On October 4, 1994, a class action lawsuit was filed in the United States District Court for the District of Connecticut against Connecticut's Departments of Mental Retardation (DMR), Social Services (DSS), and Public Health (DPH) and Southbury Training School, an intermediate care facility for the mentally retarded (ICF/MR) in Southbury, Connecticut. Represented by private counsel, the plaintiffs sought injunctive relief on behalf of both current and future Southbury residents. The plaintiffs claimed that the conditions at Southbury violated residents' rights under the Due Process clause, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), 42 U.S.C. § 12132, the Rehabilitation Act, 29 U.S.C. § 794, and the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1396a.
This lawsuit followed in the wake of an earlier investigation of Southbury, conducted by the United States Department of Justice Civil Rights Division pursuant to the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act (CRIPA). 42 U.S.C. § 1997 et seq. That federal investigation led to a CRIPA lawsuit, United States v. Connecticut, ID-CT-0005
, which was apparently treated as a companion case to this one at points during litigation. Another private suit, McCoy v. Belmont, ID-CT-0006
, appears to have been litigated separately. Judge Ellen B. Burns of the United States District Court for the District of Connecticut adjudicated all or part of these three lawsuits.
According to the complaint in this case, conditions at Southbury worsened after the 1986 consent decree entered in United States v. Connecticut. Inhumane living conditions at Southbury placed residents at risk of physical harm and death. For the institution's convenience, residents' behavior was controlled with physical and pharmaceutical restraints instead of behavior modification programming. Similarly, according to the complaint, the institution also sacrificed residents' choice, dignity, privacy, and individuality for convenience by scheduling bathing, toileting and eating to occur communally. Southbury was located in a remote rural area and did not provide community living placements, family support, employment opportunities, recreation, and adequate medical and psychological care, thereby isolating residents from their families and communities. The plaintiffs' other complaints addressed advocacy, residents' rights, facility accessibility, sanitation, staff-to-resident ratios, property ownership, and Do Not Resuscitate Orders (DNR Orders). The Complaint was amended three times, but we only have a copy of the original version.
On October 6, 1994, the court (Judge Ellen B. Burns) declined to consolidate this lawsuit with United States v. Connecticut. On February 7, 1996, the court reinforced the disunion between the lawsuits by denying Southbury's motion to dismiss for res judicata. Messier v. Southbury Training Sch., 915 F. Supp. 133 (D. Conn. 1996). The court reasoned that the Messier plaintiffs were not in privity with the United States and, therefore, were not barred from litigating the issues.
A second challenge to the integrity of the plaintiffs' claims was raised when seven Southbury residents and two advocacy groups sought to intervene in the lawsuit. The would-be interveners feared that, if granted, the relief sought by the plaintiffs would precipitate closure of Southbury. On March 6, 1996, the court disagreed and interpreted the plaintiffs' prayer as one that would require Southbury to consider community placements for all residents but only to use community placements when appropriate. Institutional placement would still be available for individuals who would benefit from living in a structured environment. The court certified the class on July 7, 1996, and refused to dismiss the claims against DPH and DSS on September 4, 1996.
It appears that the parties engaged in discovery, and occasionally sought the court's opinion on procedural disputes. Messier v. Southbury Training Sch., No. 94-1706, 1991 WL 136170 (D. Conn. Jan. 30, 1998) (ruling on plaintiffs' subpoena of documents from non-party); Messier v. Southbury Training Sch., No. 94-1706, 1998 WL 422858 (D. Conn. June 29, 1998) (finding documents written by defense experts to be protected as strategic work products); Messier v. Southbury Training Sch., No. 94-1706, 1998 WL 841641 (D. Conn. Dec. 2, 1998) (compelling defendants to return borrowed documents to the plaintiffs and permitting plaintiffs to re-depose defense witnesses).
