University of Michigan Law School
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Case Name Michelle H. v. Haley CW-SC-0002
Docket / Court 2:15-cv-00134-RMG ( D.S.C. )
State/Territory South Carolina
Case Type(s) Child Welfare
Attorney Organization Appleseed
Children's Rights, Inc.
Case Summary
On January 12, 2015, eleven named minor children in the legal custody of the South Carolina Department of Social Services ("SCDSS") filed this putative class action lawsuit (by their Next Friends) against the Governor of South Carolina and SCDSS in the United States District Court for the District ... read more >
On January 12, 2015, eleven named minor children in the legal custody of the South Carolina Department of Social Services ("SCDSS") filed this putative class action lawsuit (by their Next Friends) against the Governor of South Carolina and SCDSS in the United States District Court for the District of South Carolina. The named plaintiffs were represented by two advocacy organizations, Children's Rights and Appleseed, and by private counsel. Plaintiffs intended to seek certification of a class of all children who are or will be involuntarily placed in foster care in the legal custody of SCDSS as a result of emergency protective custody and/or a referral, report, suspicion, allegation and/or adjudication of abuse or neglect. Plaintiffs asserted claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging systemic deficiencies in the operation of SCDSS subjected children in the state's care to harm or an unreasonable risk of harm.

The alleged problems included: whether SCDSS maintains an adequate number and kind of foster homes, resulting in over-institutionalization of foster children, repeated movement of children between placements, and deprivation of meaningful familial contacts; whether SCDSS has excessive caseworker caseloads, resulting in a workforce that cannot monitor children's safety, maltreatment in SCDSS care, and failure to investigate maltreatment; and whether SCDSS fails to provide initial and periodic medical, dental, and mental health assessments, treatments, and screens, leading to emotional and psychological deterioration of children in SCDSS custody.

On March 16, 2015, Defendants moved to dismiss for failure to state a claim. On March 30, 2015, with Defendants' motion pending, the District Court (Judge Richard M. Gergel) entered a text order asking the parties to engage in early mediation. The Court indicated that Senior District Judge Michael Duffy had agreed to mediate, should the parties consent. Later that week, the parties indicated that they were willing to engage in early mediation.

On September 28, 2015, the parties entered into an interim settlement agreement. As part of the "Consent Immediate Interim Relief Order," the plaintiff class was certified and "limited co-monitors" were appointed. SCDSS also agreed to undertake several remedial steps, including phasing out use of SCDSS offices, hotels and motels as placements and no longer recommending that children remain in juvenile detention because of a lack of foster homes. SCDSS also agreed to undertake a workload study, adopt workload limits, conduct a placement needs assessment, and create a plan to end the placement of children ages six and under in non-family group placements.

As of the date of this summary, the parties are continuing to work toward a full settlement.

Dan Whitman - 10/22/2015


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Issues and Causes of Action
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Issues
Benefit Source
Medicaid
Constitutional Clause
Due Process
Content of Injunction
Goals and Timekeeping
Monitor/Master
Monitoring
Preliminary relief granted
Reporting
Defendant-type
Jurisdiction-wide
Disability
disability, unspecified
Least restrictive environment
Mental impairment
Discrimination-basis
Disability (inc. reasonable accommodations)
General
Emergency shelter
Failure to supervise
Failure to train
Family abuse and neglect
Family reunification
Foster care (benefits, training)
Incident/accident reporting & investigations
Individualized planning
Juveniles
Pattern or Practice
Placement in detention facilities
Placement in shelters
Sexual abuse by residents/inmates
Siblings (visitation, placement)
Staff (number, training, qualifications, wages)
Visiting
Medical/Mental Health
Dental care
Medical care, general
Medical care, unspecified
Mental health care, general
Mental health care, unspecified
Mental Disability
Mental Illness, Unspecified
Plaintiff Type
Private Plaintiff
Causes of Action Title XIX of the Social Security (Medicaid) Act, 42 U.S.C §1396
Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), 42 U.S.C. §§ 12111 et seq.
42 U.S.C. § 1983
Defendant(s) South Carolina Department of Social Services
Plaintiff Description General class: All children who are or will be involuntarily placed in foster care in the legal custody of DSS as a result of emergency protective custody (EPC) and/or a referral, report, suspicion, allegation and/or adjudication of abuse or neglect. Also disability, sibling, and juvenile justice subclasses.
Indexed Lawyer Organizations Appleseed
Children's Rights, Inc.
Class action status sought Yes
Class action status granted Yes
Prevailing Party Plaintiff
Public Int. Lawyer Yes
Nature of Relief Injunction / Injunctive-like Settlement
Source of Relief Settlement
Form of Settlement Court Approved Settlement or Consent Decree
Order Duration 2015 - n/a
Case Closing Year n/a
Case Ongoing Yes
Additional Resources
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Case Studies Legal Accountability in the Service-Based Welfare State: Lessons from Child Welfare Reform
By: Kathleen G. Noonan, Charles F. Sabel, William H. Simon (Center for High Impact Philanthropy , Columbia Law School and Stanford Law School)
Citation: 34 Law & Soc. Inquiry 523 (Summer 2009)
[ Detail ] [ External Link ]

  Making Child Welfare Work: How the R.C. Lawsuit Forged New Partnerships to Protect Children and Sustain Families
By: Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law (Bazelon Center)
Citation: (1998)
[ Detail ]

Docket(s)
2:15-cv-00134 (D.S.C.) 09/28/2015
CW-SC-0002-9000.pdf | Detail
PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
General Documents
Plaintiffs' Original Complaint For Injunctive And Declaratory Relief As A Class Action 01/12/2015
CW-SC-0002-0001.pdf | Detail
Document Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Consent Immediate Interim Relief 09/28/2015
CW-SC-0002-0002.pdf | Detail
Document Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Judges Gergel, Richard Mark (D.S.C.)
CW-SC-0002-0002 | CW-SC-0002-9000
Monitors/Masters None on record
Plaintiff's Lawyers Berkowitz, Susan Beth (South Carolina)
CW-SC-0002-0001 | CW-SC-0002-0002 | CW-SC-0002-9000
Finch, Aaron Hirsh (New York)
CW-SC-0002-0002 | CW-SC-0002-9000
Lustbader, Ira P. (New York)
CW-SC-0002-0001 | CW-SC-0002-0002 | CW-SC-0002-9000
Remlin, Christina Wilson (New York)
CW-SC-0002-0002 | CW-SC-0002-9000
Richardson, Matthew T (South Carolina)
CW-SC-0002-0001 | CW-SC-0002-0002 | CW-SC-0002-9000
Russo, Sarah (New York)
CW-SC-0002-0002 | CW-SC-0002-9000
Suggs, Steven (South Carolina)
CW-SC-0002-0001 | CW-SC-0002-0002 | CW-SC-0002-9000
Wood, Kathryn Anne (New York)
CW-SC-0002-0001 | CW-SC-0002-0002 | CW-SC-0002-9000
Defendant's Lawyers Bowers, Karl S. (South Carolina)
CW-SC-0002-0002 | CW-SC-0002-9000
Davis, Alexander Erwin (South Carolina)
CW-SC-0002-0002 | CW-SC-0002-9000
Laffitte, Rececca (South Carolina)
CW-SC-0002-0002 | CW-SC-0002-9000
Montgomery, John M. (South Carolina)
CW-SC-0002-0002 | CW-SC-0002-9000
Todd, Monteith Powell (South Carolina)
CW-SC-0002-0002 | CW-SC-0002-9000
Other Lawyers None on record

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