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Case Name Michelle H. v. Haley CW-SC-0002
Docket / Court 2:15-cv-00134-RMG ( D.S.C. )
State/Territory South Carolina
Case Type(s) Child Welfare
Attorney Organization Appleseed
Children's Rights, Inc.
Case Summary
On January 12, 2015, eleven named minor children in the legal custody of the South Carolina Department of Social Services ("SCDSS") filed this putative class action lawsuit (by their Next Friends) against the Governor of South Carolina and SCDSS in the United States District Court for the District ... read more >
On January 12, 2015, eleven named minor children in the legal custody of the South Carolina Department of Social Services ("SCDSS") filed this putative class action lawsuit (by their Next Friends) against the Governor of South Carolina and SCDSS in the United States District Court for the District of South Carolina. The named plaintiffs were represented by two advocacy organizations, Children's Rights and Appleseed, and by private counsel. Plaintiffs intended to seek certification of a class of all children who are or will be involuntarily placed in foster care in the legal custody of SCDSS as a result of emergency protective custody and/or a referral, report, suspicion, allegation and/or adjudication of abuse or neglect. Plaintiffs asserted claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging systemic deficiencies in the operation of SCDSS subjected children in the state's care to harm or an unreasonable risk of harm.

The alleged problems included: whether SCDSS maintains an adequate number and kind of foster homes, resulting in over-institutionalization of foster children, repeated movement of children between placements, and deprivation of meaningful familial contacts; whether SCDSS has excessive caseworker caseloads, resulting in a workforce that cannot monitor children's safety, maltreatment in SCDSS care, and failure to investigate maltreatment; and whether SCDSS fails to provide initial and periodic medical, dental, and mental health assessments, treatments, and screens, leading to emotional and psychological deterioration of children in SCDSS custody.

On March 16, 2015, Defendants moved to dismiss for failure to state a claim. On March 30, 2015, with Defendants' motion pending, the District Court (Judge Richard M. Gergel) entered a text order asking the parties to engage in early mediation. The Court indicated that Senior District Judge Michael Duffy had agreed to mediate, should the parties consent. Later that week, the parties indicated that they were willing to engage in early mediation.

On September 28, 2015, the parties entered into an interim settlement agreement. As part of the "Consent Immediate Interim Relief Order," the plaintiff class was certified and "limited co-monitors" were appointed. SCDSS also agreed to undertake several remedial steps, including phasing out use of SCDSS offices, hotels and motels as placements and no longer recommending that children remain in juvenile detention because of a lack of foster homes. SCDSS also agreed to undertake a workload study, adopt workload limits, conduct a placement needs assessment, and create a plan to end the placement of children ages six and under in non-family group placements.

Judge Gergel approved the parties' final class action settlement agreement on October 4, 2016. The agreement defined the class as "all children who are involuntarily placed in DSS foster care in the physical or legal custody of DSS either now or in the future." Pursuant to the agreement, the court appointed two co-monitors to issue periodic public reports on the parties' compliance with the settlement agreement. SCDSS agreed to (1) complete a foster care workload study and adopt workload limits; (2) ensure that worker-child visitation happens with appropriate frequency; (3) adopt enhanced investigation procedures; (4) adopt procedures to ensure appropriate child placement; (5) provide for family visitation; and (6) develop a health care improvement plan. The settlement agreement was to remain in effect until the Court issues an order dismissing its jurisdiction over the action. Regarding attorneys' fees, the parties agreed to submit the amount and terms of fees and expenses to final and binding arbitration by the mediator (District Judge P. Michael Duffy).

In their most recent report from September 2018, the co-monitors outlined several areas of accomplishment: leadership changes and internal restructuring; development of a five-year budget; building infrastructure to meet children's healthcare needs; conducting a data audit; and development of a training plan and case practice model. The co-monitors also identified several areas in need of focus and improvement. One of these areas is investigative practice within SCDSS’s Out-of-Home Abuse and Neglect (OHAN) unit. The co-monitors noted that a lack of resources means that staff have excessive case loads and do not have the time, direction, or tools to complete their work. Another area in need of improvement is SCDSS's placement array and processes. While SCDSS made some progress in reducing the number of children placed in congregate care and staying overnight at SCDSS offices, there had been little improvement in the period leading up to the September 2018 report. Finally, the co-monitors noted a need for improvement in the area of workforce recruitment and retention.

In response to the September report, the plaintiffs filed a motion to hold the defendants in contempt for non-compliance with the settlement agreement on November 26, 2018. On December 5, 2018, the Court issued an order stating that, starting in January 2019, the Court will hold monthly status conferences to assess SCDSS's implementation of the reforms mandated by the settlement agreement. Prior to the first status conference, SCDSS must submit plans about the three main areas in need of reform: workloads, placement, and healthcare. The order also required that SCDSS appoint staff responsible for those three areas. Finally, the order required that the parties conduct a mediation session prior to the January status conference.

As of the time of this summary, a mediation hearing is scheduled for January 8, 2019.

