Michigan DOC Cases Alleging Juvenile Sex Abuse Move Forward in Courts

MDOC cellblockFirm attorneys continue their efforts to obtain justice and monetary and injunctive relief in a class action brought in 2013 against the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC). Doe vs. MDOC, filed in Washtenaw County Circuit Court, involves a class of juveniles who have suffered sexual harassment by adult prisoners and guards while incarcerated in adult facilities by the MDOC. [caption id="attachment_1381" align="alignright" width="200"]Beth Rivers Bio Photo Mar. 2015 PMP&R Partner Beth Rivers[/caption] "Despite the state's efforts to delay and ultimately deny any consideration of the merits of the claims through dozens of dispositive motions and interlocutory appeals, the case is moving forward on several fronts," said attorney Beth Rivers. The Michigan Supreme Court recently ruled that the Court of Appeals had erred in deciding the issue of whether the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act protected prisoners from discrimination. The case was remanded back to the trial court for further proceedings. According to Rivers, a companion case filed in federal court in 2013 also remains active. In that case, the plaintiffs (on behalf of a class of youth incarcerated in adult prisons) allege that the incarceration of juveniles in adult prisons violates their constitutional right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment, denies them due process and equal protection afforded by the 14th Amendment. The state has also sought to deny the class members a hearing on the merits of this case, but those efforts have been unsuccessful. "Unfortunately, after these lawsuits were filed, the youth who had been brave enough to come forward and report and challenge sexual abuse of youth in adult prisons began to experience retaliation from MDOC officials," said Rivers. Rivers said the retaliation included MDOC officials identifying youths making reports to staff and other prisoners resulting in further abuse and retaliation. "In response to the continuing abuse of these innocent juveniles by MDOC officials, we've filed another lawsuit alleging retaliation in violation of the plaintiffs' First Amendment right to file litigation and complain about the conditions of their confinement," said Rivers. The state is using the same delay tactics, according to Rivers, and has responded to the complaint with a motion for summary judgment. That motion is pending. The legal team remains hopeful that the State will eventually be forced to answer and take responsibility for the department's policy of housing youth in adult prisons, which resulted in severe sexual abuse and harassment of the youths by adult prisoners and MDOC staff.

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