The Judge Rotenberg Educational Center (JRC), formerly known as the Behavioral Research Institute, is a Massachusetts-based residential care facility for children and young adults with severe autism, mental impairments, and mental illnesses associated with behavioral problems. JRC is known for its use of aversive treatments, especially electric shock therapies, to disincentivize undesirable behaviors. As a result of its use of aversive treatments, JRC has been controversial and the subject of several lawsuits spanning decades. This case, along with ID-MA-0003 and ID-MA-0004, are some of the cases brought surrounding various issues related to JRC's use of aversive therapies and funding.
In 1985, the Massachusetts Office for Children (OFC), which oversaw facilities like the Behavioral Research Institute (hereinafter referred to as the Judge Rotenberg Center), alleged that the facility's use of "aversive therapies" like spankings, muscle squeezes, pinching, and "restrained timeouts" violated state regulations. The OFC demanded that the facility show cause why it should not be shut down or otherwise sanctioned.
The Center responded by filing a class action in state court on behalf of itself, its students, and its students' parents. It claimed that the OFC had engaged in bad-faith regulatory actions that violated the students' due-process rights as well as the state's Administrative Procedures Act.
In June 1986, the state superior court (Judge Ernest Rotenberg) granted a preliminary injunction barring the OFC from revoking the Center's license to provide services. The court held that prohibiting the Center from practicing "aversive therapies" would seriously inhibit its program and harm the students. The preliminary injunction was upheld on appeal.
A few months later, the two parties entered into a settlement agreement, which Judge Rotenberg approved in January 1987. The agreement allowed for "aversive procedures" at the Center only when authorized "as part of a court-ordered 'substituted judgment' treatment plan for an individual client." A court-appointed monitor oversaw all court-approved individualized aversive plans and reported regularly to the court. The monitor also had authority to arbitrate any disputes arising under the agreement.
The settlement agreement was only supposed to last for one year, but in July 1988, Judge Rotenberg extended it "until . . . further order."
In 1993, the Center brought a contempt action against the Massachusetts Department of Mental Retardation (which had replaced the OFC in supervising the Center) for alleged violation of the settlement agreement. The Center claimed that the Department acted in bad faith by refusing to grant the Center's request for recertification to use certain "aversive procedures." The Center also claimed that the Department had refused to arbitrate disputes as required by the decree and attempted to disrupt the Center's relationships with funding agencies and clients.
After a bench trial in 1995, the Court (Judge Elizabeth LaStaiti) found the Department of Mental Retardation in contempt, and appointed a receiver to manage the agency in all its dealings with the Judge Rotenberg Center. The receivership was in place from 1996 until 2006. During that time, the Department of Mental Retardation cooperated with the receiver in issuing licenses and certifications to the Judge Rotenberg Center. The Department also met with the receiver and Center to resolve any disputes.
In 2003, the receiver recommended returning regulatory authority over the Center to the state Office of Child Care Services, a sub-agency of the Department of Disability Services (DDS), which had succeeded the Department of Mental Retardation. In 2006, the receivership officially ended.
By 2006, the most common type of aversive intervention used by the Center was a graduate electronic decelerator, a device that administered an electric shock to the student's skin. The DDS classified this device as a Level III intervention. In 2011, the DDS banned all Level III interventions at facilities it oversaw. The agency allowed some exceptions for people who had existing court-approved treatment plans which included the use of such interventions.
But the Judge Rotenberg Center claimed that the settlement agreement gave it affirmative rights to use aversive techniques in perpetuity, and excused it from complying with the new regulation. So in February 2013, DDS moved to vacate the consent decree, which would allow it to regulate the Center in the same way it regulates every other similar facility.
We have no further information regarding if and when the court ruled on the motion to vacate.Brian Kempfer - 09/25/2014
Andrew Junker - 12/09/2014