On February 27, 1989, patients at the Augusta Mental Health Institute (AMHI) filed a class action lawsuit under state law against the Department of Behavioral and Developmental Services (the "Department"), the Department of Human Services (DHS), the Commissioner of DHS and the Superintendent of AMHI, in the Superior Court of Maine. The plaintiff, represented by private counsel, asked the court for declaratory and injunctive relief, alleging violations of rights resulting from inappropriate treatment at AMHI and inadequate community support services.
On June 21, 1989, the Superior Court of Maine (Judge unknown) certified a class consisting of current and future patients at AMHI as well as public wards.
On August 2, 1990, the parties signed a consent decree to end the litigation. Under the consent decree, the defendants promised to take certain affirmative actions as specified in 259 paragraphs of the decree. Further, under the consent decree, the defendants were required to achieve substantial compliance by September 1, 1995, and agreed to have a Master monitor their compliance. The Court retained jurisdiction over compliance.
On September 7, 1994, and March 11, 1996, the Superior Court of Maine (in 1994 Judge Chandler and in 1996 Judge Mills) found the defendants in contempt of the provisions of the consent decree. The 1996 involved an order of receivership, however Judge Mills stayed the appointment of a receiver to permit the State opportunity to come into compliance with specific sections of the consent decree. The defendants subsequently filed an Implementation Plan on May 3, 1996.
On January 15, 2002, the Superior Court (Judge Nancy Mills) moved, sua sponte, to determine whether the defendants were in substantial compliance with the consent decree. And, on January 25, 2002, the defendants filed a notice alleging they had taken the actions specified by the consent decree and were in substantial compliance. The plaintiffs did not challenge the defendants' compliance with 62 paragraphs, but did challenge the remaining 197 paragraphs.
After a seven-week trial during which eighty-six witnesses testified and which cost taxpayers over $700,000, on May 23, 2003, the Superior Court of Maine (Judge Nancy Mills) issued 132 pages of findings of fact and conclusions of law. Judge Mills granted the defendants' motion for judgment as a matter of law with respect to only 23 paragraphs of the consent decree. Judge Mills found the defendants had developed a system that relegated non-class members to second-class status, and that the defendants were not in substantial compliance with the consent decree. Judge Mills found that while "th[e] system cries out for more well-trained and qualified front-line workers . . . [t]he defendants vest authority instead in an abundance of management - management that appears to believe it answers no one." As a result of her findings, Judge Mills appointed a receiver to supervise the day-to-day operations of AMHI.
The state appealed the Superior Court ruling to the Maine Supreme Court. In 2004, the Supreme Court (Judge Donald Alexander) affirmed portions and vacated portions of the judgment by the Superior Court. Judge Alexander affirmed the lower court's finding that the State could not prove substantial compliance with the consent decree and he ordered the State to develop, together with the court, a comprehensive plan for coming into compliance and a system for measuring compliance with the agreement. However, Judge Alexander vacated the receivership order based on his findings that the court had applied an improper standard for measuring substantial compliance, and that the lower court had failed to consider the State's remedial efforts in the year of the trial. The case was remanded to the circuit court level for continued monitoring.
As of 2014, the State had not come into substantial compliance. The case remains under court supervision. Annual compliance reports are available on the website of the Maine Department of Health and Human Services.Josh Altman - 07/06/2006
Nick Kabat - 10/28/2014