Therapists Face Liability for Teens Put in Solitary

     (CN) – Two teenagers held for months in isolation, under close, constant watch and without educational materials or medical treatment, can pursue negligence claims, a federal judge ruled.
     A judge in New Jersey adjudicated 15-year-old Troy D. delinquent on Feb. 18, 2009, for aggravated assault, “criminal sexual contact” and other charges.
     Days later, 16-year-old O’Neill S. was adjudicated delinquent for conspiracy to distribute controlled dangerous substances.
     Both minors were committed to the state’s Juvenile Justice Commission. Troy remained in custody for 225 days and spent 178 to 188 of that time in isolation under close or constant watch, purportedly for his own safety. O’Neill was isolated for about 50 days between June 2009 and October 2010, awaiting hearings for alleged disciplinary violations.
     On June 7, 2010, the pair sued the commission and several psychologists of the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey’s Correctional Healthcare, which, along with Universal Behavioral Healthcare, has an interagency agreement with the state’s Department of Corrections to manage all aspects of committed juveniles’ mental health care.
     The young men claimed they were each confined to a 7-by-7-foot room containing only a concrete bed slab, toilet, sink and mattress pad, and allowed out only for hygiene purposes.
     They said they were denied any educational materials or programming, were prevented from interacting with their peers, and were refused mental health-related and other necessary medical treatment.
     Because O’Neill died on Jan. 19, 2012, the administrator of his estate, Iris Maldonado, stepped in as a plaintiff.
     Senior U.S. District Judge Joseph Irenas refused on June 20 to dismiss negligence claims against the psychologists.
     Though the defendants had claimed that affidavits of merit were not timely supplied, as required by state law, Irenas said the New Jersey statute does not apply here.
     The Affidavit of Merit Statute – which requires plaintiffs to submit within 60 days “an affidavit of an appropriate licensed person that there exists a reasonable probability that the care, skill or knowledge exercised or exhibited in the treatment, practice or work that is the subject of the complaint, fell outside acceptable professional or occupational standards or treatment practices” – contains a limited list of “licensed persons,” the judgment states.
     Because that list does not include licensed midwives or optometrists, affidavits were deemed unnecessary in the 2008 and 2009 rulings Saunders v. Capital Health System at Mercer and Mirow v. Lebovic, respectively, Irenas noted.
     “In the instant case, the mental health defendants are all psychologists,” Irenas wrote. “Psychologists are not included in the list of licensed persons under N.J.S.A. 2A:53A-26. Therefore, as in Saunders and Mirow, no affidavits of merit are required. Additionally, analogous to Mirow, the mental health defendants have failed to present any argument for why this court should not follow Saunders.”

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