Case: Ricci v. Okin

1:72-cv-00469 | U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts

Filed Date: July 14, 1972

Closed Date: 2013

Clearinghouse coding complete

Case Summary

On February 7, 1972 a class action lawsuit was filed on behalf of mentally disabled clients of Belchertown State School in Massachusetts against various Commonwealth officials responsible for the operation of the school in the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts. The plaintiffs, filing under the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1396(a), asserted that conditions at the school violated residents' statutory and constitutional rights, including the right to minimally adeq…

On February 7, 1972 a class action lawsuit was filed on behalf of mentally disabled clients of Belchertown State School in Massachusetts against various Commonwealth officials responsible for the operation of the school in the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts. The plaintiffs, filing under the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1396(a), asserted that conditions at the school violated residents' statutory and constitutional rights, including the right to minimally adequate care and treatment. Similar actions were filed at four other state schools and institutions, including Wrentham, The Dever School, and the Walter E. Fernald State School (later the Fernald Developmental Center). These five cases were later consolidated. After touring the facilities, the Court determined that the level of care at the facilities was indefensible. The parties then drafted consent decrees affecting the five Massachusetts institutions, which were approved in 1978, and are widely considered to have been very effective at improving the conditions of the facilities and the quality of life of the residents. The Clearinghouse has been unable to obtain these consent decrees or the orders approving them. According to background provided in a later judicial opinion in the case, the consent decrees specified mandatory staffing levels to be maintained at the institutions.

On June 26, 1981, the Defendants notified the District Court that they intended to decrease the staffing levels at the facilities. The plaintiffs, represented by the Center for Public Representation and private counsel, asked the court for a preliminary injunction restraining the Defendants from implementing staff reductions, alleging that the proposed reductions would render the Defendants unable to comply with the consent decrees. The preliminary injunction was granted, and the Defendants agreed to maintain the current staff levels pending the Court's determination of the proposal's merits. In 1982, the Court (Judge Joseph Louis Tauro) denied the Defendant's request to reduce staff levels at the state institutions, as such a reduction would render them unable to comply with the consent decrees. However, the Court set forth an appendix containing positions which could safely be eliminated without violating the decrees. Ricci v. Okin, 537 F.Supp. 817 (D.Mass. 1982).

On October 9, 1986, the Court (Judge Tauro) determined that it no longer needed to oversee compliance with the consent decrees, and it began the process of disengaging from the litigation. The Court ordered the establishment of an independent Office of Quality Assurance to monitor compliance for a three year period. Ricci v. Callahan, 646 F.Supp. 378 (D.Mass. 1986).

On January 22, 1992, the Court (Judge Tauro) determined that the Dever School contained several deficiencies in organization and staffing. The Governor had previously stipulated that the school be closed within three years. This decision affected staff layoffs, supervisor resignations and staff morale. The Court ordered that although the Defendants were free to close schools encompassed by the consent decrees, they must maintain appropriate standards and staff levels until the residents could be transferred to other facilities. Ricci v. Okin, 781 F.Supp 826 (D.Mass. 1992).

The Plaintiffs sought to extend the Office of Quality Assurance for a period exceeding the three year time allotted by the court due to the Defendants' failure to complete several tasks. This motion was granted on June 24, 1992. Ricci v. Okin, 1992 WL 163215 (D. Mass June 24, 1992). The Defendants then sought a stay of this motion, which was denied on July 21, 1992. Ricci v. Okin, 1992 WL 175509 (D. Mass July 21, 1992). The Defendants appealed this order to the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit. The Court, in an opinion by then-Judge Stephen Breyer, held that the matter was not appealable. Ricci v. Okin, 978 F.2d 764 (1st Cir. 1992).

On May 25, 1993, Judge Tauro issued a memorandum order that closed the five consolidated cases, because of his finding that court oversight and monitoring of the facilities was no longer necessary because "Massachusetts now [had] a system of care and habilitation [for people with mental disabilities] ... probably second to none anywhere in the world," and in light of the establishment of a new Governor's Commission on Mental Retardation. He vacated the consent decrees, replacing them with an order containing substantive and procedural provisions for future compliance with Constitutional and statutory standards of care. Ricci v. Okin, 823 F.Supp. 984 (D.Mass. 1993).

