UVA Alumni, Students Help Win Injunction Enforcing Health Care at Women’s Prison

The Legal Aid Justice Center said the victory this week is the result of a large team effort in which UVA Law alumni and students were among the contributors.

Alumni and students of the University of Virginia School of Law were on the legal team that on Wednesday won an injunction against officials at the Virginia Department of Corrections. The ruling will force the Fluvanna Correctional Center for Women to provide adequate health care to its prisoners.

Judge Norman K. Moon of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia ordered officials to comply with a 2016 settlement agreement the Legal Aid Justice Center negotiated just before trial in Scott v. Clarke.

After the settlement, according to a finding of facts, an inmate who had waited three years for a colonoscopy saw cancer invade her liver. Other inmates reported chest pain, difficulty breathing and extreme weight changes, but went unexamined by a doctor. Nurses failed to order medicine.

“Some women have died along the way,” Moon, a 1962 UVA School of Law graduate, wrote in his opinion. “But this case has survived because Defendants have upheld neither their Eighth Amendment obligations nor the Settlement Agreement they reached to effectuate those obligations.”

Shannon Ellis, a 2015 graduate and current Powell Fellow at the Legal Aid Justice Center who has worked closely on the case, echoed Moon’s criticism.

“The state was willing to blame everyone else for their failures – the lawyers, the media, the settlement agreement, even the patients themselves,” Ellis said Wednesday. “Today’s opinion flatly rejects the state’s attempts to point the finger elsewhere and confirms that the state has only itself to blame for the tragic state of health care at [the Fluvanna Correctional Center for Women.]”

The Fluvanna case has been a large team effort, with dozens of UVA and University of Richmond law students, Legal Aid Justice Center attorneys, four law firms and dozens of paralegal volunteers conducting hundreds of visits to the prison and conducting intensive discovery. Among the UVA Law alumni currently working at the Legal Aid Justice Center who contributed to the work, in addition to Ellis, are Brenda Castañeda, a 2006 graduate; Kim Rolla from the Class of 2013; and Angela Ciolfi, a 2003 UVA Law graduate and the center’s executive director.

The injunction orders officials to maintain a full-time staff of 78 nurses at the women’s prison, train them on dispensing and stocking medication, outfit the prison’s buildings with basic emergency equipment and improve the medical grievance system, along with other measures.

The original lawsuit was filed in 2012 by the Legal Aid Justice Center in association with the law firm Wiley Rein and the Washington Lawyers’ Committee. The justice center announced it had reached a settlement in 2014, which Moon approved in 2016. Women at the prison filed a motion for contempt in September 2017. The law firms of Consumer Litigation Associates and Kelly & Crandall joined the plaintiffs’ legal team to prosecute the contempt motion.

About 1,200 prisoners are housed at the Fluvanna Correctional Center for Women.

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Eric Williamson

Associate Director of Communications and Senior Writer University of Virginia School of Law