May 5, 2017

CONTACT: Lindsay Kee, 615-320-7142

NASHVILLE – A federal judge has certified that a lawsuit challenging the Tennessee Department of Corrections’ systematic denial of treatment to inmates infected with Hepatitis C (HCV) can proceed as a class action.

“The Tennessee Department of Corrections’ unconstitutional denial of life-saving medical care affects thousands of people behind bars who are diagnosed with HCV,” said Thomas H. Castelli, ACLU-TN legal director. “This class certification paves the way for the safety and human dignity of many more people to potentially be protected through the justice system.”

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of an inmate at the Northwest Correctional Complex in Tiptonville and an inmate at the Hardeman County Correctional Facility in Whiteville, who were both diagnosed with HCV years ago while incarcerated at Tennessee Department of Corrections facilities. The complaint alleges that the Department of Corrections consistently and systematically denied the plaintiffs treatment for their disease in violation of the U.S. Constitution’s protection against cruel and unusual punishment.

The current guidance for treatment of HCV infection, jointly set by the American Association for the Study of Liver Disease and the Infectious Disease Society of America, definitively establishes a 12-week treatment regimen with direct-acting anti-viral drugs as the medically accepted standard of care. This treatment results in curing the disease in at least 90 percent of cases. However, as of May 2016, only eight of the 3,487 Tennessee Department of Corrections inmates identified as infected were receiving treatment with direct-acting anti-viral drugs.

“The court’s order is the first victory for plaintiffs in their larger legal battle to ultimately force the Department of Corrections to diagnose and treat inmates suffering from Hepatitis C according to universally accepted, minimum medical standards,” said ACLU-TN cooperating attorney Karla Campbell of Branstetter, Stranch & Jennings, PLLC. “That inmates suffer the effects of untreated HCV infection for years, even decades, is inhumane, and we are grateful to the court for allowing us to move forward with our claims.”

The lawsuit asks the court to declare that the Tennessee Department of Corrections’ policies and practices with regards to HCV violate the Eighth Amendment and to require the department to develop and implement a new plan for diagnosis and treatment that complies with the community standard of care and expert medical advice.

“This class certification reinforces the major impact this case has on public health in Tennessee as a whole. The vast majority of Tennesseans in state custody will eventually be released, making both treatment and a failure to treat a public health issue,” said Disability Rights Tennessee attorney Liz Logsdon. “Treating inmates with HCV is good for all Tennesseans.”

The lawsuit was filed on July 25, 2016 in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee by the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee, Disability Rights Tennessee and Branstetter, Stranch & Jennings, PLLC. No Exceptions Prison Collective also collaborated in the filing of the lawsuit.

A copy of the complaint filed in July can be found here.