On November 5, 1998, the court refused both to allow 611 of Southbury's 724 residents either to opt-out of the plaintiff class or to be defined as a subclass. Messier v. Southbury Training Sch., 183 F.R.D. 350 (D. Conn. 1998). Although the court recognized that members of a class certified under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23(b)(2) might sometimes be permitted to opt-out of a class, the court found no substantive reason for allowing the 611 residents to opt-out in this case. The court reiterated that pending litigation would not have the effect of closing Southbury and chastised Southbury advocacy groups, which had used misinformation to recruit residents for the opt-out petition.
On January 5, 1999, the court issued two rulings. First, the court permitted the plaintiffs to add a named plaintiff to protect the community placement claim, but refused to allow any substantive amendment. Messier v. Southbury Training Sch., No. 94-1706, 1999 WL 20907 (D. Conn. Jan. 5, 1999). Although Southbury had moved almost all of the named plaintiffs to a community-based residence, the court recognized that many individuals appropriate for community placements remained institutionalized. Adding another named plaintiff would preserve deinstitutionalization and community placement claims.
Second, the court entered a mixed ruling on four motions for summary judgment on January 5, 1999. Messier v. Southbury Training Sch., No. 94-1706, 1999 WL 20910 (D. Conn. Jan. 5, 1999). The court awarded summary judgment to DPH on the plaintiffs' DNR Order claim. The court held that a private physician could impose a DNR Order on a patient without due process protections, even if the patient was not terminally ill and had a developmental disability. The court also granted summary judgment to the defendants on all Social Security Act claims, finding that the system for inspecting and licensing ICF/MRs contained sufficient safeguards to preclude licensing claims. The court also entered summary judgment for DSS on the ADA and the Rehabilitation Act claims because the plaintiffs failed to show that Connecticut's vocational rehabilitation programs actually discriminated against severely disabled individuals. The court dismissed DSS from the litigation and denied all other summary judgment requests.
A 120-day trial on the remaining due process, ADA, and Rehabilitation Act claims was conducted between January 25 and October 21, 1999. On September 14, 1999, the court refused to order the defendants to compensate one of the plaintiffs' experts for time spent waiting to testify. Messier v. Southbury Training Sch., No. 94-1706, 1999 WL 795556 (D. Conn. Sept. 14, 1999). On October 4, 1999, the court refused to enter partial summary judgment on issues also raised in United States v. Connecticut. Sometime after the trial concluded, the court put the case on hold.
On November 12, 1999, the parties entered mediation (Owen Eagan, Neutral), which appears to have produced a partial settlement. On December 14, 2001, the court refused to enforce the partial settlement. On November 11, 2002, with the case still on hold, the plaintiffs made a motion to intervene in the United States v. Connecticut. On January 7, 2003, the court denied their motion.
After United States v. Connecticut was finally adjudicated in 2006, the court returned its attention to Messier in May of 2006. The court initially intended to open the record to accept additional evidence on community placement. The plaintiffs objected and, on May 5, 2006, filed a motion to determine liability on the current record. On June 2, 2006, the court agreed to issue a ruling on the basis of the 1999 trial. On June 5, 2008, the Court held that plaintiffs' claims were moot, following the decision in U.S. v. Connecticut; however, some individual remedies were needed for community placements for appropriate persons, though the plaintiffs appealed this decision and the conference was canceled pending the appellate decision. In October of 2008, the Second Circuit held that it would not hear the appeals until the District Court entered a judgment. As a result, the District Court set status conferences to take place on January and June of 2009.
In the following months, the parties continued discovery and held a number of settlement conferences. On July 14, 2010, the Court granted a preliminary motion for a settlement agreement. The agreement required training of staff in recommending the appropriate setting for individuals, reallocation of funding to support community-based settings, implementation of programs for transition to such communities, and the hiring of a "Remedial Expert" to assure proper compliance. In November, 2010, the Court approved the settlement agreement as final, finding that it was a fair agreement. Lengthy litigation regarding attorney fees followed, and on January 23, 2013, the Court held that plaintiffs would be awarded attorney fees for their successful claims, but as of July 9, 2014, the Court did not decide an amount. Elizabeth Chilcoat - 06/16/2006
Maurice Youkanna - 07/09/2014