On May 1, 1984, the United States Department of Justice Civil Rights Division informed the Governor of Connecticut that it would investigate the living conditions at Southbury Training School, an institutional care facility for people with intellectual disabilities (ICF/MR) in Southbury, Connecticut, pursuant to the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act (CRIPA), 42 U.S.C. § 1997 et seq. On September 11, 1985, the Department of Justice announced its findings. Three lawsuits, including this CRIPA lawsuit, followed. A class action, Messier v. Southbury Training School, ID-CT-0003
in this Clearinghouse, appears to have been treated as a companion case at some points during litigation. Another private action, McCoy v. Belmont, ID-CT-0006
, appears to have been separately litigated. Judge Ellen B. Burns of the United States District Court for the District of Connecticut adjudicated all or part of these three lawsuits.
The United States filed this lawsuit against the State of Connecticut, its Department of Mental Retardation, and the Director of Southbury on July 25, 1986. The United States alleged that living conditions at Southbury placed residents in grave danger of bodily harm and death. According to the Complaint, the individuals with developmental disabilities placed at Southbury were subject to systematic abuse and neglect. Southbury did not provide adequate medical and psychological care and employed too few medical and direct care staff. In addition, Southbury's facilities were unsafe and unsanitary. Instead of offering residents individualized habilitative programming, Southbury used physical and chemical restraints to control most residents' behavior.
On July 25, 1986, the parties also entered a consent decree, under which the State admitted no wrongdoing but agreed to dramatically change Southbury's operations. For instance, the State agreed to institute individualized habilitation programming for all residents and to only use chemical and physical restraints in emergencies or when medically or therapeutically indicated. In addition, the State agreed to improve medical care by hiring more medical staff, developing a medical recordkeeping system, and improving the availability and overall quality of medical care and physical therapy. In addition, the state agreed to improve staff-to-resident ratios by either hiring and training more direct care staff or reducing the number of Southbury's residents (in 1986, Southbury had over one thousand residents). In addition, Southbury agreed to strategically address any new deficiencies or risks to residents' health or lives. Although the consent decree could only be enforced by those party to it, the defendants agreed to submit quarterly progress reports to the court. The court approved the consent decree on December 26, 1986, just four days after denying the Messier plaintiffs' petition for intervener status.
Connecticut's compliance with the consent decree was rocky from the start. On July 28, 1987, the State petitioned the court to extend some of the consent decree's original deadlines because approval of the remedial plan was taking longer than expected. The court did not approve the remedial plan until July 22, 1988. On April 24, 1990, the court issued a remedial order directed to deficiencies in individualized planning, program staffing, medical treatment, and mental health care. Under the 1990 remedial order, Southbury's staff was required to monitor medicated residents for side effects, especially tardive dyskinesia. In addition, the court mandated monthly human rights reviews for residents with aggressive or self-injurious behaviors and for residents on psychotropic medications. Finally, the State was instructed to hire more physicians (general practitioners and specialists) and nurses to serve residents at Southbury. On December 1, 1991, the court modified the 1990 remedial order.
Dissatisfied with the effects of the consent decree, Southbury's residents filed Messier v. Southbury Training School in 1994. On March 5, 1996, the court denied the Messier plaintiffs' motion to consolidate their lawsuit with United States v. Connecticut. The court, however, agreed that Southbury was still not providing adequate services to persons with developmental disabilities. On June 19, 1996, the court held the State in contempt of the consent decree, remedial plan, and remedial orders and appointed a Special Master (David Ferleger) to oversee compliance. United States v. Connecticut, 931 F. Supp. 974 (D. Conn. 1996), appeal dismissed, No. 96-6218, 1997 WL 321594 (2d Cir. June 13, 1997). The court was especially concerned by the rates and causes of mortality at Southbury. For instance, one resident died from severe burns after he lit his clothes on fire while smoking. The court noted that Southbury knew that the resident smoked unsafely, but neither taught him how to smoke safely nor observed him when he smoked.
Between July 30, 1997, and February 22, 2006, the Special Master submitted twenty-six status reports, sixty-three topic-specific reports, and numerous other reports, recommendations, and analyses. Based on the docket, it appears that the Special Master addressed (1) individualized planning, (2) community placement policies, (3) abuse and neglect, (4) the rights of persons with disabilities, (5) human rights and behavioral programming reviews, (6) occupational and physical therapy, (7) medical and dental care, (8) dosage benchmarks, (9) physical restraint techniques and standards, (10) mortality investigations, (11) case management and advocacy, (12) quality assurance plans, (13) facility upkeep, safety, and sanitation, (14) transportation, (15) employment of direct care staff, medical professionals, and specialized therapists, and (16) staff development. The defendants contested most of the Special Master's reports, but the court ultimately accepted all of them. For instance, on February 22, 2004, the court accepted and adopted the Special Master's report on Southbury's development of mortality review procedures.
It appears that the court began removing components of the consent decree from active judicial oversight in August 2000. On November 22, 2002, the Messier plaintiffs again requested intervener status, but the court denied their request on January 7, 2003. On June 24, 2004, the court similarly denied a motion by the Messier plaintiffs to file an amicus curiae brief about compliance with the consent decree.
On June 20, 2005, the parties filed a revised joint settlement agreement, which would have released all outstanding elements of the consent decree from active judicial oversight. The court, however, refused to endorse the agreement on July 21, 2005. The court was apparently concerned about continued deficiencies in habilitation programming and medical care. On September 16, 2005, the State filed a notice of appeal to the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, but did not request that the district court proceedings be stayed. On January 17, 2006, the Special Master reported that the State had successfully implemented comprehensive habilitation programming for all persons served at Southbury. On February 26, 2006, the Special Master's medical consultant issued a similar report regarding the adequacy of medical care.
On March 25, 2006, the court issued an order purging the defendants of contempt and concluding judicial oversight of the consent decree and remedial plan. The court, however, retained jurisdiction over the consent decree and remedial order for enforcement purposes. Between March 24 and June 25, 2006, the court declared all outstanding motions moot, finalized payment to the Special Master, and ordered the return of unused Special Master funds to the State. On June 25, 2006, Connecticut withdrew its joint settlement agreement appeal. Today, Southbury's website embraces the philosophy of community placement and acknowledges that future challenges will require Southbury to continue to grow and develop. On November 2, 2009, the Court granted a joint motion to dismiss the case because the parties agreed that the consent decree and remedial plan were fully implemented.Elizabeth Chilcoat - 06/14/2006
Maurice Youkanna - 07/10/2014