The present docket begins with a 2004 motion to reopen the case and enforce the 1993 order. This motion was filed in response to then-Governor of Massachusetts Mitt Romney's announcement in 2003 that the Fernald facility and other state-run large centers for people with mental and developmental disabilities would be closed. The petitioners sought to reopen the case and to prevent this closure.

On August 26, 2004, the Disability Law Center (DLC) filed a motion to intervene in the case, arguing that they had standing under the Developmental Disabilities Assistance and Bill of Rights Act of 2000, U.S.C. §15041 et seq., to litigate on behalf and for the rights of people with disabilities within the state. They argued that it was necessary that they be granted plaintiff status in order to represent those mentally disabled residents of Massachusetts not presently residing in state institutions but at risk of institutionalization. The motion cited the interest in the case of these individuals because it addressed fundamental issues related to unnecessary institutionalization and the right to community-based services recognized in the Supreme Court's decision in Olmstead v. L.C., 527 U.S. 581 (1999). The motion to intervene was granted on August 30, 2004.

The motion to reopen the case was denied without prejudice on January 20, 2005. A second motion to reopen was filed on February 7, 2006 by the Wrentham Association for Retarded Citizens, arguing that the Massachusetts Department of Mental Retardation ("DMR") efforts had fallen short in recent years, and constituted a violation of the 1993 disengagement order. Specifically they alleged that residents were being subjected to substandard care, medical errors and abuse in community-based homes; that personnel were not adequately trained or experienced; that the DMR was failing to conduct periodic reviews required by the 1993 decree; and that the DMR failed to certify "equal or better" treatment at new locations for transferred individuals. They alleged that the proposed closing of the facilities would overwhelm the community-based programs that were already inadequate to serve the needs of their recipients.

On February 8, 2006 the Judge Tauro appointed United States Attorney Michael J. Sullivan to serve as Court Monitor for the consolidated cases, and instructed him to conduct an inquiry and report his findings to the Court. Pending this report, the Court granted a temporary injunction enjoining the DMR from transferring residents from the Fernald Developmental Center. No such injunction was granted for the other facilities in the case, and it is not clear from the court record which of them remained in operation at this point.

On June 7, 2006 the second motion to reopen the case was also denied without prejudice. But on August 14, 2007, after receiving the Monitor's Report from the U.S. Attorney, the Court reopened the case and lifted its preliminary injunction barring transfers from Fernald. The Monitor/U.S. Attorney concluded that the DMR had complied with the 1993 order's requirement that transferred residents obtain "equal or better services." Judge Tauro found that Massachusetts' policy of closing Fernald had damaged the State's, and thus the DMR's, ability to adequately assess the needs of the Fernald residents on an individual, as opposed to a wholesale basis. The court reasserted its jurisdiction over the case in order to ensure that the mentally disabled residents were able to fully participate in the decision to transfer them to other facilities or community living arrangements, and issued an order requiring that any communication between the DMR and the residents of Fernald and/or their guardians soliciting choices for residential placement include Fernald among the listed options from which to rank their preference. Ricci v. Okin, 499 F.Supp.2d 89 (D. Mass 2006). The State was not explicitly barred from closing Fernald, but because several residents indicated their preference to remain at the facility it remained open.

On September 12, 2007, the administration of Governor Deval Patrick appealed Judge Tauro's August 2006 ruling to the First Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals. On the same day, a separate appeal was filed jointly by the Association for Retarded Citizens of Massachusetts, and the Disability Law Center, and a third appeal was filed by the Association of Developmental Disabilities Providers. The third appeal was withdrawn a few days later.

On February 26, 2008, an emergency hearing was held before Judge Tauro after the DMR transferred a 91-year-old blind and hearing impaired resident with intellectual disabilities from Fernald, allegedly without following the procedures established in the Judge's August 2006 order. The following day, Judge Tauro issued an memorandum order continuing United States Attorney Sullivan's role as Monitor to investigate the occurrence. The order required the DMR to make all relevant documents available to the Monitor. The Judge also denied Massachusetts' motion to stay further proceedings in the District Court pending the outcome of its appeal, and a motion filed by the Plaintiffs to enjoin all transfers from Fernald pending the outcome of the appeals. Ricci v. Okin, 535 F.Supp.2d 229 (D. Mass 2008).