Dan Whitman - 10/22/2015
Eva Richardson - 12/26/2018


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Issues and Causes of Action
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Issues
Benefit Source
Medicaid
Constitutional Clause
Due Process
Content of Injunction
Goals (e.g., for hiring, admissions)
Monitor/Master
Monitoring
Preliminary relief granted
Reporting
Defendant-type
Jurisdiction-wide
Disability
disability, unspecified
Least restrictive environment
Mental impairment
Discrimination-basis
Disability (inc. reasonable accommodations)
General
Emergency shelter
Failure to supervise
Failure to train
Family abuse and neglect
Family reunification
Foster care (benefits, training)
Incident/accident reporting & investigations
Individualized planning
Juveniles
Pattern or Practice
Placement in detention facilities
Placement in shelters
Sexual abuse by residents/inmates
Siblings (visitation, placement)
Staff (number, training, qualifications, wages)
Visiting
Medical/Mental Health
Dental care
Medical care, general
Medical care, unspecified
Mental health care, general
Mental health care, unspecified
Mental Disability
Mental Illness, Unspecified
Plaintiff Type
Private Plaintiff
Causes of Action 42 U.S.C. § 1983
Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), 42 U.S.C. §§ 12111 et seq.
Title XIX of the Social Security (Medicaid) Act, 42 U.S.C §1396
Defendant(s) South Carolina Department of Social Services
Plaintiff Description General class: All children who are or will be involuntarily placed in foster care in the legal custody of DSS as a result of emergency protective custody (EPC) and/or a referral, report, suspicion, allegation and/or adjudication of abuse or neglect. Also disability, sibling, and juvenile justice subclasses.
Indexed Lawyer Organizations Appleseed
Children's Rights, Inc.
Class action status sought Yes
Class action status granted Yes
Filed Pro Se No
Prevailing Party Plaintiff
Public Int. Lawyer Yes
Nature of Relief Injunction / Injunctive-like Settlement
Source of Relief Settlement
Form of Settlement Court Approved Settlement or Consent Decree
Order Duration 2015 - n/a
Filing Year 2015
Case Ongoing Yes
Additional Resources
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  See this case at CourtListener.com (May provide additional documents and, for active cases, real-time alerts)
  Legal Accountability in the Service-Based Welfare State: Lessons from Child Welfare Reform
Date: Summer 2009
By: Kathleen G. Noonan, Charles F. Sabel, William H. Simon (Center for High Impact Philanthropy , Columbia Law School and Stanford Law School Faculty)
Citation: 34 Law & Soc. Inquiry 523 (Summer 2009)
[ Detail ] [ External Link ]

Docket(s)
2:15-cv-00134 (D.S.C.)
CW-SC-0002-9000.pdf | Detail
Date: 12/21/2018
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
General Documents
Plaintiffs' Original Complaint For Injunctive And Declaratory Relief As A Class Action [ECF# 1]
CW-SC-0002-0001.pdf | Detail
Date: 01/12/2015
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Consent Immediate Interim Relief [ECF# 29]
CW-SC-0002-0002.pdf | Detail
Date: 09/28/2015
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Exhibit A: Final Settlement Agreement [ECF# 32-1]
CW-SC-0002-0003.pdf | Detail
Date: 06/03/2016
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Monitoring Period I (October 1, 2016 – March 31, 2017): Progress of the South Carolina Department of Social Services [ECF# 63-1]
CW-SC-0002-0004.pdf | Detail
Date: 09/13/2017
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Monitoring Period II (April 1, 2017 – September 30, 2017): Progress of the South Carolina Department of Social Services [ECF# 70-1]
CW-SC-0002-0005.pdf | Detail
Date: 04/06/2018
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Monitoring Period III (October 1, 2017 – March 31, 2018): Progress of the South Carolina Department of Social Services [ECF# 88-1]
CW-SC-0002-0006.pdf | Detail
Date: 10/01/2018
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
show all people docs
Judges Gergel, Richard Mark (D.S.C.) show/hide docs
CW-SC-0002-0002 | CW-SC-0002-0003 | CW-SC-0002-9000
Plaintiff's Lawyers Berkowitz, Susan Beth (South Carolina) show/hide docs
CW-SC-0002-0001 | CW-SC-0002-0002 | CW-SC-0002-0003 | CW-SC-0002-9000
Finch, Aaron Hirsh (New York) show/hide docs
CW-SC-0002-0002 | CW-SC-0002-0003 | CW-SC-0002-9000
Lustbader, Ira P. (New York) show/hide docs
CW-SC-0002-0001 | CW-SC-0002-0002 | CW-SC-0002-0003 | CW-SC-0002-9000
Persson, Stephanie (New York) show/hide docs
CW-SC-0002-9000
Protheroe, Adam (South Carolina) show/hide docs
CW-SC-0002-9000
Remlin, Christina Wilson (New York) show/hide docs
CW-SC-0002-0002 | CW-SC-0002-0003 | CW-SC-0002-9000
Richardson, Matthew T (South Carolina) show/hide docs
CW-SC-0002-0001 | CW-SC-0002-0002 | CW-SC-0002-0003 | CW-SC-0002-9000
Russo, Sarah (New York) show/hide docs
CW-SC-0002-0002 | CW-SC-0002-0003 | CW-SC-0002-9000
Suggs, Steven (South Carolina) show/hide docs
CW-SC-0002-0001 | CW-SC-0002-0002 | CW-SC-0002-0003 | CW-SC-0002-9000
Wood, Kathryn Anne (New York) show/hide docs
CW-SC-0002-0001 | CW-SC-0002-0002 | CW-SC-0002-0003 | CW-SC-0002-9000
Defendant's Lawyers Bowers, Karl S. (South Carolina) show/hide docs
CW-SC-0002-0002 | CW-SC-0002-0003 | CW-SC-0002-9000
Davis, Alexander Erwin (South Carolina) show/hide docs
CW-SC-0002-0002 | CW-SC-0002-0003 | CW-SC-0002-9000
Laffitte, Rececca (South Carolina) show/hide docs
CW-SC-0002-0002 | CW-SC-0002-0003 | CW-SC-0002-9000
Limehouse, Thomas Ashley Jr. (South Carolina) show/hide docs
CW-SC-0002-9000
Montgomery, John M. (South Carolina) show/hide docs
CW-SC-0002-0002 | CW-SC-0002-0003 | CW-SC-0002-9000
Todd, Monteith Powell (South Carolina) show/hide docs
CW-SC-0002-0002 | CW-SC-0002-0003 | CW-SC-0002-9000

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