NHDOJ faces ‘more complex civil litigation load than at any time in recent memory’
Department seeks additional $6.9 million for ongoing cases to augment original $350,000 appropriation
The state’s Department of Justice is seeking nearly $7 million in additional funds for ongoing legal expenses related to “the number of particularly complex and labor-intensive cases” in its criminal and civil bureaus.
Detailing a high-volume caseload that has “nearly exhausted” dedicated funds for fiscal year 2024, Attorney General John Formella’s request will go before the Joint Legislative Fiscal Committee on Friday, Aug. 11. The DOJ was originally appropriated $350,000 for litigation expenses in fiscal year 2024, and now seeks an additional $6.9 million. Per state law, the attorney general is allowed to request funds beyond budgeted amounts, subject to approval by the Joint Legislative Fiscal Committee, governor, and Executive Council.
The DOJ’s Civil Bureau specifically, Formella wrote, is “currently handling a larger, more complex civil litigation load than at any time in recent memory, including an unusually high number of complex and high-profile cases.”
The bigger cases in question include the criminal investigation and civil litigation related to alleged crimes of abuse at the former Youth Development Center, and two federal court cases against the Department of Health and Human Services.
There are also two redistricting lawsuits challenging the new state House, state Senate, and Executive Council maps, as well as ongoing legal expenses associated with a 2014 settlement agreement regarding the community mental health system.
YDC criminal investigation and civil litigation
Between both its criminal and civil bureaus, the DOJ is asking for approximately $4 million related to alleged crimes committed at the former Youth Development Center.
An estimated 1,300 plaintiffs have sued alleging sexual and physical abuse at the state-run detention facility for minors, following an initial class action lawsuit in 2020. Approximately $2.9 million of the $4 million would go toward litigating the civil cases brought against the state by former residents of the YDC who have alleged rapes and beatings.
“This investigation, as well as the criminal cases that stem from it, involves a very large volume of documents and decades of records,” Formella wrote. “The present request includes funds we anticipate needing to help review, store, and manage those documents. As the investigation has proceeded, and as we get closer to trials for indicted defendants, the number of documents requiring review has steadily increased and has far eclipsed the number of documents anticipated at the beginning of the investigation.”
Formella said he expects the first trials to begin in spring 2024.
Separately, the state launched a $100 million fund to settle claims related to the YDC, an alternative for people who don’t wish to go to trial. Ninety-two people have requested almost $83 million, and as of June, 11 claims had been resolved for a total of $4.8 million, according to a new report.
DHHS federal cases
The DOJ estimates its Civil Bureau will require approximately $4.9 million to defend the state in claims brought against it for the remaining fiscal year 2024. In addition to the YDC-related civil litigation, a portion would be used for two major ongoing federal court civil cases against the Department of Health and Human Services:
- In Stephanie Price, et al. v. Commissioner of the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services, et al., three individuals with disabilities are challenging DHHS’ administration of the New Hampshire Choices for Independence Program, a Medicaid-funded program in which they’re enrolled. The lawsuit alleges DHHS paid for only 55 percent of the services it approved for CFI clients in 2018 and 2019.
- The suit, G.K., by their next friend, Katherine Cooper, et al. v. Sununu, et al., was brought by four children with mental disabilities in the state foster care system who are challenging the state’s compliance with case planning requirements under the Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act of 1980, the integration mandate in Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act, and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.
Motions by the state to dismiss both cases failed in the fall of 2021.
“Both of these cases are extremely complex, involve substantial discovery, and are very labor intensive and time consuming,” Formella wrote.
This story was originally produced by the New Hampshire Bulletin, an independent local newsroom that allows NH Business Review and other outlets to republish its reporting.