This lawsuit against Rhode Island's Department for Children, Youth and Families ("DCYF") was filed on November 25, 1986, in the U.S. District Court for the District of Rhode Island. The Office of the Child Advocate was the plaintiff; it sought declaratory and injunctive relief for children who are or will be in DCYF custody, pursuant to the Due Process Clause and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment, 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and the Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act of 1980.
Specifically, the plaintiff alleged that DCYF institutionalized a practice of placing children in its custody in "night-to-night" placement, which is the practice of placing a child, for any length of time, in a DCYF placement facility, congregate care facility, foster home, or any other facility and/or placement for a reason other than its intended purpose. The Complaint alleges that (1) the defendant's acts and omissions caused injury to children in DCYF custody; (2) the defendant's acts and omissions resulted in the disparate treatment of children in state care regarding access to suitable shelter; (3) the defendant's denial of some children in DCYF custody to preventive services violated their constitutional rights; (4) the defendant failed to provide the preventive services mandated by the Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act, which deprived children in DCYF custody of the privileges and immunities secured by United States laws; (5) the defendant failed to provide social services to prevent the need for foster care and the defendant failed to improve conditions in the children's natural homes, which resulted in unnecessary removals of children from their homes; (6) the defendant failed to develop case plans for children in night-to-night and shelter care; and lastly, (7) the defendant failed to plan for the children's transition from DCYF custody to independent living.
On September 26, 1988, the court approved the parties' agreed-upon Consent Decree, in which DCYF agreed to stop placing children in DCYF care in night-to-night placement except for emergency situations. One year and three days later, the plaintiff filed a motion to hold the defendant in contempt for violating the Consent Decree. Shortly thereafter, an Amended Consent Decree was agreed upon and approved by the court on October 20, 1989.
Twelve years later, on July 12, 2001, the plaintiff filed another motion to hold the defendant in contempt for violating the Amended Consent Decree. A month later, the parties resolved their dispute by agreeing to a Second Amended Consent Decree ("SACD"), which was approved by the court. The SACD, like the prior consent decree agreed upon by the parties, allowed either party to move to modify or vacate the decree as provided by the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and/or applicable law.
On May 2, 2002, the plaintiff sought contempt sanctions yet again. A month later, the defendant responded with a motion to dismiss the case pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure or alternatively, to vacate the SACD under Rule 60(b). In November of 2002, Magistrate Judge Robert Lovegreen issued a Report and Recommendation stating that the motion to dismiss and the alternative motion to vacate the SACD should be denied. Specifically, Judge Lovegreen noted that (1) the plaintiff had third-party standing to represent the children in DCYF custody, (2) the defendant did not have sovereign immunity because the plaintiff sought injunctive relief against a named state official for federal law violations, and (3) the issue of night-to-night placement is not merely a state issue. In January of 2004, the district court again denied the defendant's motion to dismiss the complaint and the alternative motion to vacate the SACD. 296 F. Supp. 2d 178, 181-83 (D.R.I. 2004).
In June of 2007, the plaintiff filed a motion to vacate the consent decrees and to dismiss case without prejudice. The plaintiff argued that rather than improving under court supervision, the situation had become far worse:
"Twenty-one years, three contempt motions, and two amended consent decrees later, children in the Department's foster care custody continue to suffer from the practice of night-tonight placements. The Department placed 234 children in night-to-night placements in 2006, up from 50 in 2005 and 13 in 2004. This trend continues, with 90 night-to-night placements during the first four months of 2007. Far worse, however, the Department is now beset by a far wider set of systemic ills that have arisen since the consent decrees went into effect and which have taken firm root such that they currently harm or threaten to harm the almost 3,000 children in Rhode Island foster care custody. These failings, and the serious damage they cause to children in foster care, were unknown or nonexistent in 1986 and therefore were unaddressed in this action's complaint and the subsequent consent decrees."
The plaintiff explained that rather than continuing this case, it was filing a new case (Sam M. v. Chafee, CW-RI-0002
in this Clearinghouse), and therefore asked for this case to be dismissed without prejudice. The court agreed; on July 24, 2007, the court ordered that the consent decrees be vacated, and dismissed the case without prejudice. Alice Liu - 04/19/2013