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Case Name Bonnie S. v. Drew Altman ID-NJ-0001
Docket / Court 87-3709 ( D.N.J. )
State/Territory New Jersey
Case Type(s) Intellectual Disability (Facility)
Attorney Organization NDRN/Protection & Advocacy Organizations
Steve Gold
Case Summary
On September 10, 1987, six women with intellectual disabilities residing at the New Jersey Developmental Center, a state-run mental institution in Totowa, New Jersey, filed this lawsuit against the State on behalf of all New Jersey residents involuntarily confined to institutions, in the U.S. ... read more >
On September 10, 1987, six women with intellectual disabilities residing at the New Jersey Developmental Center, a state-run mental institution in Totowa, New Jersey, filed this lawsuit against the State on behalf of all New Jersey residents involuntarily confined to institutions, in the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey. The plaintiffs, represented by private counsel, alleged that their constitutional and statutory rights under the Fourteenth Amendment and Title XIX of the Social Security Act were violated when they were involuntarily committed to the institution without standards, hearings, or judicial review; and when the state failed to develop appropriate community placements for them. The plaintiffs asked the court for declaratory and injunctive relief.

On April 19, 1988, the court (Judge H. Lee Sarokin) reviewed a magistrate's pre-trial order, where the plaintiffs' counsel were directed to contact the private guardians of two plaintiffs in order to obtain their consent to pursue the litigation. If the counsel failed to contact the guardians or to obtain consent, the magistrate would enter voluntary dismissals for those two plaintiffs. In its opinion, the court found that the magistrate's order erroneously gave exclusive control over the litigation to the guardians, and remanded the order for a hearing to determine whether the interests of the wards and the guardians were in conflict. The court also ordered the disclosure of the plaintiffs' medical records in their entirety, even though the guardians had withheld consent. Bonnie S. v. Altman, 683 F. Supp. 100 (D.N.J. 1988).

In response to the lawsuit, the individual plaintiffs were placed in community residences; the parties then agreed to dismissal of the case, which the court ordered on February 23, 1989. Subsequently, on June 28, 1989, the plaintiffs moved for an award of attorney fees as "prevailing parties."

The court noted that "Approximately 1500 persons are similarly situated to plaintiffs. They continue to suffer in institutions, although they are entitled in most instances to community placement. The continuation of their plight cannot be justified or excused by the lack of available funds. If it were otherwise, then the failure of the state to rectify horrendous conditions in its prisons and other institutions would have to be tolerated." It praised the lawyers: "They not only have served the interests of these identified plaintiffs, but they have drawn attention to the plight of those who are similarly situated. They have spoken for persons who otherwise would not have been heard, and thus they should be compensated, encouraged, and complimented."

The court (Judge Sarokin) found that the plaintiffs were entitled to the fees as a matter of law; the total award was $38,600.00. Bonnie S. v. Altman, No. 87-3709, 1989 WL 71795 (D.N.J. June 28, 1989).

The case is closed.

Laura Uberti - 07/20/2006


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Issues and Causes of Action
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Issues
Disability
Integrated setting
General
Classification / placement
Commitment procedure
Deinstitutionalization/decarceration
Mental Disability
Intellectual/developmental disability, unspecified
Type of Facility
Government-run
Causes of Action 42 U.S.C. § 1983
Title XIX of the Social Security (Medicaid) Act, 42 U.S.C §1396
Defendant(s) New Jersey Department of Human Services
Plaintiff Description Six women with intellectual disabilities confined to an institution.
Indexed Lawyer Organizations NDRN/Protection & Advocacy Organizations
Steve Gold
Class action status sought Yes
Class action status granted Yes
Prevailing Party Plaintiff
Public Int. Lawyer No
Nature of Relief Injunction / Injunctive-like Settlement
Source of Relief Settlement
Form of Settlement Court Approved Settlement or Consent Decree
Order Duration 1989 - 1989
Case Closing Year 1989
Case Ongoing No
Docket(s)
No docket sheet currently in the collection
General Documents
Opinion (683 F.Supp. 100) (D.N.J.)
ID-NJ-0001-0001.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Date: 04/19/1988
Source: Google Scholar
Opinion (1989 WL 71795 / 1989 U.S.Dist.LEXIS 7308) (D.N.J.)
ID-NJ-0001-0002.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Date: 06/28/1989
Judges Sarokin, H. Lee (D.N.J., Third Circuit)
ID-NJ-0001-0001 | ID-NJ-0001-0002
Plaintiff's Lawyers Gold, Stephen F. (Pennsylvania)
ID-NJ-0001-0002
Shane, Ilene W. (New Jersey)
ID-NJ-0001-0001 | ID-NJ-0001-0002
Defendant's Lawyers Barreto, Daisy B. (New Jersey)
ID-NJ-0001-0001
Piatek, Christine (New Jersey)
ID-NJ-0001-0002

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