Louisiana’s health agency is urging a Baton Rouge federal judge to throw out a recently filed lawsuit that claims that mentally ill people who have been found incompetent to stand trial are languishing in parish jails instead of receiving timely treatment at the state mental hospital to restore their competency.
The suit, filed Nov. 9 by the New Orleans-based Advocacy Center and an Orleans Parish woman jailed since August on a theft of a motor vehicle charge, accuses the state of violating the U.S. Constitution’s due process clause and the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The state Department of Health and Hospitals and DHH Secretary Kathy Kliebert, the suit’s named defendants, filed a motion Dec. 22 asking U.S. District Judge Shelly Dick to dismiss the suit.
“Defendants have not discriminated against Plaintiffs based on their disability and have not intentionally violated any rights of Plaintiffs,” DHH attorney Stephanie Borghardt writes in the motion. “The Advocacy Center has failed to allege any facts that support the conclusion that their claims are entitled to an assumption of truth or entitled to relief.”
Attorneys for the plaintiffs said Wednesday they will file a response to the state’s motion by Jan. 12.
A similar lawsuit, filed in 2010 in U.S. District Court in New Orleans, resulted in a federal consent decree aimed at getting people declared not competent to stand trial moved more quickly to the Eastern Louisiana Mental Health System — the state mental facility in Jackson — in hopes of having their competency restored.
Under the terms of the decree, DHH was required to ensure that the wait time for admission to the state mental hospital of each incompetent individual is no more than 45 days following the order for inpatient treatment.
DHH substantially complied with the consent decree, which was in effect from July 2011 until July 2014, and U.S. District Judge Sarah Vance, of New Orleans, dismissed the 2010 suit last December, according to the state’s motion to dismiss the similar suit filed last month.
“Plaintiffs are barred from bringing suit ... since this matter has been previously litigated,” Borghardt argues further.
The Advocacy Center has said it filed the new suit because Louisiana is once again failing to provide timely inpatient treatment for jailed suspects who lack the mental capacity to stand trial.
The center filed a separate suit in August 2014 alleging Louisiana is unconstitutionally slow when it comes to moving mentally ill people out of parish jails and into the state mental hospital after they have been found not guilty of a crime by reason of insanity.
That suit is set for trial in August 2016. Dick also presides over that case.
The Advocacy Center wants the judge to consolidate that case with the suit filed last month, citing judicial efficiency and economy, and saying the cases involve common questions of law and fact.
But the state objects to any consolidation, arguing the plaintiffs in each case are each at distinct points in the criminal process and are governed by separate wait lists and separate policies governing admission to the state mental hospital.