On October 1, 2008, the federal First Circuit Court of Appeals (Lynch, J.) issued an order reversing the August 2006 order, and dismissing the Plaintiffs' claims with prejudice, finding that the District Court lacked jurisdiction to reopen the case and to enter the orders it did. However, the Appeals Court issued an Amended Judgment on December 5, 2008, clarifying that the 1993 Order remained in full effect. Ricci v. Patrick, 544 F.3d 8 (1st Cir. 2008).

On March 17, 2011, Judge Tauro denied a motion filed by Local 509, Service Employees International Union (SEIU), seeking to reopen the case as intervening plaintiffs, holding that the SEIU lacked the necessary standing to bring their claim.

On July 26, 2013, a letter was filed with the court on behalf of two Ricci class members. The letter argued that the terms of the Disengagement Order allowed class members to "bring to this court an independent action in the event that the individual's grievances have not been remedied through existing state procedures." The letter appears to challenge the Department of Developmental Services involuntary transfer process, and the state court's acceptance of that process in M.D. v. Department of Developmental Services.

In that case, the guardian of one of the last fourteen residents at Fernald brought a challenge in Massachusetts state court appealing the Department of Developmental Services decision to transfer that resident from Fernald to a different center. On April 1, 2013, the Appeals Court of Massachusetts affirmed the Superior Court's judgment affirming the transfer. The Appeals Court noted that the decision to close the Fernald Developmental Center was a policy decision no longer subject to review by the Federal courts. M.D. v. Department of Developmental Services, 83 Mass.App.Ct. 463, 985 N.E.2d 863 (2013).

There is nothing in the docket to indicate any response to this letter, or to another letter that came from family members of a different Fernald resident on August 1, 2013. While there is nothing in the docket formally dismissing the case, it appears it is now closed.

The Fernald Center's last resident was discharged on Thursday, November 13, 2014.

Summary Authors

Stacey Jensen (9/8/2006)

Alex Colbert-Taylor (6/7/2013)

Chris Pollack (4/23/2019)


For PACER's information on parties and their attorneys, see:


Breyer, Stephen Gerald (District of Columbia)

Coffin, Frank Morey (Maine)

Cyr, Conrad Keefe (Maine)

Lynch, Sandra Lea (Massachusetts)

Schwarzer, William W (California)

Selya, Bruce Marshall (Rhode Island)

Tauro, Joseph Louis (Massachusetts)

Attorneys(s) for Plaintiff

Burnes, Nonnie S. (Massachusetts)

Coffey, Jeremy (Massachusetts)

Cohen, Beryl W. (Massachusetts)


Breyer, Stephen Gerald (District of Columbia)

Coffin, Frank Morey (Maine)

Cyr, Conrad Keefe (Maine)

Lynch, Sandra Lea (Massachusetts)

Schwarzer, William W (California)

Selya, Bruce Marshall (Rhode Island)

Tauro, Joseph Louis (Massachusetts)

Attorneys(s) for Plaintiff

Burnes, Nonnie S. (Massachusetts)

Coffey, Jeremy (Massachusetts)

Cohen, Beryl W. (Massachusetts)

Coltin, Laura E. (Massachusetts)

Costanzo, Cathy E. (Massachusetts)

Falby, Bruce E. (Massachusetts)

Fleischner, Robert D. (Massachusetts)

Glassman, Richard M. (Massachusetts)

Goodheart, Lisa C. (Massachusetts)

Houck, Christopher A. (Massachusetts)

Larose, Stephen M. (Massachusetts)

Moynihan, Cornelius J. Jr. (Massachusetts)

Murphy, Dennis A. (Massachusetts)

Pineault, Michael J. (Massachusetts)

Pinkham, Margaret M. (Massachusetts)

Schwartz, Steven J. (Massachusetts)

Attorneys(s) for Defendant

Ames, Richard (Massachusetts)

Brown, William C. (New Jersey)

Burke, William J. (New York)

Callahan, James J. (Massachusetts)

Carballo, Manuel (Massachusetts)

Crothers, Leah (Massachusetts)

Feaster, Joe (Massachusetts)

Ferleger, David (Pennsylvania)

Frain, Thomas J. (Massachusetts)

Garrity, Robert P (Massachusetts)

Harper, Robert J. (Massachusetts)

Harshbarger, Scott (Massachusetts)

Keefe, Frank T. (Massachusetts)

Lesser, Stuart (Massachusetts)

Meacham, Marianne (Massachusetts)

Murdock, Kim E. (New York)

