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Robert Hilton, On Behalf of Himself and v. Lester N. Wright

March 9, 2012

ROBERT HILTON, ON BEHALF OF HIMSELF AND
ALL OTHERS SIMILARLY SITUATED, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT, LOUIS VASQUEZ, PLAINTIFF,
v.
LESTER N. WRIGHT, M.D., M.P.H., ASSOCIATE COMMISSIONER, CHIEF MEDICAL OFFICER FOR THE NEW YORK STATE DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONAL SERVICES AND NEW YORK STATE DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONAL SERVICES, DEFENDANTS-APPELLEES.



Per curiam.

10-135-cv (L), 10-2245-cv (Con)

Hilton v. Wright

Argued: March 10, 2011

Before: WINTER, POOLER, and HALL, Circuit Judges.

Plaintiff-Appellant Robert Hilton appeals from the judgment of the United States District Court for the Northern District of New York (Hurd, J.), dismissing his complaint against Dr. Lester N. Wright and the New York Department of Correctional Services after granting the defendants' motion for summary judgment on Hilton's individual claims for damages arising from asserted violations of his rights under the Eighth Amendment of the United States Constitution, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the Rehabilitation Act. Hilton also appeals from that portion of a separate order of the district court denying his application, on behalf of a class, for the award of certain costs incurred by his counsel in connection with monitoring a settlement between the class and the defendants. Because the district court did not adequately explain why it granted the defendants' motion for summary judgment on Hilton's claims for damages, we vacate the judgment and remand the case for the district court to address more fully the defendants' motion. Additionally, because the district court misinterpreted the parties' settlement agreement with respect to the recovery of reasonable costs, we vacate that part of its order denying Hilton's application for reimbursement of out-of-pocket expenses and remand the issue to the district court for it to determine in its discretion whether to grant, fully or partially, Hilton's application for such costs.

VACATED AND REMANDED.

Plaintiff-Appellant Robert Hilton appeals from the judgment of the United States District Court for the Northern District of New York (Hurd, J.), dismissing his complaint against Dr. Lester N. Wright and the New York Department of Correctional Services after granting the defendants' motion for summary judgment on Hilton's individual claims for damages arising from asserted violations of his rights under the Eighth Amendment of the United States Constitution, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the Rehabilitation Act. Hilton also appeals from that portion of a separate order of the district court denying his application, on behalf of a class, for the award of certain costs incurred by his counsel in connection with monitoring a settlement between the class and the defendants. Because the district court did not adequately explain why it granted the defendants' motion for summary judgment on Hilton's claims for damages, we vacate the judgment and remand the case for the district court to address more fully the defendants' motion. Additionally, because the district court misinterpreted the parties' settlement agreement with respect to the recovery of reasonable costs, we vacate that part of its order denying Hilton's application for reimbursement of out-of-pocket expenses and remand the issue to the district court for it to determine in its discretion whether to grant, fully or partially, Hilton's application for such costs.

Background

Plaintiff-Appellant Robert Hilton, a former state prisoner, is infected with the Hepatitis C virus ("HCV"), a slowly progressive but potentially fatal disease affecting the liver. Defendant- Appellee New York State Department of Correctional Services ("DOCS") was aware of Hilton's condition when he was placed in its custody in April 2003. Hilton served about a year in prison but did not receive treatment for his condition allegedly because DOCS determined, pursuant to its guidelines then in effect, that Hilton's period of incarceration was not long enough to allow for proper evaluation and treatment. Shortly after Hilton was released, he was convicted of a new crime and returned to DOCS in August 2004.

