On June 13, 2000, thirty-one minor children in the legal custody of the Florida Department of Children and Families ("DCAF") filed this putative class action lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida, seeking declaratory and injunctive relief. The named plaintiffs were represented by the advocacy organization Children's Rights and by private counsel. Plaintiffs sought certification of a class of all children who are or will be in the legal custody of DCAF as an alleged or adjudicated dependent child; plaintiffs also sought certification of a subclass of all children who are black or perceived by DCAF as black. They asserted claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that systemic deficiencies in the operation of DCAF subjected children in the state's care to harm or an unreasonable risk of harm.
The alleged problems included: overuse of shelters; failing to comply with permanency plans; keeping siblings apart; overcrowding of residential facilities; overworking of caseworkers; denying children safe and permanent homes; overmedicating children; using non-least restrictive placements; failure to provide for foster children's education; operating a foster care system for "financial benefit"; and discriminating on the basis of race and ethnicity, particularly against black children.
On August 30, 2000, plaintiffs filed an amended complaint, adding new claims, including challenges brought under the Adoption and Safe Families Act; Early Periodic Screening, Diagnostic and Treatment; and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act.
On September 11, 2000, plaintiffs moved to certify the class. On October 27, 2000, defendants moved to dismiss the amended complaint for failure to state a cause of action. Both motions were referred to Magistrate Judge Robert L. Dube.
On April 20, 2001, Magistrate Judge Dube issued a Report and Recommendation largely denying the defendants' motion to dismiss. The Magistrate denied defendants' motion with respect to all counts, except for the EPSDT claims, for which the Magistrate dismissed certain of the named plaintiffs. Bonnie L. ex rel. Hadsock v. Bush, No. 00-2116-CIV-Moreno Dube, 2001 WL 1840843 (S.D. Fla. Apr. 20, 2001). Defendants subsequently filed objections to the R&R.
On May 10, 2001, Magistrate Judge Dube issued a Report and Recommendation largely granting plaintiffs' motion for class certification. The Magistrate certified plaintiffs' proposed class and subclass, but excluded certain groups because they had been members of prior classes. Specifically, the Magistrate excluded the following from the class and subclass: (a) children who reside in Broward/District 10; (b) children who were in the custody of DCAF prior to July 24, 1995, but only for claims which arose prior to that date; and (c) any claims for the failure to provide mental health and/or developmental services. Bonnie L. ex rel. Hadsock v. Bush, No. 00-2116-CIV, 2001 WL 1400051 (S.D. Fla. May 10, 2001). Defendants filed objections to this R&R.
In the meantime, on March 23, 2001, plaintiff Leslie F. moved for a preliminary injunction, seeking to enjoin defendants from terminating her foster care services. Leslie F. had turned eighteen but was still enrolled in high school. On April 30, 2001, the Court (District Judge Federico A. Moreno) denied the requested preliminary injunction. The Court held that, inter alia, Leslie F. lacked standing because she had not yet had her benefits terminated (and thus had not suffered an injury in fact), and that her claims were not yet ripe. Plaintiff appealed this decision to the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, while also seeking a temporary injunction from the District Court pending appeal. The Court (Judge Moreno) again denied plaintiff's request, noting that defendants had agreed to continue to provide services for 45 days or until the Eleventh Circuit ruled. Bonnie L. ex rel. Hadsock v. Bush, No. 00-2116-CIV-MORENO, 2001 WL 1840845 (S.D. Fla. June 8, 2001). Plaintiff subsequently appealed this ruling as well. The two appeals were consolidated by the Eleventh Circuit.
On October 15, 2001, the defendants filed a supplemental motion to dismiss. The defendants argued that the action was barred by the Eleventh Amendment, and that the Court must abstain under the Younger v. Harris doctrine. At this time, the defendants' objections to the Magistrate's Report and Recommendation denying defendants' motion to dismiss was still under consideration by the Court.
On December 4, 2001, the District Court (Judge Moreno) granted defendants' motion to dismiss. The Court held that plaintiffs' claims under the ASFA were barred by the Eleventh Amendment and the doctrine of Seminole Tribe v. Florida, 517 U.S. 44 (1996), and that certain of plaintiffs' Title VI claims were barred by Alexander v. Sandoval, 532 U.S. 275 (2001) and Harris v. James, 127 F.3d 993 (11th Cir. 1997) (holding that, by reading Sandoval in pari materia with Harris, the disparate impact regulations do not contain a substantive private right under disparate impact regulations). The Court also abstained under Younger from considering plaintiffs' substantive and procedural due process claims, as well as plaintiffs' claims under the First, Ninth, and Fourteenth Amendments for plaintiffs not in extended foster care. And while the Court did not dismiss all claims with respect to those plaintiffs, the Court dismissed the complaint without prejudice due to plaintiffs' failure to comply with Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8. The Court also set a deadline within which plaintiffs could file a second amended complaint. Bonnie L. ex rel. Hadsock v. Bush, 180 F. Supp. 2d 1321 (S.D. Fla. 2001). Plaintiffs appealed this decision to the Eleventh Circuit.
On February 14, 2002, the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit dismissed plaintiffs' appeal regarding the preliminary injunction because the parties had reached a partial settlement agreement. Per the terms of the settlement agreement, certain of the named plaintiffs released defendants from all claims, while others released defendants only from their EPSDT and Title VI claims. Those plaintiffs continued to press their constitutional and ASFA claims by appealing the District Court's December 4 dismissal to the Eleventh Circuit.
On May 8, 2003, the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit affirmed in part and vacated in part the District Court's order granting defendants' motion to dismiss. The Eleventh Circuit (Judge Carnes) held that (1) certain named plaintiffs' claims had become moot; (2) the district court properly dismissed plaintiffs' statutory claims, as those statutes do not give rise to enforceable rights; and (3) the district court did not abuse its discretion in abstaining under Younger. The Eleventh Circuit only vacated the district court's opinion and remanded with instructions regarding certain named plaintiffs, whose claims were moot or who lacked standing. Thus, this appeal affirmed the district court in all substantive respects and ended the case. 31 Foster Children v. Bush, 329 F.3d 1255 (11th Cir. 2003), cert. denied, 540 U.S. 984. Dan Whitman - 11/12/2015