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Dean v. Coughlin

decided: October 28, 1986.

MARY DEAN, KAREN WHITE, WINIFRED MACK AND ELIZABETH TAYLOR, FOR THEMSELVES AND ALL OTHERS SIMILARLY SITUATED, PLAINTIFFS-APPELLEES,
v.
THOMAS A. COUGHLIN III, COMMISSIONER OF THE NEW YORK STATE DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONAL SERVICES; RAYMOND BROADDUS, ASSISTANT COMMISSIONER FOR HEALTH SERVICES OF THE NEW YORK STATE DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONAL SERVICES; SYDNEY POLLARD, DENTAL DIRECTOR OF NEW YORK STATE DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONAL SERVICES; ELAINE LORD, SUPERINTENDENT OF BEDFORD HILLS CORRECTIONAL FACILITY; JIMMIE HARRIS, HEALTH ADMINISTRATOR OF BEDFORD HILLS CORRECTIONAL FACILITY AND DONALD COLLINGS, DENTIST AT BEDFORD HILLS CORRECTIONAL FACILITY, INDIVIDUALLY AND IN THEIR OFFICIAL CAPACITIES, DEFENDANTS; THOMAS A. COUGHLIN III, COMMISSIONER OF THE NEW YORK STATE DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONAL SERVICES; RAYMOND BROADDUS, ASSISTANT COMMISSIONER FOR HEALTH SERVICES OF THE NEW YORK STATE DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONAL SERVICES; ELAINE LORD, SUPERINTENDENT OF BEDFORD HILLS CORRECTIONAL FACILITY AND JIMMIE HARRIS, HEALTH ADMINISTRATOR OF BEDFORD HILLS CORRECTIONAL FACILITY, DEFENDANTS-APPELLANTS



Appeal by New York State correctional officials from a mandatory preliminary injunction issued by the Southern District of New York, Shirley Wohl Kram, J., in a civil rights action by prisoners under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, specifying in detail the system of dental care to be provided to inmates of the Bedford Hills Correctional Facility, a New York State prison.

Mansfield, Kearse and Winter, Circuit Judges.

Author: Mansfield

MANSFIELD, Circuit Judge:

On this appeal we are faced with the question of what role should be played and procedure followed by federal courts in remedying constitutional deficiencies in a state's administration of its prisons -- in this case the failure of New York State to provide adequate dental health care and services to prisoners at its Bedford Hills Correctional Facility (BH). In this civil rights action by prisoners under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 defendants, the Commissioner and Assistant Commissioner of the New York State Department of Correctional Services (DOCS) and the Superintendent and Health Administrator of BH, appeal from a mandatory preliminary injunction issued by the Southern District of New York, Shirley W. Kram, J., specifying in detail the system of dental care that is to be provided to BH inmates. Appellants' principal contention is that the district court abused its discretion by imposing upon the State the court's own plan for such care without finding that appellants' plan was constitutionally inadequate and by ordering appellants to take steps in providing dental care that were not constitutionally required. We vacate the injunction and remand the case for adoption of the plan proposed by the defendant, subject to such further modifications as may be made by the court after a hearing.

BH is a New York State correctional facility for women, which houses approximately 560 inmates. It serves as a maximum security prison, correctional facility and reception center. On March 2, 1984, several prisoners commenced this class action under § 1983, alleging that the existing system used by the defendants to provide dental care at BH was inadequate and violated their rights under the Eighth Amendment. They sought a declaratory judgment and permanent mandatory injunctive relief. More than a year later, in May 1985, the district court held an evidentiary hearing on plaintiffs' motion for preliminary relief, which it granted in a decision rendered on December 3, 1985. Dean v. Coughlin, 623 F. Supp. 392 (S.D.N.Y. 1985).

Judge Kram found a substantial likelihood that the plaintiffs would succeed in showing a pattern of deliberate indifference by the defendants to BH inmates' serious dental needs and that as a consequence the inmates were suffering and would suffer pain, loss of teeth, discomfort, anxiety, infection and life-threatening complications in violation of their constitutional rights. More specifically, the court found that some patients, despite their requests, never receive an initial or any other dental screening examination by a prison dentist, that the BH system for providing routine dental care at BH had become "defunct," and that BH had no reasonable method of systematically scheduling and handling dental examinations, fillings, cleanings, extractions, dentures, root canal needs and gum treatments. The BH procedure for requesting and handling emergency dental care had also broken down, with backlogs and delays of many months after requests were made before the requesting inmates were treated. Similarly, the BH dental clinic, despite directions by its dentists for follow-up visits by patients, failed to keep these appointments, leading to pain and suffering by the inmate-patients. Prophylactic care was not regularly provided to inmates. There were likewise failures or long delays in furnishing restorative care, e.g., filling of cavities, which prolonged the patients' pain and suffering.