Quinan, Robert L. Jr. (Massachusetts)

Rice, Juliana DeHann (Massachusetts)

Saris, Patti B. (Massachusetts)

Sherr, Alan B. (Massachusetts)

Stoddard, Joan (Massachusetts)

Valvo, Carl (Massachusetts)

Weld, William F. (Massachusetts)

Wilkins, Douglas H. (Massachusetts)

Wood, Carolyn (Massachusetts)

Yogman, Judith (Massachusetts)

Other Attorney(s)

Durrell, Suzanne E. (Massachusetts)

Eichner, Stanley J. (Missouri)

Gray, Alfred A. Jr. (Massachusetts)

Griffin, Christine M. (Massachusetts)

Hall, Edwin L. (Massachusetts)

Krumholz, Joshua C. (Massachusetts)

Kulig, Lawrence R. (Massachusetts)

Shea, Katherine D. (Massachusetts)

Toner, Elizabeth F. (Massachusetts)


Farquhar, Rayford A. (Massachusetts)

Pierce, Clifford D. Jr. (Tennessee)

Sullivan, Michael J (Massachusetts)

Documents in the Clearinghouse


Docket (PACER)

Aug. 17, 2015 Docket


537 F.Supp. 817

April 21, 1982 Order/Opinion

Order and Memorandum

Ricci v. Callahan

576 F.Supp. 415

Dec. 12, 1983 Order/Opinion


Ricci v. Callahan

646 F.Supp. 378

Oct. 9, 1986 Order/Opinion

Memorandum in Response to Defendants' Request for Clarification

781 F.Supp. 826

Jan. 22, 1992 Order/Opinion


1992 WL 163215, 1992 U.S.Dist.LEXIS 9628

June 24, 1992 Order/Opinion


1992 WL 175509, 1992 U.S.Dist.LEXIS 10946

July 21, 1992 Order/Opinion


U. S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit

978 F.2d 764

Oct. 30, 1992 Order/Opinion


823 F.Supp. 984

May 25, 1993 Order/Opinion

Motion to Reopen and Restore Case to Active Docket and Enforce the Final Order of May 12, 1993

July 13, 2004 Pleading / Motion / Brief


See docket on RECAP:

Last updated May 12, 2022, 8 p.m.

ECF Number Description Date Link

Judge Joseph L. Tauro: ORDER entered. MEMORANDUM AND ORDER.(Geraldino-Karasek, Clarilde)

March 17, 2011 RECAP

State / Territory: Massachusetts

Case Type(s):

Intellectual Disability (Facility)

Special Collection(s):

Olmstead Cases

Key Dates

Filing Date: July 14, 1972

Closing Date: 2013

Case Ongoing: No


Plaintiff Description:

Mentally disabled residents at five Massachusetts state schools and institutions.

Attorney Organizations:

NDRN/Protection & Advocacy Organizations

Public Interest Lawyer: Yes

Filed Pro Se: No

Class Action Sought: Yes

Class Action Outcome: Granted


Commonwealth of Massachusetts (Boston), State

Case Details

Causes of Action:

42 U.S.C. § 1983

Social Security (Title XX), 42 U.S.C. §§ 1397 et seq.

Constitutional Clause(s):

Due Process

Equal Protection

Availably Documents:

Trial Court Docket

Injunctive (or Injunctive-like) Relief

Non-settlement Outcome

Any published opinion


Prevailing Party: Plaintiff

Nature of Relief:

Injunction / Injunctive-like Settlement

Preliminary injunction / Temp. restraining order

Source of Relief:


Form of Settlement:

Court Approved Settlement or Consent Decree

Order Duration: 1972 - 1993

Content of Injunction:

Preliminary relief granted

Reasonable Accommodation

Discrimination Prohibition





Goals (e.g., for hiring, admissions)



Assault/abuse by staff

Bathing and hygiene


Commitment procedure


Disparate Treatment

Habilitation (training/treatment)

Individualized planning

Neglect by staff

Public benefits (includes, e.g., in-state tuition, govt. jobs)

Reassessment and care planning

Relative caretakers

Staff (number, training, qualifications, wages)

Totality of conditions


Disability (inc. reasonable accommodations)


Mental impairment

Mental Disability:

Intellectual/developmental disability, unspecified

Medical/Mental Health:

Intellectual/Developmental Disability

Medical care, general

Medical care, unspecified

Type of Facility: