DPK Wins Significant Pro Bono Case
A team of DPK lawyers worked to achieve a precedent-setting victory in the Eastern District of New York for their pro bono client who suffered severe injuries while he was incarcerated as a pretrial detainee. The case involved the application of the Prison Litigation Reform Act, which restricts certain claims by incarcerated individuals. Typically, these types of cases are challenging for plaintiffs to win. The judge’s 110-page opinion allowed the case to proceed against the defendants, which paved the way for a successful settlement for the client. This outcome also sets a precedent in the District and may impact future cases involving similar claims. The DPK team was led by Keara Bergin and Jack Millson, and included Christine Kim and Emily Glavin.
In this Q&A, Jack Millson explains the circumstances of the case and its significance.
Would you provide some background information about the case and the parties involved?
The case involves a plaintiff, our client, who was a pretrial detainee at the Nassau County Correctional Center. While in the recreation yard, the plaintiff was attacked by several unidentified individuals, and he suffered severe injuries including a life-long scar across his face. Two guards present at the scene failed to intervene promptly. The plaintiff had been previously incarcerated at the same facility, and DPK presented evidence that the assault was provoked by a corrections officer who was unhappy about the plaintiff’s previous report of an assault by a guard. The defendants in the case include the two guards who did not intervene, another guard who allegedly instigated the attack by calling the plaintiff a snitch, the county itself, and the former sheriff for supervisory liability.
How did DPK get involved in the case?
We became involved in the case through a law school clinic at Columbia University dealing with similar cases. My former colleague, Anders Pauley, reached out to a former professor, who happened to be working on the plaintiff’s case at the time. Due to the county’s uncooperative behavior during mediation, the professor’s clinic decided to take on the entire litigation. When the professor was preparing to retire, we connected with her and subsequently took over the case.
Would you elaborate on the significance of winning the motion for summary judgment?
Winning the motion for summary judgment was a significant accomplishment in this case because there is an extraordinarily high bar, particularly for the claims against the County and former sheriff, and typically these types of cases are challenging for plaintiffs to succeed. The judge’s 110-page opinion was noteworthy because it addressed a novel point of law in the Eastern District of New York. The ruling also allowed the case to proceed against all defendants, including the county and the former sheriff, for supervisory liability. This outcome sets a precedent in the Eastern District and may impact future cases involving similar claims.
What was the novel point of law addressed in the judge’s opinion?
The case involved the application of the Prison Litigation Reform Act, which restricts certain claims by incarcerated individuals. One requirement of the act is for incarcerated individuals to go through the grievance procedure established by the facility before bringing a claim in federal court. In this case, the plaintiff was unable to follow that procedure due to concerns about his safety and the short time frame for reporting the incident. However, the plaintiff amended his complaint after his release. The novel argument put forth by DPK was that the amendment after release should be treated as if the plaintiff had filed a new claim, thereby exempting him from the act’s requirements. The judge’s opinion recognized this argument and ruled in favor of the plaintiff, allowing the case to proceed.
How might the judge’s decision impact other similar cases?
The judge’s decision is likely to have an impact on future cases involving the same procedural point. While the circumstances of amending a complaint after release are not common, they do arise in certain situations and can be subject to litigation. Other litigants facing similar circumstances in the Eastern District of New York may look to this case as a precedent. Additionally, the judge’s ruling regarding supervisory liability, where the county and former sheriff were held accountable for potentially knowing about dangerous circumstances within the facility, could also be cited in other cases involving attacks in Nassau County’s correctional facilities.