INDIVIDUAL CLIENTS: P&A usually seeks to resolve individual clients’ issues through negotiation. If negotiation does not resolve the problem, P&A may represent our client in a complaint to an agency, an administrative hearing, or in court. P&A also helps many individuals by making them aware of their rights so they can handle their own problems.
SYSTEMIC ADVOCACY: P&A may try to change or improve programs that affect groups of individuals by negotiating with government officials or by representing a group of clients in court. P&A staff also provide information to South Carolina lawmakers about bills that affect people with disabilities.
Currently P&A is involved in several systemic advocacy lawsuits affecting the rights of people with disabilities:
SC DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS: In 2005, P&A and three individuals sued the SC Department of Corrections on behalf of all inmates with serious mental illness. In 2014 then Circuit Court Judge Michael Baxley ruled that the SCDC mental health program is “inherently flawed and systemically deficient in all major areas,” and ordered prison officials to reform the system to provide more humane treatment of prison inmates with serious mental illness. Order Granting Judgment in Favor of Plaintiffs. SCDC appealed, but also agreed to mediation in an attempt to resolve issues. In 2016 the parties agreed to a multi-year plan to improve mental health services at SCDC. Settlement Agreement May 31, 2016. The Circuit Court approved the settlement and the SC Supreme Court has issued a final order. The parties are working to implement the Settlement Agreement. The Implementation Panel issued a March 2017 Report; the Mediator also issued a March 2017 Mediator Report. The Nelson Mullins law firm represents P&A and the class pro bono. For additional information see www.mentalhealth4inmates.org.
SC DEPARTMENT OF DISABILITIES AND SPECIAL NEEDS (regulations): In 2007, P&A and a group of individuals sued the SC Department of Disabilities and Special Needs (DDSN) for not complying with state law that government agencies must issue regulations. DDSN does not have regulations for many important matters, including eligibility for their services, hearings and appeals, and standards for day and residential programs. After the Circuit Court ruled for DDSN in 2013 P&A appealed to the Court of Appeals. On February 24, 2016, the Court of Appeals issued an opinion clearly supporting P&A’s right to bring the suit. DDSN asked the SC Supreme Court to review the case; on February 10, 2017, the SC Supreme Court declined review. The case is now expected to return to the trial court. To read the legal complaint see: COMPLAINT – DDSN Regulations The Richardson Plowden law firm is representing P&A and the individuals pro bono.
SC DEPARTMENT OF DISABILITIES AND SPECIAL NEEDS (medical care records): In 2010, P&A sued the SC Department of Disabilities and Special Needs (DDSN) for refusing to allow P&A to carry out its duty to inspect group homes where individuals with developmental disabilities live. To insure that medications are being administered safely, P&A needs to see records. DDSN has instructed the homes not to share those records. The case went to trial on October 3, 2012. In November 2012 the judge ruled against P&A. P&A filed a Motion for Reconsideration and Defendants filed their response to this motion in January 2013. In July 2014, the judge indicated he intended to deny P&A’s Motion. The judge’s written decision was issued December 4, 2014. P&A appealed to the SC Court of Appeals and a hearing was held April 19, 2016; on June 8, 2016, the Court denied P&A’s appeal. To read the opinion of the Court of Appeals see: COURT OF APPEALS DECISION 6-8-16. On September 21, 2016, P&A requested review by the SC Supreme Court. On May 30, 2017, the SC Supreme Court agreed to review the case; the parties will be submitting briefs to the Supreme Court. To read the legal complaint see: COMPLAINT- DDSN Records.
SC DEPARTMENT OF MENTAL HEALTH: In May 2017, P&A and six individuals sued the SC Department of Mental Health (DMH) to increase access to community mental health services. The complaint alleges that DMH is violating the Americans with Disabilities Act by failing to provide adequate community services. This means individuals unnecessarily remain isolated and hospitalized at the state’s G. Werber Bryan Psychiatric Hospital in Columbia. In a 1999 case, the US Supreme Court declared that unjustified isolation was discrimination based on disability, Olmstead v. L.C. 527 U.S. 581, 597 (1999). To read the legal complaint see: COMPLAINT – DMH. The law firm Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice, LLP is representing P&A and the individuals pro bono. On July 25, 2017, the Department of Mental health filed its Answer to the Complaint.