Lawsuit Against MDHHS Director Robert Gordon Clears Hurdle
by Larry Margolis on October 17, 2019
Ann Arbor – In a 76-page decision, Federal District Court Judge Borman has ruled that a lawsuit against the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS), filed by Ann Arbor attorneys Laurence H. Margolis and James Gallagher, and later joined by Michigan Protection & Advocacy Service, Inc. (MPAS), can proceed, despite several motions filed by the defendants to have the case dismissed.
This suit was filed on behalf of individuals who, because of illegitimate policies and practices, face spending years of their lives unnecessarily and unconstitutionally confined to state-operated psychiatric hospitals. Individuals deemed NGRI are not being served in the most integrated setting appropriate for their needs, as required by the Americans with Disabilities Act, nor are they being recommended for discharge when they no longer require psychiatric hospitalization.
In his decision, Judge Borman wrote “the Court finds that Plaintiffs have sufficiently alleged, and Defendants have not denied, that the NGRI Committee members failed to provide state-required appeal notice after it revoked ALS (Alternative Leave Status) privileges, reinstating confinement in hospitals.” He further wrote, in the context of claims raised under the Americans with Disabilities Act, while the state’s treatment professionals may claim hospitalization is appropriate, it “of course does not provide them with a free pass to violate patient’s constitutional and statutory rights.”
In Michigan’s state psychiatric hospitals, individuals deemed not guilty by reason of insanity are patients, not prisoners. Therefore, they are entitled to therapeutic, rather than punitive treatment. The intentional isolation they face deprives them of their sense of dignity, respect, and self-worth as their lives are micromanaged far worse that those convicted of crimes. These unconstitutional and discriminatory policies, deeply rooted in a mental health stigma, deny patients critical treatment and their quality of life.
“This is just another example of the state’s failure to provide services to individuals with mental illness in the community with the supports they need to be successful,” says MPAS attorney Andrea Rizor. MPAS is currently in class action litigation against MDHHS for similar failures, leaving children without the mental health services they need.
We are hopeful this litigation will stop the unnecessary confinement of patients, stop the failure or refusal to provide necessary treatment in the community, and stop the delay of appropriate timely release. It is expected that keeping people out of the psychiatric hospitals who do not require hospitalization will free up space for those who so desperately need it, such as those with serious mental illness deemed incompetent to stand trial sitting in jail.
Laurence H. Margolis, James M. Gallagher and Ian Cross are civil rights attorneys in Ann Arbor, MI
Michigan Protection & Advocacy Service, Inc. (MPAS) is the independent, private, nonprofit organization designated by the governor of the State of Michigan to advocate and protect the legal rights of people with disabilities in Michigan. www.mpas.org.
You can read the entire press release here: