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Case Name Judge Rotenberg Educational Center, Inc. v. Commissioner of the Department of Mental Retardation ID-MA-0002
Docket / Court 86E-0018-G1 ( State Court )
State/Territory Massachusetts
Case Type(s) Intellectual Disability (Facility)
Special Collection Court-ordered receiverships
Case Summary
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 ... read more >
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


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Issues and Causes of Action
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Issues
Content of Injunction
Monitor/Master
Monitoring
Preliminary relief granted
Receivership
Disability
disability, unspecified
Mental impairment
Discrimination-basis
Disability (inc. reasonable accommodations)
General
Assault/abuse by staff
Informed consent/involuntary medication
Juveniles
Public assistance grants
Rehabilitation
Special education
Totality of conditions
Medical/Mental Health
Intellectual/Developmental Disability
Mental health care, general
Mental health care, unspecified
Mental Disability
Autism
Intellectual/developmental disability, unspecified
Mental Illness, Unspecified
Plaintiff Type
State Plaintiff
Type of Facility
Non-government for profit
Causes of Action State law
Indv. w/ Disab. Educ. Act (IDEA), Educ. of All Handcpd. Children Act , 20 U.S.C. § 1400
Defendant(s) Commonwealth of Massachusetts
Massachusetts Department of Mental Retardation
Plaintiff Description Residential school that used aversive therapies such as electric shocks to treat students with severe autism, mental illness, and mental disabilities and a class of those students and their parents
Indexed Lawyer Organizations None on record
Class action status sought Yes
Class action status granted Yes
Prevailing Party Plaintiff
Public Int. Lawyer No
Nature of Relief Preliminary injunction / Temp. restraining order
Attorneys fees
Injunction / Injunctive-like Settlement
Source of Relief Litigation
Settlement
Form of Settlement Confession of Judgment
Court Approved Settlement or Consent Decree
Order Duration 1987 - n/a
Case Closing Year 1997
Case Ongoing Yes
Case Listing ID-MA-0003 : Behavioral Research Institute v. Secretary of Administration (State Court)
ID-MA-0004 : Petition of Kaufman (State Court)
Docket(s)
No docket sheet currently in the collection
General Documents
Brief for Appellant
ID-MA-0002-0003.pdf | Detail
Document Source: Westlaw
Reply Brief of the Individual Students, Intervenor - Appellants
ID-MA-0002-0007.pdf | Detail
Document Source: Westlaw
Brief of the Individual Students, Intervenors - Appellants
ID-MA-0002-0008.pdf | Detail
Document Source: Westlaw
Revised Reply Brief
ID-MA-0002-0010.pdf | Detail
Document Source: Westlaw
Settlement Agreement 12/12/1985
ID-MA-0002-0001.pdf | Detail
Document Source: Plaintiffs' counsel
Findings in Support of Preliminary Injunctive Relief 06/04/1986 (D. Mass.)
ID-MA-0002-0027.pdf | Detail
Order 01/07/1987
ID-MA-0002-0030.pdf | Detail
Document Source: Plaintiffs' counsel
Motion to Amend Settlement Agreement 10/24/1988
ID-MA-0002-0028.pdf | Detail
Document Source: Plaintiffs' counsel
In re: Motion to Amend Settlement Agreement 12/29/1988 (D. Mass.)