On December 3, 1985, the district court, concluding that the prerequisites for preliminary relief had been met, ordered the defendants

"to provide a dental access system that assures prompt diagnosis and treatment for inmates with serious dental needs, provide a system that assures that follow-up care is provided as ordered and without delay, and take prompt steps to eliminate expeditiously the current backlogs in treatment. Defendants are furthermore ORDERED to take all steps necessary to comply with the terms of this order.

"The Court will not now be more specific regarding the terms of the injunction. It expects the defendant and plaintiffs to work out terms for compliance with the injunction in the first instance." Dean v. Coughlin, 623 F. Supp. at 405.

The defendants did not appeal the court's preliminary injunction.*fn1 On December 20, 1985, after the plaintiffs complained to the court that the defendants were not cooperating in furnishing discovery, and defendants' counsel informed the court of the efforts being made to work out a method of implementing the court's order, Judge Kram directed the parties to meet together and work out a plan for compliance with her order. Although the parties did thereafter confer with respect to a remedy on December 30, 1985, no progress was made except that the defendants advised that the State was negotiating with Mobile Health Services, a private contractor, to provide dental care and facilities that would satisfy constitutional requirements. On January 17, 1986, defense counsel advised Judge Kram at a status meeting of the State's negotiations with Mobile Health Services. Judge Kram, expressing the view that the State was dragging its feet, directed both sides to submit proposed orders by January 31, 1986. On January 31, 1986, the defendants served their proposed order incorporating by reference a "Plan for Implementation of the Preliminary Injunction", which was attached, upon the plaintiffs and on February 3, 1986, filed the order and Plan with the court. At approximately the same time plaintiffs served and filed their proposed order for implementation of the injunction.

The defendants' Plan consisted of a proposed contract between the State and "Mobile Dental Services, P.C." (MDS), a private provider of professional dental care to numerous institutions. The MDS contract incorporated a detailed "Plan of Care" for Bedford Hills designed to reduce the existing backlog and provide for continuous dental care thereafter for the BH inmates, including increased professional staff and operations, specific procedures to determine the dental needs of the BH population, methods for establishing treatment priorities, dental screening of prisoners simultaneously with the provision of call-out, routine and emergency care, an assessment examination of each inmate, a sick call system, a follow-up appointment system, the utilization of an enlarged dental clinic which would have operatories and additional personnel, and the maintenance of a detailed individual dental record for each inmate. The defendants' Plan further provided that MDS would provide a "Policy and Procedures Manual" for BH and included copies of similar documents prepared by MDS for other organizations. The Plan also contained a proposed timetable for MDS' commencement of operations at BH, samples of computer records used by MDS and the background of MDS and its chief officers.

In short, the defendants' Plan appears to have been an effort to set forth a remedy for the deficiencies in dental care found by the court to exist in BH, which would be implemented by an established, independent organization specializing in the provision of such care to institutions. The defendants' counsel advised the court that the proposed contract between the State and MDS would be signed upon the court's approval of the Plan, that the state agencies involved had already given their preliminary approval and could be expected to give their final approval within 10 days after the court's approval, and that dental services would be provided by MDS within two weeks thereafter.

The plaintiffs' proposal also contained procedures and some 165 requirements for provision of dental care at BH. The defendants' objected to it as excessively detailed and intrusive, going beyond the limits fixed by the Supreme Court for judicial involvement in the operation and control of a state correctional facility. See Rhodes v. Chapman, 452 U.S. 337, 351, 69 L. Ed. 2d 59, 101 S. Ct. 2392 (1981) (courts should avoid issuing relief representing "a court's idea of how best to operate a detention facility"); Union County Jail Inmates v. DiBuono, 713 F.2d 984, 1001-02 (3d Cir.), rehearing denied, 718 F.2d 1247 (3d Cir. 1983), cert. denied, 465 U.S. 1102, 104 S. Ct. 1600, 80 L. Ed. 2d 130 (1984). Some of the detailed specific requirements to which the defendants objected in letters to the court included the following:

(1) Specific time frames for treatment. Objected to as inconsistent with sound medical practice;

(2) Independent compliance audits or monitor systems. Defendants prefer quarterly audits prepared by MDS for DOCS Dental Review Committee;

(3) Multi-language requirements in dealing with patients. Defendants urge that orientation in English ...


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