Judge rejects settlement for DOC inmates with hepatitis C

A proposed settlement between the Indiana Department of Correction and inmates with hepatitis C virus who complain they are improperly denied medical treatment was rejected by a federal judge Monday.

Chief Judge Jane Magnus-Stinson of the U.S.  District Court for the Southern District of Indiana denied the DOC’s motion for approval of a proposed settlement agreement, the details of which were not disclosed in the order due to the agreement’s confidential nature. In rejecting the proposal, though, the chief judge cited the court’s obligation to scrutinize proposed settlements with a high duty of care akin to a fiduciary.

“Here, exercising that duty of vigilance, the Court concludes that the proposed settlement does not meet the standard of being ‘fair, reasonable, and adequate,’” Magnus Stinson wrote in Michael Ray Stafford, Charles Smith and Douglas Smith v. Robert E. Carter Jr., Michael Mitcheff, M.D., Monica Gipson, R.N., and Wexford of Indiana, LLC., 1:17-cv-289.

“To put it simply, the Agreement is overbroad. For example, it asks members of the class to agree to an extremely wide-ranging release and discharge of claims, including those having nothing to do with the subject matter of this lawsuit,” the chief judge wrote. “… Without further information or assurances regarding the propriety of these releases, the Court cannot conclude that the Agreement is either fair or reasonable.”

Magnus-Stinson in February certified a class of all DOC inmates infected with chronic HCV.

The class in this case consists of all current and future prisoners in IDOC custody who have been diagnosed, or will be diagnosed, with chronic HCV. The plaintiffs claim DOC’s healthcare providers denied requested treatment for their condition, which can cause liver damage, liver failure, cancer and death in severe cases.

The plaintiffs specifically sought a direct-acting antiviral treatment approved by the FDA in 2013 and recommended by a panel of experts known as the HCV Guidance Panel. The DOC and medical defendants have refused to provide the treatment due to short-term costs, the inmates allege, thus violating their rights under the Eighth Amendment, the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act.

The certified class in this case is estimated to be 3,100 inmates.

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