NYLPI Achieves Milestone Court Ruling on ICE Discharge Planning

March 28, 2019

Health Justice, Immigrant Justice, News

A man holding his head in his hands under a bridge

NYLPI achieved a milestone ruling in our case Charles v. The United States of America, where we sued the U.S. government for harming our client by not providing discharge planning to safeguard his mental health upon release from immigration detention.

The court ruling is here.

The story was written up by The New York Law Journal:

ICE Negligence Suit Allowed to Proceed in Manhattan Federal Court
By Colby Hamilton | March 29, 2019 at 05:47 PM

A federal judge in Manhattan has allowed a lawsuit against Immigration and Customs Enforcement to proceed over claims the agency was negligent in not providing a person in custody with proper medical care at discharge, resulting in a mental health emergency that required months of intense medical treatment.

Michelet Charles, a lawful permanent resident, claims to have been diagnosed with bipolar and schizoaffective disorders for the past 35 years. Medication and other treatments helped him manage his mental health issues for years, allowing him to work, have a family, and participate in society in general, according to court filings.

In July 2014, ICE took Charles into custody, placing him in the Orange County Correctional Center. He was one of the hundreds of detainees federal immigration authorities place in the facility each year. Despite being detained at the facility, Charles claimed that ICE had direct custody over him at key points, including immediately before his release.

Later that month, Charles was released after a hearing at the Varick Street Immigration Court in Manhattan. He claims he was “simply dumped on the streets of Lower Manhattan with nothing more than his identification.” Critically, he claims that ICE failed to provide him with an adequate discharge plan that should have included a supply of interim medication and a summary of medical records, among other items.

Charles claims that his attorney discussed the need for medication with an ICE officer, who said the agency did not have a supply. Charles was directed to return to the Orange County facility, 65 or so miles away, to obtain a supply and his other belongings. When Charles attempted to do so the next day, an employee at the facility said the ICE officials that transported him to Manhattan were responsible for providing the medication. Charles’ attorney said the ICE officer was contacted but failed to respond to inquiries.

Within weeks, Charles claims, his psychosis was so severe he lost contact with reality, requiring his family to call for emergency medical assistance.

ICE argued that it was immune from Charles’ negligence claims under the independent contractor exception to the Federal Tort Claims Act.

U.S. District Judge Vincent Briccetti of the Southern District of New York disagreed.

As Briccetti noted, Charles’ claims are over ICE’s own actions, rather than anything that happened while he was in the care of officials in Orange County. The alleged failures were claimed to have occurred off-site from the Orange County facility, not under the control and care of the Orange County facility’s staff, while ICE officials themselves allegedly failed to provide a discharge plan for Charles, the judge stated.

Charles also sufficiently alleged ICE’s conduct in failing to supervise its own employees was based on inattentiveness, laziness, or absentmindedness, not as part of a consideration of policy, which was required for the agency to be granted a discretionary function exception under the FTCA’s waiver of sovereign immunity.

Charles’ legal team is principally led by attorneys with New York Lawyers for the Public Interest. In a statement, Laura Redman, the group’s director of health justice, said the attorneys and client were pleased with the court’s decision.

“It’s particularly important now, as the number of people in immigration detention increases dramatically, to be able to hold ICE accountable for having a hand in causing great harm to people,” Redman said. “We are gratified that we will have the opportunity to pursue our client’s claims.”

Simpson Thatcher & Bartlett was co-counsel in the action.

A spokeswoman for ICE did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

And by Politico’s daily pulse:

Case accusing ICE of failing to provide mental health care may proceed. A federal judge in New York last week ruled that Michelet Charles, an immigrant detained by ICE, may proceed with his lawsuit against the federal government, which he claims released him from custody without any treatment plan for his mental illness.

Charles, who says he has been diagnosed with bipolar and schizoaffective disorders, was detained in July, 2014 and held for about a year, POLITICO’s Dan Goldberg reports. When he was released, ICE officials did not provide medication or discharge planning, according to the lawsuit. His ensuing psychosis led to a two-month hospital stay.

District Court Judge Vincent Briccetti refused the government’s request to dismiss the case, saying the United States can be held liable if the injury is caused through negligence.

NYLPI Director of Health Justice Laura Redman said: “There is a human rights crisis in immigration detention. We are pleased that the judge agreed that the United States and ICE could not wrap themselves up in immunities and exceptions to rules to escape accountability for having a hand in causing harm to people’s health. It’s important particularly at this time as the number of people in immigration detention dramatically increases that ICE be held accountable for having a hand in causing great harm to people.

After two decades of managing his mental illnesses, Michelet Charles, a lawful permanent resident of the United States, was taken into immigration detention in Orange County in July 2014. He was released in July 2015 and, as detailed in his complaint and referenced by the judge in the ruling, “ICE simply dumped [plaintiff] on the streets of Lower Manhattan with nothing more than his identification.”

Without discharge planning, including an interim supply of medication, his medical records, or information on local mental health agencies, or even his commissary money, Mr. Charles decompensated and was hospitalized for two months.

NYLPI, along with pro bono counsel Simpson Thacher & Bartlett, LLC, sued the United States government under the Federal Tort Claims Act to hold them accountable for their failures. Predictably, the federal government sought to dismiss our case. Among other arguments, the government asserted it is immune from harming our client, by claiming an independent contractor exception to say that after ICE detained Mr. Charles, the government delegated its responsibility to a local facility. The federal district court rejected the argument, pointing out that our case explains ICE had direct custody of our client several times, knew of his mental illness, and refused to give him interim medication upon release.

The court’s ruling on March 28, 2019, also rejected the government’s argument that it was exercising its discretion and making a considered policy choice in the process of turning Mr. Charles out on the street without discharge planning. As the court said, “According to plaintiff, ICE officials simply were inattentive, lazy, or absentminded in failing to provide plaintiff with a discharge plan. Indeed, the 2011 ICE Detention Standards—regardless of whether they bind ICE officials or just facilities housing detainees—indicate ICE itself recognizes detainees should receive discharge plans.”

In partnership with immigrant communities and organizations, a key part of NYLPI’s Health Justice work focuses on ending immigration detention and the health abuses rampant in detention. It is rare that the U.S. government is kept in a case up to this key point. This win is part of NYLPI’s ongoing work to hold the government accountable for harm to immigrant communities.

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