In May 2005, after a lengthy screening process, certain members of the DOCS medical staff recommended that he be treated with antiviral drugs to combat his HCV. Hilton was not allowed to receive such treatment, however, without the express authorization of Defendant- Appellee Dr. Lester Wright, Chief Medical Officer and Assistant Commissioner of DOCS. Wright refused to allow treatment because he determined that Hilton was ineligible under existing DOCS guidelines--guidelines which he himself had promulgated. Specifically, because Hilton had admitted to using drugs in the past,*fn1 his HCV antiviral treatment was conditioned on his completion of or enrollment in one of two select DOCS substance abuse programs ("Program Requirement").*fn2 After Hilton was denied treatment, he sought to enroll in one of the programs, but he soon learned that he was ineligible because, as gauged by the earliest date of possible release, he was not going to be in prison long enough to complete that program. Around that time, Hilton complained to members of the prison medical staff about symptoms related to his HCV. The staff forwarded this information to Wright, noting that Hilton was again requesting antiviral treatment. Wright asked for Hilton's medical records and, after studying those related to prior HCV treatment at Bellevue Hospital in New York City, concluded that Hilton was a "non-responder" who would not benefit from antiviral treatment.

On August 17, 2005, a little more than three months after Hilton's original request for treatment was denied, Hilton filed this lawsuit against Wright and DOCS and moved for a temporary restraining order that would require Wright to authorize antiviral treatment. Shortly thereafter, Wright stipulated that he would authorize treatment for Hilton.*fn3 On September 2, 2005, Hilton amended his complaint to join another inmate as a plaintiff and to assert claims on behalf of all similarly situated prisoners in the custody of DOCS. The complaint asserted three causes of action. First, under 42 U.S.C § 1983 and the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments of the Constitution, it sought damages and equitable relief based on the defendants' asserted deliberate indifference to the plaintiffs' serious medical needs. The complaint alleged that the policy conditioning HCV antiviral treatment for former alcohol and drug users on their participation in the Program was without medical justification. The requirement's true aim, the complaint asserted, was to limit the number of inmates receiving such treatment and, thereby, save money. The complaint also asserted that DOCS had an unusually long HCV screening process in place for the same reason.*fn4 The second and third causes of action sought damages and equitable relief based on asserted violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), 42 U.S.C. § 12132, and the Rehabilitation Act, 29 U.S.C. § 705. They alleged that the defendants regarded the plaintiffs as disabled on the basis of their former drug or alcohol use, and discriminated against them through the Program Requirement.

The district court certified the class with respect to the plaintiffs' claims for injunctive relief in February 2006, and the parties began settlement discussions. In July 2007, they reached an interim settlement agreement, which became final in January 2008 ("Settlement Agreement"). The Settlement Agreement resolved all of the class's injunctive and equitable claims. It permanently eliminated the Program Requirement and provided steps to identify and treat those prisoners that had been previously denied medication because of their failure to participate in the Program.*fn5 The Settlement Agreement also called for payment to class counsel of fees for attorney and paralegal time used monitoring the Agreement's implementation for a two-year period. The award of those fees was capped at $20,000, subject to discretionary upward adjustment by the district court.

One method of such monitoring was the distribution of a questionnaire to affected prisoners. Hilton's lawyers agreed to collect and analyze the questionnaires and share the results with DOCS. This information was intended to give DOCS a definitive class list and a mechanism to monitor its own compliance with the Settlement Agreement. Because DOCS did not know which inmates had been denied treatment pursuant to the Program Requirement, the questionnaire was mailed to all HCV infected inmates and served as the class members' only form of notification about the Settlement Agreement. The expanded number of inmate responses to the questionnaire greatly increased the administrative burden on Hilton's lawyers, who, according to Hilton, became essentially responsible for coordinating relief under the Settlement Agreement. They hired an assistant to enter data and manage correspondence with the inmates. This latter function also required retaining translation services and engineering several massmailings. Eventually Hilton's lawyers sent DOCS a list of around 700 potential class members, and DOCS, through its own records, was able to reduce the list to 302.*fn6

The Settlement Agreement left Hilton and the other named plaintiff with claims against Wright and DOCS for damages only. The defendants moved for summary judgment on these claims. In a two-page order the district court granted the motion. As all of the plaintiffs' claims had either settled or been disposed of by summary judgment, the district court ...


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