The Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act of 1980, 42 U.S.C. §§ 620-629, 670-679 (hereinafter the Adoption Act) provided that participating States would be reimbursed by the Federal Government for certain expenses incurred in administering foster care and adoption services in accordance with plans submitted by the States to and approved by the Secretary of Health and Human Services. Once established, these plans were required to be in effect in all of a State's political subdivisions. Compliance with the plans was mandatory.
In December 1988, Plaintiffs filed a class-action suit in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois against the Director and the Administrator of the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, in their official capacities (DCFS.) The named Plaintiffs were several children, and their parents or guardians, who allegedly had been affected by Illinois' non-compliance with its obligations under the Adoption Act.
The Plaintiffs alleged that DFCS had failed to make reasonable efforts to prevent the unnecessary removal of children from their homes and to facilitate the reunification of families where such removal had occurred, in contravention of § 671(a)(15) of the Adoption Act. The Plaintiffs alleged that DCFS had failed promptly to assign caseworkers to children removed from their families and placed in DCFS custody. They alleged that DCFS regularly failed to assign caseworkers until four to six weeks after the Juvenile Court proceeding had commenced. As a result, many children were without a caseworker at critical times. The plaintiffs sought declaratory and injunctive relief, seeking to require DFCS to come into full compliance with its mandatory obligations under the Adoption Act. The Plaintiffs filed the suit with two theories as to the cause of action, suggesting that the Adoption Act itself contained an implied private cause of action, and that alternatively the Act could be enforced under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, which allows private actions to be brought against States for violations of federal statutory and constitutional law committed under the color of state law.
On August 15, 1989, the Court (Judge Milton I. Shadur) granted the Plaintiffs' motion to certify two plaintiff classes, which included all children who at the time were, or who would become, wards of DCFS, and who were or would be either placed in foster care or remain in their homes under a judicial protective order. In a November 21, 1989 Memorandum Opinion and Order, the Court denied DFCS' motion to dismiss the case, holding that the Adoption Act did contain an implied cause of action and that the suit could also be brought under § 1983. Artist M. v. Johnson, 726 F.Supp. 690 (N.D. Ill.1989).
In March 1990, the Court issued a preliminary injunction requiring DFCS to assign caseworkers to each child in DCFS custody within three working days of the time of that child's first hearing in Juvenile Court. The Court found that adhering to this three-day deadline was realistically achievable in part because DFCS itself had asserted to the Court that assigning caseworkers within that period of time "would not be overly burdensome."
DFCS appealed this decision to the federal Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, which substantially affirmed the lower court's decision. The Court of Appeals held that the "reasonable efforts" clause of the Adoption Act was enforceable under § 1983. Artist M. v. Johnson, 917 F.2d 980 (7th Cir. 1990).
The Supreme Court granted certiorari review, and on March 25, 1992, in an opinion by Chief Justice William Rehnquist, reversed, holding the Adoption Act did not directly create a private cause of action and that it did not create a right enforceable under 42 U.S.C § 1983. Suter v. Artist M., 503 U.S. 347 (U.S. 1992) The suit was therefore dismissed and the preliminary injunction was lifted.
In 1994, Congress passed legislation, commonly called the "Suter cure provision," that amended the Adoption Act to explicitly authorize a cause of action that enabled private plaintiffs to bring suit in order to obtain relief from the failure of states to comply with their mandatory obligations under the Act.Alex Colbert-Taylor - 07/03/2013