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Court Rejects Jail’s “Social Context” Theory As "legally and philosophically wrong”

On Tuesday, November 22, 2005, Judge J. Frederick Motz of the U.S. District Court granted Plaintiffs a significant discovery victory in the case of Duvall v. Ehrlich. The Duvall plaintiffs are a class of individuals suing over the unconstitutional medical care at the Baltimore City Detention Center ("BCDC").  In his ruling, Judge Motz granted Plaintiffs' Motion in Limine to Bar Certain Evidence of "Social Context."
This dispute arose when the State demanded that the plaintiff inmates turn over information about the medical care they received before and after incarceration. In a novel attempt to narrow the constitutional obligation to provide medical care, the State argued that information about medical care that is available outside the prison walls should be considered in determining what medical care is provided to prisoners inside the walls.  The State relied heavily on a study it commissioned demonstrating that "racial/ethnic minorities, persons of lower socioeconomic status, and the uninsured have less access to health care, lower quality of health care, and worse health status than other Americans."  According to the State, the fact that this population receives care that is "well below a point one would call adequate", should be considered in determining the State's constitutional obligation to provide care.  More specifically, the State suggested that contemporary standards suggest that the constitutional minimum should not be "higher than the level of health care American society itself chooses to provide for a very large percentage of its own free citizens." 
Plaintiffs opposed the State's attempt to link the inadequate medical care of free persons -- especially of minorities, the poor, and the uninsured – to the level of care the State owes to those in custody.  Once the State takes a person into custody, the Supreme Court says the State is obligated to provide adequate food, shelter and medical care.  The fact that the State has not chosen to provide medical care to its general population of free persons, and that  minorities, poor people, and the uninsured have even worse access to health care than others,  cannot be measure of the State's obligation to provide care to those it chooses to incarcerate.
Judge Motz ruled that Defendants' "social context" theory had no validity and is "legally and philosophically wrong." In a related ruling, the Judge also granted Plaintiffs' Motion to Compel evidence.

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