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Massachusetts: Court Lifts Stay of Discovery in Challenge to Treatment of Mentally Ill Prisoners

by David M. Reutter

The Disability Law Center, Inc. (DLC) has obtained an order lifting a stay of discovery in its suit against the Massachusetts Department of Correction (MDOC). As previously reported in a 2008 PLN cover article, DLC filed a lawsuit on behalf of Massachusetts prisoners claiming the failure to treat their serious mental illnesses violated their Eighth Amendment rights. [See: PLN, Sept. 2008, p.1].

The U.S. District Court overseeing the case held a hearing on August 11, 2010. In allowing DLC to obtain discovery from the University of Massachusetts Correctional Health Program (UMCHP), a third party to the suit, the court stated, “DLC shall write a letter requesting releases from inmates or their representatives, if any, whose medical or mental health records are involved in the documents sought by DLC.”

The letter is to advise prisoners “that there is currently a dispute regarding whether certain of the inmate’s medical records are privileged, and that this privilege may be waived” by returning an enclosed waiver form.

DLC was to provide at least 25 copies of the letter to the MDOC no later than August 13, 2010, and the MDOC was required to transmit it to prisoners “forthwith” and file an affidavit as to how many were deliverable and how many were undeliverable. Prisoners had until September 10, 2010 to return the waiver form to DLC.

The court ordered the parties to confer and report as to whether an agreement could be reached that “moots any or all of the outstanding issues regarding the applicability of the federal psychotherapist-patient privilege (FPPP) to the documents sought by DLC from UMCHP.”

The district court noted in its order that UMCHP agreed “the revised protective order concerning confidential information that the court is issuing satisfied the requirements of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act,” eliminating the “impediment to the production of documents DLC seeks.”

In a September 20, 2010 joint status report, the parties reported that UMCHP had “delivered to the DLC documents over which it is not asserting privilege for ten inmates who were in segregation or segregation-like conditions ....”

In another discovery dispute, DLC filed an emergency motion to compel on November 17, 2010 related to its request to have an expert witness, Dr. Craig Haney, visit three MDOC facilities and interview certain prisoners. The DLC and MDOC subsequently resolved the discovery dispute, and the motion was dismissed as being moot. This case remains pending and PLN will report future developments. See: Disability Law Center v. Massachusetts Department of Correction, U.S.D.C. (D. Mass.), Case No. 1:07-cv-10463-MLW.

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Related legal case

Disability Law Center v. Massachusetts Department of Correction