and the court granted that motion on September 3, 2015. This was the same day that the court rejected the DPHHS and State Hospital's motion to dismiss in the first case discussed above. This was also a summary order.

The plaintiff appealed that dismissal to the Ninth Circuit. While it's not entirely clear what that dismissal was based on, the plaintiff's brief to the Ninth Circuit claimed that the dismissals were mixed up and that the Judge has refused to correct that. The plaintiffs argued that the court intended to dismiss the due process claims against the Montana DPHHS and Montana State Hospital, and that the court did not intend to dismiss the Eighth Amendment claims against the DOC and Montana State Prison.

It's not entirely clear from the record what the grounds of the dismissal were, but as discussed below, the parties litigated the issue as if the District Court had dismissed on the grounds that the pleadings did not meet the standard required by Twombly and Iqbal.

The appeal was docketed in the Ninth Circuit on October 1, 2015. (docket number: 15-35770) Following that, the plaintiff and the defendant Montana DOC and Montana State Prison engaged in protracted settlement discussion through at least February 27, 2018. Oral argument was held on March 7, 2019. The plaintiff asked the Ninth Circuit to reverse the dismissal of the claim against the DOC and the State Prison, and to assign the case to a different judge on remand.

On July 19, 2019, the Ninth Circuit reversed the district court’s dismissal of the complaint, remanded it for further proceedings, and reassigned the case to the Judge Donald W. Molloy. (Circuit Judge Ronald M. Gould, Richard A. Paez, and District Judge Janis Graham Jack). In an opinion by Judge Gould, the court held that the plaintiffs' complaint met the pleading requirements by describing specific facts sufficient to support a plausible claim for relief. The court noted that the allegations, if true, described a "distressing pattern of placing mentally ill prisoners in solitary confinement for 'weeks and months at a time' without sufficient mental health care . . . ." 930 F.3d 1090.

The case is ongoing on remand as of October 2019.

Kat Brausch - 02/16/2016
Chris Pollack - 04/17/2019
Cedar Hobbs - 10/06/2019


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Issues and Causes of Action
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Issues
Constitutional Clause
Cruel and Unusual Punishment
Due Process
Defendant-type
Corrections
Disability
Mental impairment
Discrimination-basis
Disability (inc. reasonable accommodations)
General
Administrative segregation
Bathing and hygiene
Bathrooms
Classification / placement
Conditions of confinement
Confinement/isolation
Disciplinary procedures
Placement in detention facilities
Placement in mental health facilities
Reasonable Accommodations
Reasonable Modifications
Sanitation / living conditions
Solitary confinement/Supermax (conditions or process)
Suicide prevention
Medical/Mental Health
Mental health care, general
Suicide prevention
Mental Disability
Depression
Mental Illness, Unspecified
Plaintiff Type
Private Plaintiff
Type of Facility
Government-run
Causes of Action 42 U.S.C. § 1983
Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), 42 U.S.C. §§ 12111 et seq.
Section 504 (Rehabilitation Act), 29 U.S.C. § 701
Defendant(s) Montana
Montana
Montana State Hospital
Montana State Prison
Plaintiff Description Disability Rights Montana, Inc., a nonprofit advocacy agency acting on behalf of prisoners with serious mental illness in the Montana State Prison.
Indexed Lawyer Organizations ACLU Chapters (any)
Class action status sought No
Class action status granted No
Filed Pro Se No
Prevailing Party None Yet / None
Public Int. Lawyer Yes
Nature of Relief None yet
Source of Relief None yet
Filing Year 2014
Case Ongoing Yes
Additional Resources
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  See this case at CourtListener.com (May provide additional documents and, for active cases, real-time alerts)
  Civil Rights Injunctions Over Time: A Case Study of Jail and Prison Court Orders
N.Y.U. Law Review
Date: May 2006
By: Margo Schlanger (Washington University Faculty)
Citation: 81 N.Y.U. L. Rev. 550 (2006)
[ Detail ] [ PDF ] [ External Link ]

  Judicial Policy Making and the Modern State: How the Courts Reformed America's Prisons
Book
Date: Jan. 1, 1998
By: Malcolm M. Feeley & Edward Rubin (UC Berkeley Boalt Hall School of Law & Vanderbilt School of Law Faculty Faculty)
Citation: (1998)
[ Detail ]

Docket(s)
2:14-cv-00025 (D. Mont.)
PC-MT-0008-9000.pdf | Detail
Date: 03/31/2016
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
General Documents
Complaint [ECF# 1]
PC-MT-0008-0001.pdf | External Link | Detail
Date: 03/28/2014
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Memorandum and Order [ECF# 33] (D. Mont.)
PC-MT-0008-0004.pdf | Detail
Date: 07/24/2014
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Amended Complaint [ECF# 42]
PC-MT-0008-0005.pdf | Detail
Date: 10/31/2014
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Second Amended Complaint Against Defendants Mike Batista and Leroy Kirkegard [ECF# 66]
PC-MT-0008-0008.pdf | Detail
Date: 05/08/2015
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Second Amended Complaint as to Defendants Opper and Glueckert [ECF# 67]
PC-MT-0008-0007.pdf | Detail
Date: 05/08/2015
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Opinion [Ct. of App. ECF# 89-1] (930 F.3d 1090)
PC-MT-0008-0011.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Date: 07/19/2019
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
show all people docs
Judges Haddon, Sam E. (D. Mont.) show/hide docs
PC-MT-0008-0004 | PC-MT-0008-9000
Plaintiff's Lawyers Boggs, Tammy H. (California) show/hide docs
PC-MT-0008-0005 | PC-MT-0008-9000
Conley, Anna (Montana) show/hide docs
PC-MT-0008-0005 | PC-MT-0008-0007 | PC-MT-0008-0008 | PC-MT-0008-9000
Ellingson, Jon (Montana) show/hide docs
PC-MT-0008-0005 | PC-MT-0008-0007 | PC-MT-0008-0008 | PC-MT-0008-9000
Gray, Kyle A. (Montana) show/hide docs
PC-MT-0008-0001 | PC-MT-0008-0005 | PC-MT-0008-0007 | PC-MT-0008-0008 | PC-MT-0008-9000
Lee, Matthew D. (Wisconsin) show/hide docs
PC-MT-0008-9000
Miller, Adrian Ann (Montana) show/hide docs
PC-MT-0008-0007 | PC-MT-0008-0008 | PC-MT-0008-9000
Simmons, Jeffrey A. (Wisconsin) show/hide docs
PC-MT-0008-0005 | PC-MT-0008-0007 | PC-MT-0008-0008 | PC-MT-0008-9000
Taylor, James Park (Montana) show/hide docs
PC-MT-0008-0005 | PC-MT-0008-0007 | PC-MT-0008-0008 | PC-MT-0008-9000
Defendant's Lawyers Ambrose, Colleen E (Montana) show/hide docs
PC-MT-0008-9000
Crowley, William L. (Montana) show/hide docs
PC-MT-0008-9000
Kauffman, Michael Alan (Montana) show/hide docs
PC-MT-0008-9000
Kohman, Paulette L. (Washington) show/hide docs
PC-MT-0008-9000
Leonard, Thomas J (Montana) show/hide docs
PC-MT-0008-9000
Rogers, Mary Cile Glover (Montana) show/hide docs
PC-MT-0008-9000

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