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$1 Million Settlement in Inadequate Nutrition Class-Action Against New York Jail

by David M. Reutter

On June 2, 2021, a federal district court in New York approved an agreement by Montgomery County to pay $1 million to resolve a federal class-action lawsuit alleging it provided inadequate nutrition to people held at its jail. The agreement includes an additional $317,083.22 in fees and costs to attorneys representing the class in the six-year-long case, plus a $53,000 payment to the claims administrator.

The settlement’s approval resolves a suit filed on July 25, 2014, accusing officials at the county jail of refusing to provide adequate nutrition to detainees, who were each provided only about 1,700 calories per day. To satiate their hunger, some ate coco-butter lotion and toothpaste. Over a five-month period, lead plaintiff Perry Hill dropped from 160 pounds to 134 pounds.

On August 20, 2018, the Court agreed to certify a class of all detainees held at least two consecutive weeks at the jail from July 25, 2011, to the date the defendants were enjoined from their “policy, practice, and custom” of refusing to provide an appropriate amount of nutrition. That number was estimated at 2,300 current and former detainees who could apply for a portion of the settlement fund.

Food service at the jail was run by Trinity Services. Its cycle menus were designed to provide “a range of 2350-3065 calories per day,” according to Class Expert Heidi Jay Silver, a Research Associate Professor of Medicine at the Vanderbilt University Medical Center. But after reviewing incident reports and the weight loss of 15 detainees, Silver concluded it was “apparent that there are frequent occasions when substitutions are being made for food items that provide fewer calories and nutrients than what was planned in the written cycle menus.”

On November 11, 2019, the Court denied defendants’ motion for summary judgment, noting that those “substitutions created caloric and protein deficits as well as deficits in, among other nutrients, fiber, iron, calcium, Vitamin A, and Vitamin D.” A trial date was set for the following February. But faced with those evidentiary findings, the parties instead entered negotiations and reached their settlement agreement, which the Court approved.

The agreement provides for a payout to each class member of $50 plus a pro rata share from the remainder of the settlement fund equal to $5.54 per incarcerated day. Lead Plaintiffs Hill and James Rogers also received a $10,000 award, and a $500 incentive award was given to 11 other class members who filed claims and were deposed.

Class counsel was awarded $300,000 in attorney fees, $17,083.22 in costs, and the Claims Administrator, RG/2 Claims Administration LLC, was given a $53,000 payment for administering the settlement. The class was represented by the Law Offices of Elmer Robert Keach III in Albany and the firm of Migliaccio and Rathod LLP in Washington, DC. See: Hill v. Cnty. of Montgomery, USDC (N.D. N.Y.), Case No. 9:14-cv-00933. 

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Related legal case

Hill v. Cnty. of Montgomery