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Ward v. Hellerstedt

United States District Court, W.D. Texas, Austin Division

April 28, 2017

JOSEPH WARD et al.,
v.
DR. JOHN HELLERSTEDT, in his official capacity as Commissioner of the Texas Department of State Health Services.

          HONORABLE LEE YEAKEL UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION OF THE UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

          ANDREW W. AUSTIN UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Before the Court are Hellerstedt's Second Amended Motion to Dismiss (Dkt. No. 30); Plaintiffs' Response (Dkt. No. 31); and Hellerstedt's Reply (Dkt. No. 33). The District Court referred the above motions to the undersigned Magistrate Judge for a report and recommendation pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §636(b) and Rule 1(c) of Appendix C of the Local Rules. The Court held a hearing on March 28, 2017.

         I. BACKGROUND

         This case is a proposed class action brought on behalf of seven currently incarcerated individuals, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983.[1] The two purported classes are comprised of individuals found not guilty by reason of insanity and individuals found incompetent to stand trial, who assert their Fourteenth Amendment Due Process rights are violated when they are housed for prolonged periods in Texas jails without adequate mental health treatment, while waiting for a bed to open up in a Texas Department of State Health Services facility. Defendant Dr. John Hellerstedt is currently the duly appointed Commissioner of the Texas Department of State Health Services and is sued in his official capacity.

         In Texas, when an individual charged with a crime is found incompetent to stand trial, all criminal proceedings must stop and the individual must be transferred to a Department facility to be provided further examination and treatment toward the specific objective of attaining competency to stand trial. Tex. Code Crim. Proc. art. 46B.004, 46B.071-073. Persons found incompetent to stand trial and charged with a “violent offense” must be transferred to the maximum security unit designated by the Department. Tex. Code Crim. Proc. art. 46B.073(c).

         When an individual is found not guilty by reason of insanity, the individual stands acquitted of the offense charged and may not be considered a person charged with an offense. Tex. Code Crim. Proc. art. 46C.155(a). If the court determines that the acquittee's offense caused, placed another in, or threatened serious bodily injury, the individual must, within 14 days, be transferred to the maximum security unit designated by the Department for evaluation of the person's present mental condition and for treatment. Tex. Code Crim. Proc. art. 46C.157, 46C.251-252(a), and 46C.160. Once transferred, the Department is required to evaluate the acquittee for 30 days, Tex. Code Crim. Proc. art. 46C.251(a), (d), after which the acquittee must be released if, after a hearing, the State fails to prove by clear and convincing evidence that the individual has a mental illness and is dangerous. Id. at 46C.252-258.

         Plaintiffs argue that Hellerstedt's failure to timely accept transfer of incompetent detainees and insanity acquittees to Department facilities and provide timely restoration and evaluative treatment forces Plaintiffs and members of the classes they represent to remain incarcerated for weeks and months in county jails without any of the treatment or evaluation services that Hellerstedt and his Department are statutorily required, and have been ordered, to provide. Plaintiffs argue that because incompetent criminal defendants have not been convicted of any crime and insanity acquittees have been absolved of criminal responsibility, both classes of persons have a liberty interest in freedom from incarceration, and a liberty interest in the receipt of restorative treatment. Plaintiffs seek a declaration of their rights and an order enjoining Hellerstedt from violating their rights. Plaintiffs assert that they are not seeking immediate release.

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) allows a party to move to dismiss an action for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Fed. R. Civ. P.12(b)(6). In deciding a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, “[t]he court accepts all well-pleaded facts as true, viewing them in the light most favorable to the [nonmovant].” In re Katrina Canal Breaches Litig., 495 F.3d 191, 205 (5th Cir. 2007) (internal quotation marks omitted), cert. denied, 552 U.S. 1182 (2008). The Supreme Court has explained that a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter “to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). “A claim has facial plausibility when the [nonmovant] pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the [movant] is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id.

         III. ANALYSIS

         A. Plaintiffs' Due Process Claim

         The parties spend a fair portion of their briefs arguing over the framing of Plaintiffs' constitutional claim. Hellerstedt insists that Plaintiffs are asserting that they have a stand alone constitutional right to restorative treatment, something that has not been recognized by the Supreme Court or Fifth Circuit. Plaintiffs insist that they are not asserting such a claim. The incompetent detainees' pleadings include the following:

Criminal defendants who not been convicted and have been adjudicated incompetent to stand trial have liberty interests . . . in ...

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