ID-MA-0002-0029.pdf | Detail
Document Source: Plaintiffs' counsel
Opinion 09/04/1991 (411 Mass. 73)
ID-MA-0002-0017.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Document Source: Westlaw
Brief for the Defendant-Appellant 09/08/1995
ID-MA-0002-0009.pdf | Detail
Document Source: Westlaw
Findings of Fact 10/06/1995
ID-MA-0002-0002.pdf | Detail
Opinion 01/12/1996 (421 Mass. 1010)
ID-MA-0002-0019.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Document Source: Westlaw
Brief of the Student Members of the Class Appellees 01/30/1996
ID-MA-0002-0006.pdf | Detail
Document Source: Westlaw
Brief of Appellee 02/02/1996
ID-MA-0002-0005.pdf | Detail
Document Source: Westlaw
Brief of Judge Rotenberg Educational Center 05/10/1996
ID-MA-0002-0004.pdf | Detail
Document Source: Westlaw
Brief of Judge Rotenberg Educational Center 05/10/1996
ID-MA-0002-0011.pdf | Detail
Document Source: Westlaw
Brief for Apellee 05/21/1996
ID-MA-0002-0012.pdf | Detail
Document Source: Westlaw
Revised Reply Brief 10/17/1996
ID-MA-0002-0013.pdf | Detail
Document Source: Westlaw
Brief for Amicus Curiae 10/30/1996
ID-MA-0002-0014.pdf | Detail
Document Source: Westlaw
Opinion 03/13/1997 (424 Mass. 482)
ID-MA-0002-0020.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Document Source: Westlaw
Opinion 03/13/1997 (424 Mass. 430)
ID-MA-0002-0021.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Document Source: Westlaw
Opinion 03/13/1997 (424 Mass. 471)
ID-MA-0002-0022.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Document Source: Westlaw
Opinion 03/13/1997 (424 Mass. 476)
ID-MA-0002-0023.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Document Source: Westlaw
Opinion 03/13/1997 (424 Mass. 473)
ID-MA-0002-0024.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Document Source: Westlaw
Affadavit of Gary W. Lavigna 02/07/2013
ID-MA-0002-0015.pdf | Detail
DEFENDANTS' MEMORANDUM OF LAW IN SUPPORT OF MOTION UNDER PROBATE AND FAMILY COURT RULE 60 AND MASS. R. CIV. P. 60(b)(5) TO VACATE CONSENT DECREE 02/14/2013
ID-MA-0002-0025.pdf | Detail
Memorandum in Support of Plaintiff's Proposed Order for Discovery 04/26/2013
ID-MA-0002-0026.pdf | Detail
Judges LaStaiti, Elizabeth O’Neill (State Trial Court)
ID-MA-0002-0002
Lynch, Neil L. (State Supreme Court)
ID-MA-0002-0020 | ID-MA-0002-0021 | ID-MA-0002-0022 | ID-MA-0002-0023 | ID-MA-0002-0024
O'Connor, Francis Patrick (State Supreme Court)
ID-MA-0002-0017
Rotenberg, Ernest (State Trial Court)
ID-MA-0002-0027 | ID-MA-0002-0029 | ID-MA-0002-0030
Monitors/Masters None on record
Plaintiff's Lawyers Carr, Peter F II (Massachusetts)
ID-MA-0002-0004 | ID-MA-0002-0011
Cataldo, Paul A (Massachusetts)
ID-MA-0002-0006
Curry, Eugene R (Massachusetts)
ID-MA-0002-0005 | ID-MA-0002-0012
Dorsey, C. Michele (Massachusetts)
ID-MA-0002-0006
Fiset, Christopher S (Massachusetts)
ID-MA-0002-0005 | ID-MA-0002-0012
Flammia, Michael P (Massachusetts)
ID-MA-0002-0004 | ID-MA-0002-0011
Levine, Devorah (Massachusetts)
ID-MA-0002-0026
MacLeish, Roderick Jr. (Massachusetts)
ID-MA-0002-0001 | ID-MA-0002-0003 | ID-MA-0002-0004 | ID-MA-0002-0011
Perlin, Marc (Massachusetts)
ID-MA-0002-0001
Sherman, Robert (Massachusetts)
ID-MA-0002-0001 | ID-MA-0002-0003 | ID-MA-0002-0004 | ID-MA-0002-0011
Volterra, Max (Massachusetts)
ID-MA-0002-0001
Defendant's Lawyers Harshbarger, Scott (Massachusetts)
ID-MA-0002-0009 | ID-MA-0002-0010 | ID-MA-0002-0013
Pingeon, James R. (Massachusetts)
ID-MA-0002-0007
Schwartz, Steven J. (Massachusetts)
ID-MA-0002-0007 | ID-MA-0002-0008
Shin, Sookyoung (Massachusetts)
ID-MA-0002-0025
Sloman, E. Michael (Massachusetts)
ID-MA-0002-0001 | ID-MA-0002-0003
Willoughby, Jane L (Massachusetts)
ID-MA-0002-0009
Yogman, Judith (Massachusetts)
ID-MA-0002-0009 | ID-MA-0002-0010 | ID-MA-0002-0013
Other Lawyers Calderaro, Ralph T (Massachusetts)
ID-MA-0002-0014
Doherty, Anna H. (Massachusetts)
ID-MA-0002-0001 | ID-MA-0002-0028

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