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Case Name Streicher v. Prescott MH-DC-0003
Docket / Court Civ. A. Nos. 83-3295 ( D.D.C. )
State/Territory District of Columbia
Case Type(s) Mental Health (Facility)
Case Summary
In 1983, a number of patients confined to St. Elizabeths Hospital, a public mental health facility, filed a habeas corpus petition in D.C. Superior Court against the United States. The plaintiffs, represented by the Mental Health Law Project and the Public Defender's office, claimed that they had ... read more >
In 1983, a number of patients confined to St. Elizabeths Hospital, a public mental health facility, filed a habeas corpus petition in D.C. Superior Court against the United States. The plaintiffs, represented by the Mental Health Law Project and the Public Defender's office, claimed that they had been committed to the hospital upon a showing of mental illness by a preponderance of the evidence--the standard in force at the time of their confinement--but that the Supreme Court had later held that the constitutionally required standard was by "clear and convincing evidence." The plaintiffs wanted this later-established standard retroactively applied to their confinement.

The United States removed the case to the United States District Court for the District of Columbia. The District Court (Judge Barrington D. Parker) certified a class consisting of all patients committed to the facility for more than six months. The plaintiffs moved for partial summary judgment with regard to a subclass of patients who had been committed before 1973, under the "preponderance of the evidence" standard. And on May 19, 1987, the District Court (Judge Parker) granted their motion, holding that the subclass's due process rights had been violated, and ordered judicial review of their present commitment status under the prevailing constitutional standards.

On Oct. 1, 1987, responsibility for St. Elizabeths shifted from the federal government to the District of Columbia. The federal district court then substituted the responsible District of Columbia official and transferred the subclass action back to the Superior Court of the District of Columbia, directing that each member of the subclass be provided with a commitment hearing. The district court retained jurisdiction over the subclass and required the superior court to file status reports. On March 20, 1992, the federal district court remanded all remaining issues to the Superior Court.

A great majority of the patients received favorable results from their commitment hearings. They then moved under the Equal Access to Justice Act to recover attorneys' fees from the federal government for attorneys' fees incurred during proceedings before the federal district court and before the Superior Court. The district court granted the requested attorneys' fees and the government appealed. On Feb. 15, 1994, the Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia affirmed the government's responsibility to pay fees associated with the action before the federal district court, but determined that it did not have to pay fees associated with the individual commitment hearings before the D.C. Superior Court. 15 F.3d 1126.

Andrew Junker - 11/06/2014

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Issues and Causes of Action
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Constitutional Clause
Due Process
Content of Injunction
Reasonable Accommodation
Hospital/Health Department
Mental impairment
Disability (inc. reasonable accommodations)
Commitment procedure
Placement in mental health facilities
Medical/Mental Health
Mental health care, general
Mental health care, unspecified
Mental Disability
Mental Illness, Unspecified
Plaintiff Type
Private Plaintiff
Type of Facility
Defendant(s) U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
Plaintiff Description Patients confined to a public mental health facility in the District of Columbia
Class action status sought Yes
Class action status granted Yes
Filed Pro Se No
Prevailing Party Plaintiff
Public Int. Lawyer Yes
Nature of Relief Declaratory Judgment
Injunction / Injunctive-like Settlement
Source of Relief Litigation
Order Duration 1987 - n/a
Filing Year 1983
Case Closing Year 1994
Case Ongoing No
Additional Resources
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  Abandoned But Not Forgotten: The Illegal Confinement of Elderly People in State Psychiatric Institutions
Date: 1991
By: Arlene S. Kanter (Syracuse University College of Law Faculty)
Citation: 19 N.Y.U. Rev. L. & Soc. Change 273 (1991)
[ Detail ] [ External Link ]

1:83−cv−03295 (D.D.C.)
MH-DC-0003-9000.pdf | Detail
Date: 04/22/1994
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
General Documents
Memorandum Opinion in Support of Class Action Certification (103 F.R.D. 559) (D.D.C.)
MH-DC-0003-0003.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Date: 11/07/1984
Source: Westlaw
Memorandum Opinion [Granting Motion for Partial Summary Judgment] (663 F.Supp. 35) (D.D.C.)
MH-DC-0003-0002.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Date: 05/19/1987
Source: Westlaw
Order [Remanding Case] [ECF# 216] (1992 WL 73508) (D.D.C.)
MH-DC-0003-0001.pdf | WESTLAW | Detail
Date: 03/20/1992
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
DC Cir. Court Opinion rev'g d.ct. on attorney's fees (15 F.3d 1126)
MH-DC-0003-0004.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Date: 02/15/1994
Source: Google Scholar
Judges Green, Joyce Hens (D.D.C., FISC)
MH-DC-0003-0001 | MH-DC-0003-9000
Henderson, Karen LeCraft (D.C. Circuit, D.S.C.)
Mikva, Abner Joseph (D.C. Circuit)
Parker, Barrington Daniels Sr. (D.D.C.)
MH-DC-0003-0002 | MH-DC-0003-0003
Williams, Stephen Fain (D.C. Circuit)
Plaintiff's Lawyers Rubenstein, Leonard S. (Virginia)
Turnbull, Albert William (District of Columbia)
Defendant's Lawyers Gondelman, Richard F. (District of Columbia)
Nebeker, William Mark (District of Columbia)

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