On March 31, 2021, Chief District Judge Shelly D. Dick of the Middle District of Louisiana ruled that the Louisiana State Penitentiary (“LSP”) in Angola, Louisiana and the Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections (“DOC”) violated the Eighth Amendment rights of the Plaintiff Class and the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) and the Rehabilitation Act (“RA”) rights of the Plaintiff Subclass.
Based on the “overwhelming” evidence presented at trial, the Court ordered injunctive relief addressing 15 specific deficiencies, including:
- Failing to provide constitutionally adequate clinical care in the following particulars: privacy in examinations; lack of routine medical equipment in exam rooms; lack of adequate medical records management; lack of clinical hygiene and spacing; episodic treatment of complaints;
- Failing to provide adequate medical care with qualified providers at sick call;
- Failing to provide access to medically necessary specialty care in a timely manner; failure to schedule and track specialty appointments; failure to comply with testing and diagnostic requirements; failure to execute appropriate follow up care ordered by specialty care providers; and failure to coordinate care;
- Failing to provide constitutionally adequate emergency care in the evaluation and assessment of emergencies by qualified providers and failing to timely treat and/or transport to hospital for emergent care;
- Failing to provide adequate, qualified staff in infirmary/inpatient care;
- Failing to provide medical leadership and organization in the following particulars: lack of meaningful mortality review; use of correctional personnel to manage medical decisions; lack of peer review; lack of medical staff involvement in budgeting; lack of medical supervision; and failure to maintain proper credentialing records;
- Failing to comply with the ADA and RA in providing disabled inmates access to programs and services due to physical and architectural barriers.
This ruling is significant because it will provide people who are incarcerated at LSP with adequate health care, affirming their basic human rights, and it will also likely help to reduce future costs to taxpayers.
In May 2015, Cohen Milstein, The Promise of Justice Initiative, Disability Rights LA, the ACLU of Louisiana, filed a class action under the Eighth Amendment, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the Rehabilitation Act on behalf of the more than 6,000 prisoners at Louisiana State Penitentiary, the largest maximum-security prison in the country. The Southern Poverty Law Center (“SPLC”) joined the case later in the litigation.
Plaintiffs brought suit against Burl Cain, the Warden of LSP (February 1, 1995 - December 31, 2015), and his successor Darrel Vannoy; the Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections and its Secretary, James M. LeBlanc; and as the Chief Medical and Mental Health Director of the DOC and other senior staff and medical members of LSP and the DOC.
Plaintiffs claimed that the medical care provided at LSP violated the Eighth Amendment prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment. Plaintiffs also claimed that, through various general practices and policies, LSP systemically violated the rights of disabled inmates covered by the ADA and the RA. As a result, prisoners who were patients at LSP needlessly suffered from serious injuries, including severe pain, preventable sickness, and untimely death.
On February 26, 2018, following a class certification hearing and subsequent briefing by the Parties, the court certified a class consisting of “all inmates who [are] now, or will be in the future, incarcerated at LSP,” and a Subclass of “all qualified individuals with a disability, as defined by the [Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) and Rehabilitation Act (“RA”)], who are now, or will be in the future, incarcerated at LSP.”
From October 9 through October 25, 2018 the Court held a bench trial. Plaintiffs presented testimony from three distinguished medical experts, two doctors who treat patients housed at LSP, several current and former inmates at LSP, an expert in architectural accessibility, and Secretary LeBlanc. After trial, Plaintiffs submitted a 290-page Proposed Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law outlining the deficiencies in LSP’s health care and disability system that were proven at trial.
After the Court’s March 31, 2021 Opinion, the Court will schedule proceedings to determine what injunctive relief is necessary to remedy the Defendants’ constitutional and statutory violations
The Class and Subclass were represented by Otto Barrera, Clyde Carter, Ian Cazenave, Ricky Davis, Reginald George, Edward Giovanni, Shannon Hurd, Joe Lewis, Kentrell Parker, Farrell Sampier, Lionel Tolbert, John Tonubbee, and Edward Washington. Mr. Giovanni, Mr. Hurd, Mr. Lewis, and Mr. Sampier passed away while the case was pending.
Case name: Lewis v. Cain, et al., Civil No. 3:15-cv-00318-SDD-RLB, United States District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana