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Suits in Michigan and New Jersey Seek to Force HCV Treatment

A groundswell of prisoner litigation is taking aim at states to force them to comprehensively and meaningfully address HCV in prison. These suits, often brought as class actions, seek to mandate a protocol for HCV detection and treatment that satisfies Eighth Amendment guarantees against cruel and unusual punishment.

New Jersey and Michigan contract their state prison medical program to for-profit Correctional Medical Services, Inc. (CMS), based in St. Louis, Missouri. The tension of this arrangement is obvious: states seek to fix costs of prisoner healthcare by making it a per-body commodity like food, thereby distancing themselves from day-to-day responsibility of providing constitutionally adequate medical care, while CMS hopes to maximize its profits by providing the least healthcare it can get away with. The result is that unless prisoners sue CMS, they and the community they return to with their untreated diseases become powerless victims.

Accordingly, two suits were filed in New Jersey and Michigan, sounding in 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), 42 U.S.C. §§ 12131 et seq., seeking injunctive relief to provide constitutionally responsible care and damages where it has been denied. Walter Bennett and three other named New Jersey prisoner plaintiffs sued CMS in U.S.D.C. (D. N.J.), Case No. 1:02cv04993 (SMO), filing their second amended complaint in mid-2003. They are represented by New Jersey attorneys Rosemary Pinto, Laura Feldman, Thomas Marrone and Daniel Weinstock. The complaint alleges negligence, medical malpractice and intentional infliction of emotional distress for knowingly exposing the plaintiff class to HCV and/or failing to treat it. A major victory will result for New Jersey prisoners and the citizens of New Jersey if the court requires the New Jersey Department of Corrections to provide a court-approved level of HCV treatment with court-monitored performance.

A similar 2003 class action complaint in Michigan, Thompson v. Overton, Director, MDOC; and CMS, et al., U.S.D.C. (E.D. MI), Case No. No 03-70234, sought only injunctive relief. This suit specified a detailed eleven-point protocol for HCV prevention, treatment, testing, education and monitoring in Michigan prisons. Plaintiffs were represented by ACLU attorneys Kary Moss, David Santacroce and Daniel Manville. The suit was dismissed for failure to exhaust administrative remedies. The Michigan DOC has initially claimed it would provide prisoners with HCV treatment. g

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Related legal case

Thompson v. Overton