Federal Judge Issues Approval of Final Hep-C Settlement


On June 29, 2018, a federal judge in Boston issued final approval of a settlement between state prisoners with Hepatitis C and the Massachusetts Department of Correction. The judge’s order resolves Fowler, et al. v. Turco, et al., a class action lawsuit brought by Prisoners’ Legal Services (PLS) and the Massachusetts Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild on behalf of over one thousand prisoners who have chronic Hepatitis C, an infectious disease that attacks the liver.

The case was filed by attorneys Jonathan Shapiro and David Kelston (for NLG-Massachusetts Chapter) and Joel Thompson (for PLS), in response to the advent of direct-acting antiviral medications (DAAs). DAAs arrived on the market in 2013, offering a nearly perfect cure rate with minimal side effects; but by 2015, when the plaintiffs filed suit, only three prisoners had been treated with DAAs out of over 1,800 prisoners with Hepatitis C.

Under the terms of the settlement, the DOC will overhaul its protocol for identifying and treating prisoners with Hepatitis C. Going forward, all new prisoners will be offered testing to determine if they have Hepatitis C. A streamlined process for evaluating Hepatitis C patients will ensure a timely assessment of the severity of their illness. The DOC will treat with DAAs those prisoners whose disease is most advanced, estimated to be 280 patients, by September 2019. After September 2019, the protocol will require treatment of prisoners with moderate or advanced disease by a specific deadline, ranging from 3 months to 12 months. The new protocol also eliminates certain categorical exclusions from treatment — factors that were previously used to deny treatment such as an imminent release date or alleged misbehavior in prison.

At a hearing on June 28, 2018, in which U.S. District Court Judge Nathaniel M. Gorton considered whether to approve the proposed settlement, the Department of Correction advised that it had already begun implementation with 76 state prisoners having started treatment with DAAs since March.

The DOC will employ a third-party monitor to ensure that the new Hepatitis C treatment protocol is being followed over the next two and a half years. PLS and NLG-Massachusetts Chapter will also monitor compliance through receipt of those reports and direct communications with prisoners.