On October 5, 1979, a class action lawsuit was filed against the State of North Carolina in the United States District Court for the Western District of North Carolina on behalf of all institutionalized children who were both assaultive or violent and emotionally or behaviorally disturbed. The plaintiffs were represented by Carolina Legal Assistance for Mental Health, the Juvenile Justice Legal Advocacy Project, and private counsel. The plaintiffs sought injunctive and declaratory relief pursuant to 42 U.S.C.§ 1983. The plaintiffs alleged that their constitutional rights were violated when the State institutionalized them against their will and neither educated them nor provided them with rehabilitation programming.
On September 3, 1980, the parties filed a Second Set of Stipulations, which were followed by a Third Set of Stipulations, which formed the basis for a consent decree. The parties filed a consent decree on December 7, 1981. The parties agreed that aggressive and violent youths with psychological, neurological, and developmental disabilities would be entitled to individualized rehabilitation and appropriate education in the least restrictive setting possible. The consent decree included a schedule for compliance, requiring North Carolina to meet certain benchmarks for numbers of children served. A review panel was created to monitor and report on the State's compliance with the consent decree and to address new grievances. The United States District Court for the Western District of North Carolina (Judge James B. McMillan) adopted the stipulations as his findings of fact and conclusions of law and approved the consent decree on February 24, 1982. On June 15, 1981, the United States District Court for the Western District of North Carolina (Judge McMillan) awarded the plaintiffs attorneys' fees and costs. Willie M. v. Hunt, 90 F.R.D. 601 (W.D.N.C. 1981).
The State's initial attempts to develop a program to comply with the consent decree, known as the "Willie M. Program," sparked disagreement over the class definition. The United States District Court for the Western District of North Carolina (Judge McMillan) held that the class included minors in custody of the department of corrections. On August 11, 1981, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals (Judge James Dickson Phillips) reversed and remanded. Willie M. v. Hunt, 657 F.2d 55 (4th Cir. 1981). The court (Judge Phillips) recognized that the consent decree was more than a contract, so looked to both the consent decree and its context to interpret the class description. The court reasoned that the class did not include minors confined by the department of corrections because (1) none of the named plaintiffs represented such parties and (2) the department of corrections was not a defendant in the action.
On June 2, 1983, the United States District Court for the Western District of North Carolina (Judge McMillian) granted the plaintiffs attorneys' fees and costs for the class definition litigation. The court reasoned that the plaintiffs had prevailed in the principal litigation, so their failure in subsequent proceedings should not disqualify them from collecting attorneys' fees and costs. On April 9, 1984, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals (Chief Judge Harrison L. Winter), however, held that attorneys' fees and costs could only be granted for subsequent proceedings in which the plaintiffs prevailed. The court narrowed the grant of attorneys' fees to those for the parts of the litigation won by the plaintiffs. The case was administratively closed on June 13, 1985.
Compliance with the consent decree was patchy in the early years, partially due to a gross underestimate of the number of children to be served. To address compliance problems, North Carolina adopted the 1992 plan. The result was a state-of-the-art system for serving emotionally disturbed children with aggressive behaviors, which became a model for other states. The Willie M. Program offered progressive, comprehensive, child-centered services to troubled and aggressive youths. North Carolina developed instruments for measuring both the efficacy of services and the progress of individual children. The Willie M. Program offered a variety of services, including community services (e.g., community integration, home participation, substance abuse treatment), educational services (e.g., developmental day care, summer camps, special education classes, before and after school programs), residential services (e.g., group homes, supervised independent living, respite care), vocational services (e.g., vocational assessments, work skill development, sheltered workshops, and apprenticeships), and inpatient secure services (e.g., hospitalization, diagnostic testing, psychiatric treatment, stabilization, medical care, and non-medical secure placements).
On January 21, 1998, the United States District Court for the Western District of North Carolina (Judge Graham C. Mullen) granted the State's motion to terminate the class action and court-enforcement of the consent decree. The court (Judge Mullen), relying on Rufo v. Inmates of Suffolk County Jail, 502 U.S. 367 (1992), JC-MA-001, found that a significant change in the law regarding the right to rehabilitation justified modification of the consent decree's recognition of such a right. The court, relying on Board of Education of Oklahoma City Public Schools v. Dowell, 498 U.S. 237 (1991), also found that court supervision of the parts of the consent decree based on federal law was no longer necessary because the defendants had demonstrated substantial compliance with those provisions. The court held that the remaining issues addressed state compliance with state law and, therefore, were best supervised by a state court.
In 1999, North Carolina discontinued the Willie M. Program, including the influential Review Panel. Service for aggressive children with mental disabilities was incorporated into the Department of Human Resources, Division of Mental Health, Developmental Disabilities, and Substance Abuse Services.
We do not have a copy of the consent decree.Kristen Sagar - 11/10/2007