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New York: Federal Court Certifies Class-Action Suit Against Jail for Providing Insufficient Diet

by Dale Chappell 

In August 2018, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York certified a class-action lawsuit against the Montgomery County jail (MCJ) for providing prisoners with a sub-standard diet after several prisoners complained they became ill due to deficiencies in the amount of food they received. 

About 1,000 prisoners cycle through MCJ’s 177-bed facility each year. Since 2010, Trinity Services Group, a for-profit company, has been the jail’s food service provider and creates the menu at the facility. The menu calls for around 2,000 calories a day and is managed by Trinity. 

The lawsuit, filed in July 2014 under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, claimed that prisoners received “so little food” that they resorted to eating toothpaste and toilet paper. Several claimed they lost hair, experienced bleeding gums and lost significant amounts of weight. 

An expert testified for the prisoners that the food substitutions Trinity made on “frequent occasions” to the menu “provided fewer calories and other nutrients than what was planned in the written cycle menus.” The expert also found that the physical effects on numerous prisoners throughout their stay at the jail were “clinically significant” and attributable to the poor diet supplied by Trinity.

A prisoner who worked in the kitchen at MCJ testified that Trinity staff ordered him to serve less food than required by the menu at least three to four times a week, because they were running low. One prisoner said staff told him the food served by Trinity “was enough calorie intake and you are not going to get any more.” 

The district court found the claims in the case met the criteria for class-action status and agreed that the class would be defined to include any prisoner who spent at least two consecutive weeks at MCJ, on or after July 24, 2011, until the jail provides a sufficient amount of “nutritional sustenance.” This primary class includes two sub-classes, comprised of pretrial and post-trial detainees.

The court appointed the attorneys who filed the lawsuit to serve as class counsel. On January 17, 2019, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals denied the defendants’ request to file an interlocutory appeal of the class-certification order. The case remains pending. See: Hill v. County of Montgomery, U.S.D.C. (N.D. NY), Case No. 9:14-cv-00933-BKS-DJS. 

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Related legal case

Hill v. County of Montgomery