Advocacy involves working for our clients to enforce their legal rights. P&A advocates for both individual clients and for groups of individuals.
INDIVIDUAL CLIENTS: P&A usually seeks to resolve individual client’s issues through negotiation. If negotiations do not resolve the problem, P&A may represent our client in a complaint to an agency, an administrative hearing, or in court. P&A also helps many individuals by making them aware of their rights so they can handle their own problems.
SYSTEMIC ADVOCACY: P&A may try to change or improve programs that affect groups of individuals by negotiating with government officials or by representing a group of clients in court. P&A staff also provide information to South Carolina lawmakers about bills that affect people with disabilities.
Currently P&A is involved in several systemic advocacy lawsuits affecting the rights of people with disabilities:
SC DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS: In 2005, P&A and three individuals sued the SC Department of Corrections on behalf of all inmates with mental illness. The Nelson Mullins law firm is representing P&A and the individuals pro bono (without charge). The trial was held in 2012 and additional hearings were held. On January 8, 2014, the judge ruled that the SCDC mental health program is “inherently flawed and systemically deficient in all major areas,” and prison officials should address the constitutional deficiencies and provide more humane treatment of prison inmates with serious mental health illnesses. Order Granting Judgment in Favor of Plaintiffs. The SC Department of Corrections filed an appeal but agreed to mediation in an attempt to resolve issues. On May 31, 2016, the parties reached a settlement and submitted it for approval to the SC Supreme Court. Settlement Agreement May 31, 2016. On June 15, 2016, the Supreme Court sent the Settlement Agreement and Notice to a circuit court for review. For additional information, see the article on the homepage of the P&A website and also www.mentalhealth4inmates.org.
SC DEPARTMENT OF DISABILITIES AND SPECIAL NEEDS (regulations): In 2007, P&A and a group of individuals sued the SC Department of Disabilities and Special Needs (DDSN) for not complying with state law that government agencies must issue regulations. Regulations are rules about agency procedure so the public can know how the agency makes decisions that affect individual rights. This lawsuit was brought because DDSN does not have regulations for many important procedures, including who is eligible for their services or how to appeal a denial. The Richardson Plowden law firm of Columbia and Myrtle Beach is representing P&A and the individuals pro bono. On September 24, 2013, the judge granted summary judgment for Defendants including a finding that P&A lacked “standing” to bring this suit. The judge then denied Plaintiffs’ Motion for Reconsideration on December 30, 2013. P&A appealed the decision to the SC Court of Appeals and a hearing was held January 7, 2016. On February 24, 2016, the Court of Appeals issued an opinion clearly supporting P&A’s right to bring the suit. Defendants have asked the SC Supreme Court to review the case. To read the legal complaint see: COMPLAINT – DDSN Regulations
SC DEPARTMENT OF DISABILITIES AND SPECIAL NEEDS (medical care records): In 2010, P&A sued the SC Department of Disabilities and Special Needs (DDSN) for refusing to allow P&A to carry out its duty to inspect group homes where individuals with developmental disabilities live. To insure that medications are being administered safely, P&A needs to see records. DDSN has instructed the homes not to share those records. The case went to trial on October 3, 2012. In November 2012 the judge ruled against P&A. P&A filed a Motion for Reconsideration and Defendants filed their response to this motion in January 2013. In July 2014, the judge indicated he intended to deny P&A’s Motion. The judge’s written decision was issued December 4, 2014. P&A appealed to the SC Court of Appeals and a hearing was held April 19, 2016; on June 8, 2016, the Court denied P&A’s appeal. P&A is reviewing the decision for further possible action. To read the legal complaint see: COMPLAINT- DDSN Records. To read the opinion of the Court of Appeals see: COURT OF APPEALS DECISION 6-8-16.