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Mentally Ill Prisoners’ Suit Against GEO Group Survives Motion to Dismiss

by Douglas Ankney

On March 29, 2019, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana denied in part a motion filed by private prison company The GEO Group, seeking to dismiss a class-action suit filed on behalf of prisoners in the Mental Health Unit (MHU) at the New Castle Correctional Facility (NCCF).

GEO is paid more than $100 million to operate NCCF. In the MHU, over 100 mentally ill prisoners are locked in their cells 20 hours a day and forced to labor by cleaning, completing reports or assisting other prisoners. When not in their cells they are restrained with handcuffs and shackles. 

Plaintiff class representatives Damarcus Figgs and David Corbin raised a number of claims, including: 1) Peonage in violation of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA); 2) Forced labor in violation of the TVPA; 3) Harboring for labor in violation of the TVPA; 4) Cruel and unusual punishment; 5) Denial of equal protection; 6) Violations of the Rehabilitation Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act; 7) False imprisonment; 8) Confinement; 9) Unjust enrichment; and 10) Negligence. 

The district court dismissed all claims except numbers 2, 3 and 9.

In ruling on GEO Group’s motion to dismiss, the court accepted “as true all factual allegations in the complaint and draws all inferences in favor of the plaintiffs.... A motion to dismiss shall not be granted unless ‘it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim which would entitle him to relief.’” 

The allegation that MHU prisoners at NCCF “are forced to work for GEO without wages (or miniscule wages of $10.00 per month), the purpose of that work is to turn a profit for GEO, and that GEO obtains [its] persons and labor by scheme of misrepresentation and deceitfully holding itself out as a facility that would assist Plaintiffs” stated a claim under the TVPA, the court found. So did the claim that GEO held the class members for the purpose of extracting their labor. And the allegation that GEO was unjustly enriched by the prisoners’ labor stated a claim under Indiana law. 

Accordingly, the district court denied GEO’s motion to dismiss as to those three issues. The company has since moved for summary judgment, which remains pending. See: Figgs v. GEO Group, Inc., U.S.D.C. (S.D. Ind.), Case No. 1:18-cv-00089-MPB-TWP. 

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Additional source: theindianalawyer.com

Related legal case

Figgs v. GEO Group, Inc.