Alums Help LAJC Win Injunction to Enforce Health Care at Women’s Prison

Powell Fellow Shannon Ellis ’15 Takes Leading Role in Case

The Legal Aid Justice Center said the victory this week is the result of a large team effort in which UVA Law alumni were among the contributors. Photo by Thinkstock

January 4, 2019

Alumni and students of the University of Virginia School of Law were on the legal team that won an injunction against officials at the Virginia Department of Corrections on Wednesday. The ruling will force the Fluvanna Correctional Center for Women to provide adequate health care to its prisoners.

Judge Norman K. Moon ’62 of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia ordered officials to comply with a 2016 settlement agreement the Legal Aid Justice Center negotiated just before trial in Scott v. Clarke.

After the settlement, according to a finding of facts, an inmate waited three years for a colonoscopy, while cancer invaded her liver. Other inmates reported chest pain, difficulty breathing and extreme weight changes, but went unexamined by a doctor. Nurses failed to order medicine.

“Some women have died along the way,” Moon wrote in his opinion. “But this case has survived because Defendants have upheld neither their Eighth Amendment obligations nor the Settlement Agreement they reached to effectuate those obligations.”

Shannon Ellis ’15, a current Powell Fellow at LAJC who has worked closely on the case, echoed Moon’s criticism.

“The state was willing to blame everyone else for their failures — the lawyers, the media, the settlement agreement, even the patients themselves,” Ellis said Wednesday. “Today’s opinion flatly rejects the state’s attempts to point the finger elsewhere and confirms that the state has only itself to blame for the tragic state of health care at FCCW.”

The Fluvanna case has been a large team effort, with dozens of UVA and University of Richmond law students, LAJC attorneys, four outside law firms, and dozens of paralegal volunteers conducting hundreds of visits to the prison and conducting intensive discovery. Among the UVA Law alumni currently working at LAJC who contributed to the work, in addition to Ellis, are Brenda Castañeda ’06, Kim Rolla ’13 and Angela Ciolfi ’03, the executive director.

The injunction orders officials to maintain a full-time staff of 78 nurses at the women’s prison, train them on dispensing and stocking medication, outfit the prison’s buildings with basic emergency equipment and improve the medical grievance system, along with other measures.

The original lawsuit was filed in 2012 by LAJC in association with the law firm Wiley Rein and the Washington Lawyers’ Committee. LAJC announced it had reached a settlement in 2014, which Moon approved in 2016. Women at the prison filed a motion for contempt in September 2017. The law firms of Consumer Litigation Associates and Kelly & Crandall joined the plaintiffs’ legal team to prosecute the contempt motion.

About 1,200 prisoners are housed at the Fluvanna Correctional Center for Women.

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