On November 15, 2018, Cohen Milstein and co-counsel, the Human Rights Defense Center (HRDC) and Legal Aid Society of Palm Beach County, reached a court-approved settlement with the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office and the Palm Beach County School Board to effectively end solitary confinement of juveniles at its jail facility. As a part of the settlement, both the Sheriff’s Office and the Palm Beach County School Board will ensure that all juveniles receive access to appropriate educational services, including receiving schooling outside of their jail cells. In addition, alternative behavior management policies will be employed in lieu of holding juveniles in solitary confinement. The Sheriff’s Office and School Board also agreed to independent monitoring by Plaintiffs’ counsel and their experts to ensure compliance with the Settlement Agreement.

The settlement is first-of-its-kind in Florida, as it ends the systemic practice of holding juveniles charged as adults in solitary confinement and ensures educational services of such juveniles.

Case Background

On June 21, 2018, Cohen Milstein, in conjunction with the non-profit HRDC and the Legal Aid Society of Palm Beach County, filed a complaint in federal court challenging the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office’s practice of placing juvenile offenders in solitary confinement.

The class-action suit was filed against Sheriff Ric Bradshaw and other Sheriff’s Office employees, for holding children, who are charged as adults, most of whom have not been convicted of any crime, in solitary confinement at the Main Detention Center of the Palm Beach County Jail as they await trial.

Palm Beach County School Board and its Superintendent, Donald E. Fennoy II are also named as defendants for allegedly denying mandated educational services to juvenile offenders held at the Jail, “including services needed to address their disabilities,” in violation of the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

Cohen Milstein and co-counsel are representing three individuals, ages 16 to 17, who have been held in solitary confinement at the Palm Beach County Jail for periods ranging from 20 days to more than seven months. Some of these juvenile offenders have disabilities, including ADHD and learning disabilities.

It is widely acknowledged that prolonged placement in solitary confinement can result in serious mental health problems and can exacerbate existing problems.

A motion for a preliminary injunction, filed at the same time as the complaint, seeks a court order prohibiting the defendants from keeping incarcerated children at the Palm Beach County Jail in solitary confinement and from denying them educational services, including services to address their disabilities.

The suit raises claims under federal civil rights statutes, alleged that these practices constitute serious violations of the children’s constitutional rights, including their rights to be free from cruel and unusual punishment, as guaranteed by the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution; their rights to procedural due process prior to any deprivation of their liberty or property interests as afforded by the Fourteenth Amendment; their rights to receive educational services and programming under the IDEA; and their rights to be free from discrimination as provided by Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (“Section 504”), and the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”).  The suit seeks injunctive and declaratory relief, damages, and “compensatory education for education benefits denied.”

On October 1, 2018, the U.S. Department of Justice filed a statement of interest to affirm and clarify the protections afforded to children with disabilities by the IDEA and its implementing such regulations within the scope of its interest in the enforcement of the provision of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act that gives the Attorney General the authority to seek declaratory and injunctive relief for violations of the Constitution or federal law by entities responsible for “the incarceration of juveniles." The DOJ's statement of interest states, "Under federal law, however, both Defendants are responsible for ensuring that eligible children with disabilities at the Jail receive special education and related services. Defendants cannot avoid responsibility by claiming the other is responsible."

The case is H.C., et al. v. Ric Bradshaw, et al., Case No. 9:18cv80810 in the United States District Court, Southern District of Florida.