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Federal Court Holds Illinois DOC in Contempt for Failing to Remediate Substandard Healthcare

by Douglas Ankney

On August 5, 2022, Judge Jorge L. Alonso of the U.S. District Court for Northern Illinois held the state Department of Corrections (DOC) in contempt, after repeated failures to draft a plan to complete agreed-upon remediation of a prison healthcare system that an appointed monitor told the Court is “systemically broken.”

In a consent decree entered in January 2019, DOC agreed to correct unconstitutional deficiencies found in the medical and dental care provided to prisoners. [See: PLN, May 2019, p.38.] As the Court later observed, the decree required “an implementation plan that sets out specific tasks, timetables, goals, programs, plans, projects, strategies and protocols, and that describes the implementation and the timing of the hiring, training, and supervision of the personnel necessary to implement the consent decree.” DOC was ordered to submit a proposed Implementation Plan by September 24, 2019.

After two 30-day extensions, a Plan was finally submitted on November 24, 2019. As the Court observed, however, it was not a “plan that matches [the aforementioned requirement] or comes close to meeting that requirement.” Thereafter, DOC repeatedly submitted additional Implementation Plans, each of which also came up short.

Each Plan was submitted electronically, after which the Court-appointed Monitor went as far as writing in Microsoft Word “bubbles” what corrections the agency needed to make to bring its proposed plan in compliance.

For example, some Plan versions included new “disease management guidelines.” But as the Monitor explained, devising these guidelines was not one of the remedial actions in the Consent Decree, and DOC lacked appropriate personnel to devise such plans anyway.

Moreover, the Court had specifically ordered DOC to draft a plan that included timetables to implement required remedial actions. But the agency repeatedly rejected all or most of the Monitor’s proffered corrections and continued to submit deficient plans. At one point, the Monitor even provided DOC with an entire “example” Implementation Plan — which the agency again rejected.

Finally, an apparently fed-up Judge Alonso granted Plaintiffs’ motion and found DOC in contempt for its failure to devise a suitable Implementation Plan. The Court then ordered that by August 26, 2022, “the Monitor shall provide defendants with a redlined version” of DOC’s last version of the implementation plan dated December 30, 2021, “explaining in Microsoft Word’s comment bubbles the reasons why changes are necessary to ‘ensure that Defendants fulfill the requirements of the Decree.’”

“If defendants still believe that the provisions of their draft suffice to ensure that they will fulfill the requirements of the Consent Decree,” the Court added, they must nevertheless “explain by replying to each of the Monitor’s comments within the same redline document.”

On September 9, 2022, the deadline the Court set, Defendants submitted a Plan with redlined comments — though they then obtained leave to file an amended Plan on September 27, 2022. As of early January 2023, a Plan had still not been submitted that overcomes Plaintiffs’ objections to its sufficiency.

Meanwhile, the fifth report of the Monitor, Dr. John Raba, was submitted to the Court in June 2022, highlighting the “wide gap between what [DOC] believes it has accomplished and the findings of the Monitor.”

The case remains ongoing, and PLN will continue reporting developments as they are available. Plaintiffs are represented by Chicago-based attorneys from the American Civil Liberties Union, Crowell & Moring LLP, the Law Offices of Johanna J. Raimond Ltd., the Uptown People’s Law Center, Locke Lord LLP, Edwards Wildman Palmer LLP, Dentons U.S. LLP, Akerman LLP, the Quinlan Law Firm, LLC and Steptoe & Johnson LLP. See: Lippert v. Ghosh, USDC (N.D. Ill.), Case No. 1:10-cv-04603.

There is no excuse for DOC’s deplorable health care, which Dr. Raba called both “unconscionable” and “incompetent and cruel” in his Monitor’s Report. The agency’s continued stonewalling has dragged out this lawsuit for 11 years. As Dr. Raba noted dryly, the “lack of acknowledgement of poor performance will be a barrier to forward progress.” 

Additional sources: The Appeal, Reason

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