On April 24, 2004, the U.S. Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division ("DOJ") sent a findings letter to Arkansas's governor, advising him of the results of the Spring 2003, DOJ investigation of conditions and practices at the Conway Human Development Center ("CHDC"), a facility housing developmentally disabled persons, including those with mental retardation, cerebral palsy, epilepsy, and/or autism. The investigation occurred under the authority of the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act ("CRIPA"), 42 U.S.C. § 1997. DOJ and expert consultants visited the facility, reviewed a wide array of documents there, and conducted interviews with personnel and residents. The letter commended CHDC staff for providing a high level of cooperation during the investigation, as well as the dedication many showed for resident well-being. Nevertheless, the investigation found deficiencies in resident care at CHDC, in that conditions and services at CDHC substantially departed from generally accepted standards of care. Constitutional and federal statutory rights of residents at CHDC were violated in several respects, according to the DOJ.
DOJ concluded that deficiencies in conditions of resident care and treatment at CHDC existed as to multiple topic areas, including CDHC's causing residents significant harm or risk of harm through inadequate: (1) health care (termed "grossly deficient," with particular problems in "terribly inadequate" medical and neurological care, physical and nutritional management and therapy services, and infection control and medication administration practices); (2) habilitative treatment services (e.g., "grossly deficient" and unreviewed restraint practices; "critically inadequate" activity programming and psychiatric services; inadequately trained and supervised staff; ineffective behavior programs; invalid data collection and recording practices; poor medication management); and (3) protection from harm policies (e.g., failure to conduct mortality reviews after resident deaths, meager investigation of abuse or neglect incidents, inadequacies in residents' rights and consent policies); as well as CHDC's (4) failure to provide required special education and related services pursuant to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act ("IDEA"), 20 U.S.C. § 1401; and (5) failure to provide services to individuals with disabilities in the most integrated setting appropriate to individual residents' needs, pursuant to statutory obligations imposed by Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), 42 U.S.C. §§ 12131 et seq., and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, 29 U.S.C. § 794. The letter provided details of deficiencies for all five of these categories.
Minimally-acceptable remedial measures for each of the five categories were outlined in the letter, which concluded by inviting continued further collaboration in implementing the remediation. The letter also provided notice that, absent a resolution of federal concerns, the DOJ would file a CRIPA lawsuit to compel correction of the identified deficiencies at CHDC.
On January 16, 2009, the DOJ filed a complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas. The complaint mirrored the findings letter. The State filed an answer on February 17, 2009.
Over a year later, the U.S. filed a Motion for Preliminary Injunction on March 9, 2010. Arkansas opposed the motion, and on April 7, 2010, the court (Judge J. Leon Holmes) denied the motion. Both parties then filed Motions for Partial Summary Judgment, which were denied by the court on July 30, 2010.
On August 27, 2010, a group of parents and guardians of residents of CHDC filed an amicus curiae brief in support of the state.
A six-week bench trial was held in September 2010. The court allowed the parties to extend the filing period for post-trial briefs to provide time for the transcripts to be prepared. The court issued its findings on June 8, 2011. The court found that the U.S. had not met its burden under the first claim for relief, that the practices at CHDC departed from generally accepted professional standards. The court also found the U.S. failed to meet its burden for the second claim for relief, that CHDC was not in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). On the U.S.'s third claim for relief, the court found that DOJ had shown that CHDC was not providing free appropriate public education for resident children. However, because CHDC had submitted a proposal for changing their education policy to the appropriate state agency (Arkansas Department of Education) at the time of trial, the court did not find it necessary to take any action. Accordingly, the court dismissed the action with prejudice. The court denied, however, the state's later request for attorneys' fees and only awarded costs in the amount of $150,580. Although the U.S. did not prove its case during the bench trial, the court found that CHDC had made certain changes in policies and practices, most likely as a result of the DOJ investigation. Apparently, the court did not want to find the DOJ's claims frivolous or groundless and have to grant attorney's fees to the defendants. The case is now closed. Elizabeth Daligga - 07/25/2012