February 6, 2020
Correction: A previous version of this article stated Lansing will reimburse MPAS for attorney fees. MPAS will be reimbursed for the cost of filing and service of the lawsuit.
LANSING — Disability advocates have dropped a federal lawsuit after the city of Lansing agreed to release records involving the death of a psychiatric patient.
The two parties settled the lawsuit late last month, less than three weeks after Michigan Protection and Advocacy Service, Inc. filed the action in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan.
The agreement allows Lansing to avoid admitting fault, but requires the city to reimburse MPAS $463 for filing and service of the lawsuit.
MPAS, a nonprofit, is designated by Michigan’s governor to investigate abuse and neglect allegations involving people with disabilities as mandated by a federal law called the Protection and Advocacy for Individuals with Mental Illness Act.
MPAS sought police records from Lansing in the course of the agency’s investigation into the death of a patient at Sparrow Hospital in 2018.
Advocates with MPAS requested records from the city by citing federal laws including PAIMI, but Lansing officials “insisted” on treating the demand for records as a request under Michigan’s Freedom of Information Act, according to the lawsuit.
In all, MPAS waited more than 10 weeks for records, which frustrated the agency’s attempt to investigate possible abuse or neglect, MPAS said.
After MPAS filed the lawsuit, Lansing gave the agency body camera footage with both Law Enforcement Information Network and personal health information redacted, MPAS attorney Simon Zagata said.
LEIN is a law enforcement database that includes information about criminal histories.
Under the settlement, Lansing agreed to provide a more full version of the video that includes personal health information and excludes only LEIN information.
The patient who died had been admitted to Sparrow with diagnoses of schizoaffective disorder and mixed personality traits, according to the lawsuit.
A report submitted by Sparrow to Michigan’s Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs in December 2018 listed the cause of death as unknown, the lawsuit said.
“Sparrow fully complied with all applicable laws in reporting this matter and providing requested documents surrounding this case,” the hospital said in a statement. “Due to privacy laws, we are unable to comment on past, current or pending litigation.”
MPAS requested the records from Lansing as part of the group’s ongoing analysis of deaths at private psychiatric hospitals in Michigan over a three-year period, MPAS attorneys said.
“We did have disagreement about the statute but we were amenable to providing the records to MPAS and we did provide the records to MPAS,” Deputy City Attorney Heather Sumner said. “We believe this was a good resolution. We have a process in place going forward to provide records requested by MPAS.”
The lawsuit against Lansing was dismissed with prejudice, meaning the case is closed and MPAS cannot reopen it.
“The city of Lansing was very reasonable in working with us and we appreciate how their attorneys handled the case,” Zagata said Thursday.
In 2009, MPAS sued the city of Detroit for withholding documents related to a patient death. MPAS dropped the lawsuit a month later once Detroit released the records.
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