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Trueblood v. Washington State Department of Health And Human Services

United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Seattle

October 18, 2017

CASSIE CORDELL TRUEBLOOD, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
WASHINGTON STATE DEPARTMENT OF SOCIAL AND HEALTH SERVICES, et al., Defendants.

          ORDER ON PLAINTIFFS' SECOND MOTION FOR CIVIL CONTEMPT: JAIL-BASED EVALUATIONS

          Marsha J. Pechman, United States District Judge.

         The Court has received and reviewed:

1. Plaintiffs' Second Motion for Civil Contempt of Court-Ordered In-jail Evaluation Deadlines (Dkt. No. 427);
2. Defendants' Response to Plaintiffs' Second Motion for Civil Contempt of Court-Ordered In-jail Evaluation Deadlines (Dkt. No. 442);
3. Plaintiffs' Reply on Motion for Civil Contempt of Court-Ordered In-jail Evaluation Deadlines (Dkt. No. 449); including all attachments and declarations, plus relevant portions of the court record; additionally, the Court heard in-court testimony and oral argument related to Plaintiffs' motion.

         Summary

         On April 2, 2015, the Court wrote the following summary at the conclusion of the trial in this matter:

The State of Washington is violating the constitutional rights of some of its most vulnerable citizens. The State has consistently failed to provide timely competency evaluation and restoration services, services needed to determine whether individuals understand the charges against them and can aid in their own defenses, which is required in order for them to stand trial. By failing to provide competency evaluation and restoration services within seven days of a court order, [1] the State fails to provide both the substantive and procedural due process required by the Constitution. Our jails are not suitable places for the mentally ill to be warehoused while they wait for services. Jails are not hospitals, they are not designed as therapeutic environments, and they are not equipped to manage mental illness or keep those with mental illness from being victimized by the general population of inmates. Punitive settings and isolation for twenty-three hours each day exacerbate mental illness and increase the likelihood that the individual will never recover.
The Department of Social and Health Services has been hampered in providing these required services by insufficient funding for beds and personnel. Without these resources, they cannot collaborate and coordinate with the other agencies and courts involved in the criminal mental health system.

         Dkt. No. 131, Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law (“FOFCOL”) at 2.

         The Court ordered the Defendants to cease violating the constitutional rights of class members by reducing wait times. The Defendants were given nine months to comply. The Court further stated:

The Department of Social and Health Services has failed to change its procedures to respond to this ongoing crisis, and has routinely defied the orders of Washington's state courts, a practice that has resulted in hundreds of thousands of dollars in contempt fines. The Department continues to fail to make significant progress in implementing any of the reforms recommended by auditors and experts. The Department has failed to plan ahead for growth in the demand for competency services, which has increased every year for the last decade, and has failed to show the leadership and capacity for innovation that is required to address the crisis. Other states and counties have been able to meet the constitutional requirements, and so can the State of Washington.

Id. at 3.

         Since the time of trial, the Court has modified its time for evaluations to be completed. It extended the time for compliance based upon the Defendants' negotiated agreements with the Plaintiffs, and based upon Defendants' representations and promises. The Defendants have failed to meet all deadlines, including those set by themselves. Their excuses remain the same and their planning remains inadequate. They were given every opportunity to adopt steps that would ameliorate this crisis by doing the following:

(1) Expanding the pool of professionals who can do evaluations for competency.
(2) Developing a certification process to train the expanded pool of professionals.
(3) Setting up a cadre of contract professionals who could respond to increases in demand and adequately paying reasonable rates in order to attract them.
(4) Utilizing newly-hired staff to meet the demand.
(5) Developing programs to divert class members out of the criminal justice system.

         The Court continues the order of contempt and increases the fines. The Department's lack of effort is frustrating, particularly in light of multiple studies and consultants offering concrete solutions that have not been acted upon, and in light of deadlines and other promises which Defendants themselves have made and not kept. As a result of these failures, Defendants continue to amass fines for their contempt, fines which are funneled into a fund in the Registry of the Court. The Defendants' contempt payments are being used to fund programs agreed to by the parties providing services for and benefits to the class members which Defendants (despite statutory, constitutional and court mandates) have been unable to furnish.

         Our most vulnerable population, those with mental health needs, deserve the protection of the Constitution and the provision of services to which they are entitled, not the ongoing foot-dragging and rationalizing which Defendants have exhibited to date. The question of why DSHS prefers to pay millions of dollars to the court treasury rather than honor ...


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