On August 17, 2005, two New York state prisoners filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York under 42 U.S.C. §1983 (the Civil Rights Act of 1871), 42 U.S.C. § 12132 (the Americans with Disabilities Act, or ADA), and 29 U.S.C. § 794 (the Rehabilitation Act, Section 504) against New York's Department of Correctional Services (DOCS) and its chief medical officer. The plaintiff, represented by private counsel, asked the court for declaratory relief, injunctive relief, compensatory damages, and punitive damages, as well as class action status for the case, claiming that the defendants' failure to administer medical treatment constituted cruel and unusual punishment in violation of Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment rights, according to the plaintiffs. The defendants refused to provide needed treatment for their medical conditions, Hepatitis C, because the plaintiffs had not completed a DOCS-sponsored substance abuse program. The plaintiffs amended the complaint on September 2, 2005.
The state had recently lost similar lawsuits in federal and state courts (see, for example, case PC-NY-52 in the Civil Rights Litigation Clearinghouse database) and, in October 2005, revised its policies so that completion of DOCS substance abuse programs was not required prior to provision of Hepatitis C treatment to prisoners. The defendants thus argued that, as the plaintiffs were now receiving treatment under the revised policy, the plaintiffs' equitable claims were now moot and that class action status should not be accorded the case.
District Judge David N. Hurd rejected the defense arguments in a memorandum and order filed on February 27, 2006. He found that the plaintiffs' claims were not moot, because the defendants had failed to show (1) there was no reasonable expectation of re-institution of the substance abuse treatment policy and (2) complete eradication of the prior policy's effects. The court noted that the revised policy expressly changed due to litigation losses, not due to the defendants' medical judgment, making it difficult for the court to accept that the defendants might not again revise the policy, at some point, to the plaintiffs' detriment. Additionally, Judge Hurd found class certification appropriate, as some 500 of the approximately 9,000 Hepatitis C-positive prisoners in defendants' custody had been deprived of treatment due to the prior policy making treatment contingent upon meeting the substance abuse program requirement. Plaintiffs' counsel were appointed to serve as class counsel. Hilton v. Wright, 235 F.R.D. 40 (N.D. N.Y. 2006).
In the following months, the parties engaged in settlement discussions, including conferences with the court. On July 25, 2007, the parties filed with the court their interim settlement agreement. It made explicit the parties' joint agreement that participation in DOCS' substance abuse programs was not a precondition to provision by DOCS of treatment for Hepatitis C and required notification to DOCS medical personnel and known Hepatitis C-positive prisoners of this policy. Prisoners previously denied treatment under the old policy would now be re-evaluated and would receive treatment, if doing so was medically appropriate. Also under the agreement, DOCS had to report its compliance with the agreement's terms to class counsel, and had to pay class counsel's fees stemming from the case, including those incurred over the two year compliance monitoring period established by the agreement. The period could be extended by agreement of the parties or by order of the court.
On January 2, 2008, Judge Hurd approved the settlement, but denied the plaintiff's class application for permission to amend their complaint to assert a claim for damages. On December 14, 2009, Judge Hurd dismissed the first amended complaint in its entirety. Plaintiffs appealed this decision and the order was vacated on May 11, 2013 by the Court of Appeals.
On May 25, 2010, Judge Hurd awarded the plaintiffs attorney's fees of $23,152. Judge Hurd had also denied attorney's fees beyond the sum of $23,152, but the plaintiffs appealed this order and it was vacated on May 11, 2013 by the Court of Appeals.
On April 20, 2012, the Second Circuit vacated in part the judgment and remanded the case on the basis that the district court did not adequately explain why it granted the defendants' motion for summary judgment on the plaintiff's claims for damages. In addition, because the district court misinterpreted the parties' settlement agreement with respect to the recovery of reasonable costs, the Court of Appeals vacated the part of the order denying the plaintiffs' application for reimbursement of out-of-pocket expenses and remanded the issue to the district court for it to determine in its discretion whether to grant, full or partially, the plaintiffs' application for such costs. Hilton v. Wright, 673 F.3d 120 (2d Cir. 2012).
On May 11, 2013, Judge Hurd issued an opinion vacating the previous orders that the first amended complaint be dismissed and the portion of the order denying attorneys' fees beyond the sum of $23,152. Judge Hurd also granted in part and denied in part the defendants' motion for summary judgment. All claims relating to the 2003 denial of Hepatitis C treatment based on the length of incarceration requirement was waived. Judge Hurd dismissed all of the claims against the chief medical officer. Judge Hurd awarded additional attorneys' fees of $17,385.45, for a total fee award of $40,537.45. Hilton v. Wright, 928 F. Supp. 2d 530 (N.D.N.Y. 2013).
On August 28, 2013 Judge Hurd ordered the defendants to pay to the plaintiff $120,000 in full settlement of any and all claims, inclusive of any and all damages, fees, and costs of any kind. Judge Hurd also ordered that all claims or counterclaims were discontinued. Mike Fagan - 05/01/2008
Jessica Kincaid - 02/14/2014