On July 3, 1975, seven residents of Pineland Center, a state institution for the mentally disabled, filed this class action lawsuit in the Southern District of Maine on behalf of themselves and those similarly situated—a class defined as “all present and future residents of Pineland whose needs for care, education, training and therapy in a humane and healthful physical and psychological environment are unmet.” The plaintiffs sued the Pineland Center under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging that the Pineland Center had violated their First, Fourth, Fifth, Eighth, Ninth, Thirteenth, and Fourteenth Amendment Rights. The plaintiffs, represented by private attorneys and an attorney from the Mental Health Law Project (MHLP), asked the court for declaratory and injunctive relief, wanting recognition that their rights were being unlawfully infringed upon and demanding that the defendant take “every action necessary to bring about [the] plaintiffs’ fullest enjoyment of their rights,” and to reverse the damage done to the plaintiffs by the unlawful conditions and practices of the institution.
Pineland Center was a Maine institution for the mentally impaired. The plaintiffs’ complaint alleges that, although Pineland Center was responsible for providing treatment to the residents, the plaintiffs regressed in health due to understaffing, undertreating, and underproviding. Specifically, the plaintiffs alleged that the general facilities of the center were in poor shape; some of the residence halls did not meet state and local fire standards, and that a day room in one of the buildings consisted of an empty room bordered on three sides by industrial chairs, and contained no psychological enrichment. In the summer, the ventilation was poor and the heat oppressive. Certain areas of the halls were constantly dirty and smelled like urine and feces.
In addition, residents retained essentially no privacy. There were no doors to the toilets and multiple beds were crammed into rooms. Many residents were forbidden from operating showers themselves and were hosed down by workers. Residents were dehumanized and called “boys,” “girls,” and “children” no matter their age, and there was virtually no programming for daily activities. Many residents were left to languish in boredom in their locked halls and empty dayrooms.
Residents were also denied speech therapy, education, physical therapy, occupational therapy, and dental care, in large part because the institution did not have the funds to support these programs. Other patients who required extra care as a result of their mental capacity were physically tied up for large portions of the day, and kept sedated nearly constantly. As a result of this, the purpose for some of the residents’ placement in the institution went unaddressed, and some of the patients’ conditions regressed.
Patients who were mentally and physically able were not given the ability to work and to be productive to their community. Those who were able to be placed in their community outside of Pineland were given practically zero support, and were often sent back to the institution.
The defendants submitted motions to Dismiss on July 30, 1975. The plaintiffs responded by filing a motion for class certification on August, 25, 1975. The court (Judge Edward Thaxter Gignoux) responded to both of these motions, denying the motion to dismiss on September 26, 1975 and granting the class certification on October 7, 1975.
The parties engaged in discovery disputes from late 1975 all the way through early 1977, but there was a proposed—and rejected—consent decree that signified that the parties were willing to negotiate. There was a break in proceedings between July of 1977 and May of 1978, in which the parties were presumably working on a settlement. On July 5, 1978 the parties jointly submitted a consent decree, and on July 14, 1978 the court approved the decree.
The settlement agreement was comprehensive. It stated mandatory standards and improvements to be made to the Pineland Center itself, including enriching the common areas, limiting the number of people required to sleep in one room, providing for more privacy, ensuring that the facilities were kept clean and hygienic, condemning Hayden Hall, a building that were particularly egregious to residents, allowing for patients to have their own personal items, and making sure that living areas were kept somewhat quiet. Additionally, standards for resident to staff ratios were put in place (See pg. 11 of the decree
). The abusive practices of restraint and drugging were to stop.
As importantly, residents were each to receive an individual plan of care, known as a “Prescriptive Program Plan” (PPP). The residents were each to be assigned a PPP coordinator, who would review the “resident’s specific needs and capabilities, [the resident’s] goals, with short-term and long-term objectives and timetables for the attainment of these objective.” The PPPs were to be reviewed by at least three members of the “interdisciplinary team,” to make sure no residents fell through the cracks. When services needed by residents were unavailable, interim plans were to be put into place, and when a certain number of residents required a service not offered by Pineland, Pineland was was responsible for its implementation. Importantly, each PPP was also to include an “analysis of the community placement best suited for that resident and a projected date for the resident’s progress to a community setting.”
The truly precedent-setting part of the consent decree was the standards dictated with regards to community placement. (See Appendix “B” Community Standards in the decree
.) The interdisciplinary team was to determine which community placement was most appropriate for each resident, and was to take the placement that was least restrictive and most productive to the resident’s development as a strong first-choice. Rights were given to competent residents to visit their placement before being sent there, and had a right to challenge their placements through a structured hearing system. The placement was to be based on the actual needs of the resident, and was not to be restricted based on available community placements. If the placement best suited to the resident was unavailable, Pineland was to use this information to develop new programs and residential placements.
Programming and training was to continue in the community placement for a minimum of four hours a week as pursuant to the resident’s PPP, and in addition, each resident was to receive training in the residential setting about everyday living skills, to help ease the resident’s transition to life outside Pineland. Residences were to meet standards of cleanliness and hospitableness similar to those outlined in the institutional portion of the settlement. Institutional frameworks, including data systems and integrated social work systems, were to be put into place to ensure that the community residents continued to function effectively. Finally, Special Master was appointed and jurisdiction retained to oversee the implementation of the consent decree.
The decree stated that the standards were to be met within two years.
Almost two years later, on June 2, 1980, the Special Master, David Gregory filed Findings and Recommendations, which, made it clear that the defendants would not reach full implementation within the two-year timeframe. The court’s jurisdiction over the case was extended until 1982. On January 14, 1981, a stipulation agreement was filed by the parties, appointing a new Special Master, Lincoln Clark, to the case.
Next, an extended dispute over attorney’s fees ensued, regarding the question of whether attorney’s fees could be granted to plaintiff’s attorneys on all issues following the consent decree, specifically with regards to enforcement of the decree and finding a new special master.
On November 5, 1982, Judge Gignoux extended the office of the Special Master.
On November 23, 1983, over five years after the consent decree, Judge Gignoux ordered the termination of the office of Special Master and the discharging of the defendants. An independent review of compliance with the Consent Decree was to occur at least annually by the then “Maine Bureau of Mental Retardation” (now the Maine Department of Health and Human Services). The court was to retain jurisdiction for three more years.
On December 17, 1983, the court granted the plaintiff’s attorney’s fees.
The docket has no activity for the next seven years. Finally, on October 24, 1990, the final ceremony discharging the defendants occurred, twelve years following the consent decree order.Kristen Sagar - 08/07/2006
Megan Brown - 02/06/2017