Advocacy

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 Nelson Mullins law firm represents P&A and the class pro bono.
For additional information see:
www.mentalhealth4inmates.org

The Implementation Panel and the Mediator have issued reports as listed below:

(P&A regrets that the reports may not be accessible to individuals using screen reader programs.)

July 2018 Implementation Panel Report
December 2017 Implementation Panel Report
December 2017 Mediator’s Report
July 2017 Implementation Panel Report
July 2017 Mediator Report
March 2017 Implementation Panel Report
March 2017 Mediator Report

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.  Late in 2017 the parties agreed to attempt mediation to resolve the case.  On September 25, 2018, P&A and DDSN mediated the case and reached an agreement.  On October 1, 2018, the DDSN Commission voted to accept the proposed agreement.  In that agreement, DDSN agreed to publish a Notice of Drafting in the State Register, along with draft regulations in specific subjects.  DDSN agreed to draft regulations in the following areas (based upon the directives referenced below):

DDSN has 100 days to start this process and post the notice as required by the SC Administrative Procedures Act (APA).  Once the notice is posted, the regular requirements of the APA will apply.  When the notice is published in the State Register, P&A will formally dismiss its case against DDSN.  As part of the regulatory process, P&A and others will then be able to provide comments on each of the proposed regulations.  The Notice of Drafting should be published in the State Register in late February, 2019.

 

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.