On May 22, 1977, juveniles who were committed to the custody of the Department of Social Services filed a class action lawsuit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 in the U.S. District Court for the District of Puerto Rico against the Secretary of the Department of Social Services. Benitez v. Collazo and Ramirez v. Collazo were consolidated for the purpose of this lawsuit. The class consisted of non-delinquent juveniles who could be cared for adequately in settings less restrictive of their liberty than institutions, but who were denied such opportunity because of the defendant's failure to develop such alternatives. Puerto Rico Legal Services and the National Juvenile Law Center represented the class. The plaintiffs sought declaratory and injunctive relief, alleging that the confinement of non-delinquent juveniles with juvenile delinquents in secure, prison-like institutions violated their statutory and constitutional rights.
The plaintiffs complained primarily about the Department of Social Services' practice of holding non-delinquent offenders in correctional-type institutions along with juvenile delinquents. The complaint further alleged that the correctional institutions suffered from deteriorated conditions and lacked adequate treatment and services geared towards rehabilitation.
After discovery and pretrial litigation, the parties submitted an Amended Stipulation Agreement, which was approved on August 27, 1982. The District Court (Judge Carmen Consuelo Cerezo) also entered a Partial Judgment, which provided that the terms and conditions of the stipulated agreement were adopted as the judgment of the court, and that all matters that were unresolved by the stipulated agreement would be briefed, argued, and resolved in a separate order. According to the stipulated agreement, the defendants adopted a policy regarding the plaintiff class, which provided that the defendants would direct care and treatment of the plaintiff class towards the maintenance and strengthening of the individual plaintiff's relationship with their family, that the defendants would provide care and treatment in the lest restrictive manner possible, that the defendants would develop and implement a hierarchy of intervention strategies and treatment alternatives, which would provide for placement in open juvenile institutions in only the most extreme cases after all less restrictive methods had been considered, and that placement in alternative settings will be for as short a time period as possible. The agreement provided that the objective of the defendant was the deinstitutionalization of the plaintiff class.
The plaintiffs sought an interim award of attorneys' costs and fees. On August 29, 1983, the District Court (Judge Cerezo) held that the plaintiffs were prevailing parties and awarded the plaintiffs' attorneys' costs and fees. Benitez v. Collazo, 571 F. Supp. 246 (D.P.R. 1983).
The plaintiffs sought a formal judicial declaration as to the constitutional or statutory basis of the right to treatment, which was recognized and obtained through the stipulation and partial judgment. On April 6, 1984, the District Court (Judge Cerezo) denied the plaintiffs' request for a declaration on the issue of the right to treatment. Benitez on Behalf of Catala v. Collazo, 584 F. Supp. 267 (D.P.R. 1984). The court also dismissed the portion of the complaint seeking declaratory judgment and injunctive relief.
On December 22, 1987, the District Court (Judge Cerezo) awarded the plaintiffs attorneys' costs and fees. Counsel for the plaintiffs appealed the distribution of the attorneys' fees. On November 7, 1989, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit (Judge Juan R. Torruella) held that the attorney had no entitlement to the award of attorneys' costs and fees, and had no standing to appeal the distribution of the award. Benitez v. Collazo-Collazo, 888 F.2d 930 (1st Cir. 1989).
We have no further information on this case.Kaitlin Corkran - 06/12/2006