Montgomery County

Lawsuit against Montgomery County over jail food now class action

Ruling opens up case for more inmates to join lawsuit
A federal ruling has opened to former and current prisoners to join in a class action against the county.
A federal ruling has opened to former and current prisoners to join in a class action against the county.

MONTGOMERY COUNTY  — A federal court ruling has opened the possibility for former and current prisoners of the Montgomery County Jail to join in a class-action lawsuit against the county, alleging they were not provided an appropriate amount of food while in custody. 

The 35-page ruling was made on Aug. 20 by U.S. District Court Judge Brenda K. Sannes for the Northern District Court of New York. Sannes ruled that anyone detained at the jail for at least two weeks since July 24, 2011 up until whatever time Montgomery County can be shown to have stopped, “enforcing its policy, practice and custom of refusing to provide an appropriate amount of sustenance” 

The ruling makes former Montgomery County Jail prisoners Perry Hill and James Rogers “class representatives”, which means they can sue on behalf of the rest of the inmates in the class action and the fate of Hill and Rogers’ case will determine the outcome of the legal action.  

“The county is planning to move forward with an appeal of the class certification,” Montgomery County Attorney Meghan Manion said.

Hill first filed his lawsuit in 2014, alleging he was only fed 1,700 calories per day, and sometimes less, when he was held at the jail from October 2013 to March 2014 on a parole violation. The suit argues adult males need 2,400 to 3,000 calories, depending on physical exertion.

Previous: Lawsuit: Montgomery County inmates not fed enough, July 30, 2014

Hill has testified that he weighed 160 pounds when he became a prisoner and 134 pounds when he got out. His meals at the jail consisted of oatmeal, a breakfast cake, or cereal for breakfast; a sandwich and vegetable, and maybe fruit for lunch; and a chicken patty or beef stroganoff and a vegetable for dinner.

During his confinement, he complained of “always” being hungry, and that there was so little food, he “ate cocoa butter sticks, vitamins that he purchased from the commissary and toothpaste to supplement his diet,” according to the lawsuit.

Rogers, who was incarcerated from June 2014 until February 2015, weighed 195 pounds when he was admitted to the jail and lost 15 pounds over eight months there. Rogers has testified he was hungry most of the day while in jail, and that he suffered hair loss. 

Both men are represented by Attorney E. Robert Keach, of Amsterdam.

Sannes ruled that, although the severity of the injuries and potential damages for any of the inmates in the class-action lawsuit will vary, the central legal question in the case: “Whether the county was aware of and deliberately indifferent to the conditions at the jail,” remains the same. Among other reasons Sannes cited for granting class-action status were her determination that there were likely many other inmates whose cases would fit into the same circumstances as Hill and Rogers, and that a class-action suit would be the quickest way to resolve them. 

According to Sannes ruling, Hill and Rogers said more than 100 others have contacted them to say they want to be included in the class-action suit. The ruling also indicates about 1,000 individuals spend time in the 177-bed Montgomery County Jail every year. 

In its defense, the county argued that the county contracts with Trinity Services Group for the meals it provides, and that the three meals it provides per day should provide a total of 2,900 calories, and that although substitutions to the menu were sometimes made, the county’s expert witness pointed out the substitutions would increase the amount of calories in the meals, not decrease them. 

Previous: Lawsuit: Montgomery County inmates not fed enough, July 30, 2014

The county also provided an expert report by Dr. William Graber, who, the ruling states, “opined that if these individuals did have any weight loss or malnourishment, it could be attributed to a history of drug use or medical illness.” 

Named as defendants in the lawsuit are Montgomery County, Sheriff Michael Amato and jail administrator Michael Franko. 

According to the ruling, Amato has testified he was aware that inmates were complaining that they wanted more food and that they were hungry, but Amato believed they were complaining about portion sizes because they wanted the jail commissary, a store where they could buy food items, to be returned after it had been removed. 


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