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Settlement Finally Reached in Prisoners’ Hep-C Class-Action Against Connecticut DOC

by Ed Lyon

Nearly four years after a group of Connecticut prisoners sued the state Department of Corrections (DOC) for denying treatment for their infection with the Hepatitis-C virus (HCV)—and a year after the parties reached a settlement that a federal judge then rejected—a superseding settlement agreement was reached on March 11, 2022.

Judge Michael P. Shea of the U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut then granted the settlement preliminary approval on April 18, 2022. That was a dramatic turnaround from an equally dramatic decision by the Court at a May 2021 fairness hearing on the previous settlement, which Judge Shea rejected.

The suit was filed by prisoner Robert Barfield on July 19, 2018, accusing DOC of deliberate indifference to his serious medical needs by refusing to administer Direct Acting Antiviral (DAA) treatments for his HCV.

A game-changing treatment for the disease when it was approved by the federal Food and Drug Administration in 2013, DAA was offered to Connecticut prisoners, but only those who were extremely sick, a restriction most likely reflecting the high cost of the drugs used: $39,000 or more for a typical 12-week treatment course. But that left Barfield no choice except to wait to get sicker before he could be treated, his suit contended.

DOC countered that Barfield had begun receiving DAA after filing his complaint, rendering it moot. But the Court rejected that argument because it had by then allowed the complaint to be amended, adding three other prisoners—John Knapp, Jason Barberi and Darnell Tatem—and not all of them had received DAA.

Moreover, the prisoners contended, DOC’s policy “of rationing treatment to patients who fit the elaborate criteria designed by [DOC] amounts to deliberate indifference to serious medical needs” because “[d]elaying or preventing treatment until a patient manages the labyrinthine structure of approvals has the perverse effect of withholding treatment from the patients.”

“Even if the policy were adequate,” they said, the agency “does not follow it because [DOC] provides treatment to almost none of the HCV-positive prisoners in its custody.” As a result, treatment ended up delayed “for virtually all patients with HCV, regardless of their disease progression, until the patient is released from prison or dies.”

On August 6, 2019, the Court denied Defendants’ motion to dismiss Plaintiff’s Eighth Amendment claims. See: Barfield v. Semple, 2019 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 130983 (D. Conn.). The Court then certified a class of similarly situated prisoners who are (a) diagnosed with HCV, (b) are held by DOC, and (c) have at least 16 weeks left to serve. Hartford attorneys Kenneth James Krayeske and DeVaughn Ward were also appointed to serve as Class counsel. See: Barfield v. Cook, 2019 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 131295 (D. Conn.).

That same day, DOC adopted a new policy liberalizing the distribution of DAA treatment. The parties then proceeded to reach their settlement agreement on April 1, 2020, which included no monetary payments except fees to Class counsel.

With a delay for the COVID-19 pandemic, the Court did not hold its fairness hearing on the proposed agreement until May 17, 2021, when Judge Shea firmly rejected it over a clause the state defended as “standard general release language” which would have abrogated the right of all state prisoners to sue DOC or its former healthcare provider for any cause of action arising prior to April 1, 2020, either HCV-related or otherwise.

“I don’t believe it would be a fair, adequate and reasonable settlement for all of the inmates at the DOC to release all of their claims from the beginning of the world to April 1, 2020,” the judge said. “In any event, I wouldn’t approve it.”

That left the parties to seek approval from the state legislature for a new agreement they presented to the Court, obtaining Judge Shea’s preliminary approval on March 11, 2022.

In this agreement, the Court recognized that from the date of its policy change in August 2019 to December 31, 2021, DOC had provided HCV testing to 18,752 prisoners, of whom 1,856 were positive, with 866 of those agreeing to treatment.

The agency had also abided by requirements of the earlier settlement agreement—the one that was not approved—by providing quarterly reports and adhering to its new policy. As a result, on February 23, 2022, the parties jointly moved and the Court agreed to refine the Class definition to include those confined in DOC up to August 1, 2022.

That is also the date the agreement will end. In addition to adhering to its policy change and keeping up with the reporting requirements it was already fulfilling, DOC agreed to pay Class counsel $112,500. See: Barfield v. Quiros, USDC (D. Conn.), Case No. 3:18-cv-01198.

After the Senate Judiciary Committee of the Connecticut General Assembly voted for Resolution 11 on April 11, 2022, approving the superseding settlement agreement, it is now headed to a vote in the full senate and then the house, clearing the last hurdle before getting Judge Shea’s final approval. See: CT SR00011.  

Additional sources: CT Mirror, CT News Junkie

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Related legal case

Barfield v. Quiros