A class action in the Southern District of New York alleges that a private mental health facility in Rockland County physically and mentally abused patients in violation of New York law. Judge Robinson certified the case as a class action, which means that potential class plaintiffs have the option to opt out of the class. That's when things got ugly.
The case is Romano v. SLS Residential, Inc., 07 Civ. 2034 (SCR), issued on September 23. Judge Robinson found that SLS Residential went out of its way to contact class members to falsely advise that their mental health records would be made public if they did not opt out of the class. A therapist employed by defendants contacted some of the class plaintiffs to personally advise them of these adverse consequences. Of course, no one wants their mental health records publicized, so all hell broke loose, as plaintiffs began calling their lawyer and the court to complain.
In finding that defendant engaged in sanctionable conduct, the district court held that defendants schemed to mislead class plaintiffs to persuade them to quit the lawsuit and also to lose confidence in their attorney. Making matters worse, defendants used plaintiffs' therapist to impart this false information, taking advantage of the trust that these plaintiffs had in their therapist. The court further noted that defendants took advantage of vulnerable mental health patients in trying to minimize liability in this action.
Judge Robinson entered the following relief: all opt-out notices are void, and corrective notices will be sent to the class plaintiffs. Defendants and their agents cannot have any more contact with the plaintiffs without court order. And they must pay $35,000 in sanctions plus attorneys' fees.