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Class Certified in Lawsuit Alleging Flaws in Illinois’ Prison Healthcare System

In April 2017, an Illinois federal district court certified a civil rights class-action consisting of “all prisoners in the custody of Illinois Department of Corrections [IDOC] with serious medical or dental needs.” The suit seeks injunctive relief from future harm due to the IDOC’s “flawed healthcare systems.”

State prison officials contested the class certification on several grounds. The district court rejected arguments that the class was not ascertainable, as the record included exhibits that served as “objective, administratively feasible way[s] to determine which inmates have serious medical or dental needs.” Further, with about 47,000 prisoners in the IDOC, the numerosity requirement was met. The court also found the prisoners’ claims presented “questions of law or fact common to the class.”

Nine policies and practices were alleged to exhibit a flawed healthcare system: chronic failure to fill medical leadership and other medical staff vacancies; routinely allowing under-qualified medical professionals to treat prisoners; failure to timely identify medical problems at reception or intrasystem transfers; failure to manage chronic diseases; failure to promulgate appropriate infirmary policies; delay and denial of specialty care; poor recordkeeping, resulting in inadequate or incomplete files; failure of the IDOC to implement or follow its own improvement plan; and failure to properly manage dental care services.

The district court cited several specific cases that indicated the plaintiffs’ claims were typical of the class. One prisoner, with Type 1 diabetes, had “never received his medically-prescribed diet, and has experienced regular delays in receiving insulin shots.” Another prisoner was told by a doctor that he needed a pacemaker, but “has never seen a cardiologist or received a pacemaker.” Further, one “Big Muddy River inmate, who is partially paralyzed and wheelchair-bound, experienced a six-month delay in receiving a new wheelchair to replace the broken one he was initially issued.”

The court found the prisoners had adequately pleaded that the IDOC “provided deficient medical care on a systemic basis that jeopardizes the ongoing well-being of plaintiffs and other prisoners in IDOC with serious medical needs.” It further held that attorneys with the ACLU, Seyfarth Shaw, LLP and the Uptown People’s Law Center were “qualified, experienced, and capable of conducting the proposed litigation.”

The case remains pending. See: Lippert v. Ghosh, U.S.D.C. (N.D. Ill.), Case No. 1:10-cv-04603; 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 64687. 

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Related legal case

Lippert v. Ghosh