Attorneys ask for joining of jail lawsuits

By Abby Morris
Star Staff
amorris@starhq.com

   Attorneys in the two lawsuits filed against Carter County citing "inhumane" conditions at the Carter County Jail filed a motion in federal court on Wednesday to have those two lawsuits joined, while the attorney representing the county in the two cases has not yet filed a response to either complaint.
   The first lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in Greeneville on Nov. 2, 2003 and the second was filed in the same court on Dec. 3, 2003. Both lawsuits are seeking class-action status.
   Johnson City attorney Scott Pratt filed the first complaint on behalf of Michael Todd Davis and Donna Wells. Knoxville attorney John Eldridge filed the second complaint on behalf of Tony Berry. The suits contend that all three of the plaintiffs were incarcerated in the Carter County Jail and suffered some form of harm during their time at the detention facility.
   According to the Motion for Joinder which was filed on Wednesday, the plaintiffs have each brought actions against the defendants -- Carter County and Sheriff John Henson -- and have also sought to have their lawsuits designated as class-action in order to obtain declaratory and injunctive relief. "As a result, the two lawsuits are seeking the same relief against the same defendants, except for each individual plaintiff's claim for damages," the motion states. "The plaintiff's claims against the defendants arise out of the same transaction, occurrence, or series of transactions or occurrences. But for the individual damage claims, the same questions of law and fact will arise in each action."
   According to clerks with the U.S. District Court in Greeneville, the motion was filed on Wednesday and there is no word yet as to when the judge will make a ruling on the motion.
   Clerks with the court also stated that the defendant's attorney, John Duffy, of Knoxville, had filed no response to either claim. Telephone calls to Duffy's office were not immediately returned on Wednesday. However, Duffy told the Star in early December that he anticipated filing a response to the first lawsuit -- the second had not yet been filed -- by Dec. 25.
   According to County Mayor Dale Fair, Duffy has been appointed by the county to serve as their attorney in the second lawsuit as well.
   Both lawsuits claim that conditions inmates endure at the Carter County Jail "fall beneath the minimum standards for human decency, inflict cruel and needless punishment on all of the inmates and create an environment that takes a tremendous toll on the inmates' physical and emotional well-being."
   The suits seek an injunction against the defendants in the hope of correcting the adverse conditions they claim exist at the detention facility. "Plaintiff and the class seek to alleviate unsanitary conditions, lack of adequate medical care, dental care and mental health care, lack of exercise and recreation, lack of access to legal materials and legal assistance, lack of fire safety, lack of basic hygiene materials, lack of adequate supervision, and other unconstitutional conditions at the facility," the second suit claims.
   The plaintiffs also seek individual claims for damages.
   Wells contends that while she was an inmate at the jail, she was bitten by a Brown Recluse spider and did not receive adequate medical care for the injury when she notified jailers of the incident and has since developed necrosis, or death of tissue, in her leg which has left permanent injury.
   Davis contends that he was assaulted by other inmates on several occasions while he was imprisoned in the facility due inadequate supervision, the complaint states.
   Berry contends that while he was incarcerated at the jail he received inadequate medical care for his diabetes, which jail staff had been informed of, and as a result was released on a medial furlough by a judge due to the fact that his blood sugar levels were so out of balance that he had to be hospitalized and, at the time of the complaint, his health care provider had still not been able to restore them to proper balance.
   On Wednesday, Eldridge could not be reached for further comment due to being out of the office for the holidays. Pratt also did not return phone calls.