University of Michigan Law School
Civil Rights Litigation Clearinghouse
Title "The Termination of Consent Decrees in IDEA Class Actions"
Date Oct 20, 2008
Author Alex Elson
Author Institution Washington University in St. Louis
Author Role Law Student
Paper [ PDF ]
Abstract With the rise of institutional reform litigation in the wake of Brown v. Board of Education, public institutions such as schools, prisons, foster homes, and mental health centers frequently came under the control of federal court injunctions and consent decrees. A defining feature of this institutional reform litigation was the unprecedented length of time in which courts remained involved in reform efforts. As courts assumed increasing control over governmental institutions -and as they did so for increasingly long periods of time-questions emerged about how, and by what standards, their supervision should terminate.

This paper focuses on one aspect of this "termination debate"-sunset clauses in consent decrees -in one case category-IDEA class actions. The IDEA class action case category provides a fertile context for this analysis because: (1) there are many examples from which to draw-there are at least 59 IDEA class actions and most contain settlements with sunset clauses; and (2) IDEA class actions-unlike in many other areas of institutional reform litigation-lack settled and uniform standards for termination. As a result, the sunset clauses that govern termination in IDEA class actions vary tremendously from case to case, as does the litigation that surrounds them.

The spectrum of IDEA sunset clauses is vast: whereas some emphasize finality by setting strict time deadlines for termination, others emphasize substantial or total compliance by requiring defendants to achieve specific results before any deadlines can be triggered. Looking to five case studies (with a particular focus on Chicago's Corey H v. Board of Education litigation), this paper first explores the broad spectrum of termination standards and, second, analyzes the factors-such as the scope of the litigation strategy and the nature of the remedy sought-that influence their creation. It suggests, inter alia, that the terms of sunset clauses can be explained in large part by the nature and breadth of the remedies that the plaintiffs seek.

This Resource Relates To
case Corey H. v. Board of Education [of Chicago] (ED-IL-0001)

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