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Civil Rights Litigation Clearinghouse
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Case Name J.H. v. Dallas MH-PA-0001
Docket / Court 1:15-cv-02057-SHR ( M.D. Pa. )
State/Territory Pennsylvania
Case Type(s) Criminal Justice (Other)
Mental Health (Facility)
Attorney Organization ACLU Chapters (any)
Case Summary
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 ... read more >
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

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Issues and Causes of Action
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Constitutional Clause
Due Process
Content of Injunction
Implement complaint/dispute resolution process
Hospital/Health Department
Mental impairment
Disability (inc. reasonable accommodations)
Commitment procedure
Conditions of confinement
Habilitation (training/treatment)
Placement in detention facilities
Placement in mental health facilities
Wait lists
Medical/Mental Health
Mental health care, general
Mental health care, unspecified
Mental Disability
Mental Illness, Unspecified
Plaintiff Type
Private Plaintiff
Type of Facility
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) Norristown State Hospital
Pennsylvania Department of Human Services
Torrance State Hospital
Plaintiff Description Individuals who have been found incompetent to stand trial on criminal charges and are either (1) in jail while they wait for an opening at one of DHS’s two forensic hospitals, or (2) in a forensic hospital and have either been found unlikely to become competent in the foreseeable future or are no longer making progress towards competency.
Indexed Lawyer Organizations ACLU Chapters (any)
Class action status sought Yes
Class action status granted Pending
Prevailing Party Plaintiff
Public Int. Lawyer Yes
Nature of Relief Attorneys fees
None yet
Injunction / Injunctive-like Settlement
Source of Relief Settlement
None yet
Form of Settlement Court Approved Settlement or Consent Decree
Order Duration 2016 - 2019
Case Ongoing Yes
1:15-cv-02057-SHR (M.D. Pa.)
MH-PA-0001-9000.pdf | Detail
Date: 10/18/2017
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
General Documents
Complaint for Declaratory and Injunctive Relief [ECF# 1]
MH-PA-0001-0001.pdf | Detail
Date: 10/22/2015
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Settlement Agreement [ECF# 35]
MH-PA-0001-0002.pdf | Detail
Date: 01/27/2016
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Judges Rambo, Sylvia H. (M.D. Pa.)
MH-PA-0001-0002 | MH-PA-0001-9000
Plaintiff's Lawyers Daniel, Lauren (District of Columbia)
Fenn, Stephen E. (District of Columbia)
MH-PA-0001-0001 | MH-PA-0001-9000
Gersch, David P. (District of Columbia)
MH-PA-0001-0001 | MH-PA-0001-0002 | MH-PA-0001-9000
Huffman, Blake (District of Columbia)
Killion, Victoria L. (District of Columbia)
MH-PA-0001-0001 | MH-PA-0001-9000
Neuman, Nicole B. (District of Columbia)
MH-PA-0001-0001 | MH-PA-0001-9000
Walczak, Witold J. (Pennsylvania)
MH-PA-0001-0001 | MH-PA-0001-0002 | MH-PA-0001-9000
Wu, Paloma (Mississippi)
MH-PA-0001-0001 | MH-PA-0001-9000
Defendant's Lawyers Leisch, Doris M. (Pennsylvania)
MH-PA-0001-0002 | MH-PA-0001-9000

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