Skip to main content

Are you a legal professional? Visit our professional site

Search for legal issues
For help near (city, ZIP code or county)
Please enter a legal issue and/or a location

Court: County Cannot 'Discharge and Dump' Mental Patients

legal definition of medical malpractice. attorney. common errors doctors, nurses and hospitals make.
By William Vogeler, Esq. on June 03, 2019 9:00 AM

Carol Small, diagnosed in a New York detention center as a paranoid schizophrenic, was released in below-freezing temperature with no medication or treatment plan. Michelet Charles fared no better. The immigration center diagnosed him as a bipolar schizoaffective, and then pushed him into the cold with nothing but the clothes on his back and identification.

They both wound up in emergency rooms. In Charles v. Orange County, State of New York, the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals told the government you can't just discharge and dump people like that on the street.

'Discharged and Dumped'

The appeals court said the plaintiffs may proceed against Orange County under the Fourteenth Amendment for showing deliberate indifference to their medical needs. The judges said the county knew or should have known that "failing to provide the omitted medical treatment would pose a substantial risk to the detainee's health."

The plaintiffs were held for several months in the Orange County Correctional Facility, where they received some treatment for their conditions. But after findings they were lawfully in the United States, they were released with medication or treatment plans. Public interest lawyers sued on their behalf, but a trial judge dismissed their case. On appeal, the Second Circuit blasted the county for discharging and dumping the plaintiffs. Small checked herself into an emergency room, and Charles wound up in a psychiatric unit for two months. The appeals court said they deserved better.

"If discharge planning is to occur at all, it must, by definition, occur prior to release from custody," Judge Gerard Lynch wrote for the panel.

Landmark Decision

The plaintiffs' lawyers praised the appeals court for giving their clients another chance at trial. They called it a "landmark decision" because now government officials can be held accountable for failing to provide mental health plans for people discharged from immigration detention.

"The government grabbed our clients off the street, denied them vital medical treatment, and then discharged and dumped them back onto the streets to suffer horribly," said Laura Redman, director of health services at New York Lawyers for the Public Interest. "Today's decision lets us move forward to hold the government accountable for this injustice."

Daniel Stujenske with Simpson Thatcher & Bartlett said he was gratified with the decision. "We intend to prove that our clients' constitutional rights were violated when they were not provided discharge planning as part of their treatment for serious mental health illnesses," he said.

Related Resources:

Find a Lawyer

More Options