Filed Date: May 30, 1974
Closed Date: 1998
Clearinghouse coding complete
On May 30, 1974, in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, plaintiffs filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of former and present residents of Pennhurst School and Hospital ("Pennhurst"), a state institution for persons with intellectual disabilities. Pennhurst was thirty miles north of Philadelphia. The defendants were (after later amendments) Pennhurst, officials of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and county and institutional officials responsible for Philadelphia-area intellectual disability programs. These officials included the Mental Health/Mental Retardation Administrators of Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Montgomery, and Philadelphia Counties. In 1975, the Pennsylvania Association for Retarded Citizens (ARC/PA) and other organizations intervened as plaintiffs, as did the United States of America. The United States was represented by Department of Justice Civil Rights Division counsel, whereas other plaintiffs were represented by private attorneys or by the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia. On November 26, 1976, the class was certified and later defined to include all persons with intellectual disabilities who resided at Pennhurst on or after May 30, 1974.
The plaintiffs, citing 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983, 1985, 1986, and 1988, claimed that their institutionalization at Pennhurst violated their constitutional rights under the First, Eighth, Ninth and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. By the time of trial, they also asserted rights under federal and state statutes, citing the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (29 U.S.C § 794), the Developmentally Disabled Assistance and Bill of Rights Act of 1975 (then, 42 U.S.C. § 6010), and the Pennsylvania Mental Health and Mental Retardation Act of 1966, § 201, 50 P.S. § 4201 (Purdon's 1969). They sought damages and equitable relief, including individual habilitation and the relocation of all class members from Pennhurst into their communities.
The case resulted in a 32-day bench trial in mid-1977. In Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law issued on December 23, 1977, the district court (District Judge Raymond J. Broderick) concluded that the defendants had violated the Pennhurst class members' constitutional and statutory rights. Evidence had shown the facility was consistently overcrowded, understaffed, and lacking in programs necessary for adequate habilitation. The court also found excessive use of restraints and psychotropic drugs as control measures. Residents suffered injuries from abuse by staff and other residents. Consequently, Judge Broderick held that (1) the class had a constitutional right to be provided with minimally adequate habilitation in the least restrictive environment consistent with their habilitative needs; (2) the defendants had violated the class members' right to be free from harm; (3) Pennhurst residents had been segregated in an institution both separate and unequal, in violation of their Fourteenth Amendment equal protection clause right to non-discriminatory habilitation; (4) the defendants violated residents' state statutory right to minimally adequate habilitation; and (5) the defendants also violated the residents' federal statutory right to non-discriminatory habilitation. Halderman v. Pennhurst State School & Hospital, 446 F.Supp. 1295 (E.D. Pa. 1977). The court declined to impose monetary damages, ruling that the individual defendants had shown by a preponderance of the evidence that they were entitled to immunity from damages by reason of their good faith efforts being consistently thwarted by resource limitations. Judge Broderick did, however, issue an unpublished injunctive relief order on March 17, 1978. It required, among other things, that the defendants provide each class member with minimally adequate habilitation according to an individualized habilitation program. The court announced it would appoint a Special Master to oversee transition of class members from residency at Pennhurst into community living arrangements and to monitor compliance with the court's order. (Accordingly, Robert H. Audette was appointed as Special Master on June 30, 1978.)
A lengthy appeal process followed. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit substantially affirmed the district court's order on the basis of the federal Developmentally Disabled Assistance and Bill of Rights Act. Halderman v. Pennhurst State School & Hospital, 612 F.2d 84 (3d Cir. 1995) (en banc) (opinion by Circuit Judge John J. Gibbons). The U.S. Supreme Court reversed, remanding the case back to the appellate court for consideration of statutory and constitutional issues decided by the trial court. Pennhurst State School & Hospital v. Halderman, 451 U.S. 1 (1981) (Justice William H. Rehnquist). On remand, the Third Circuit again affirmed, this time on the basis of the Pennsylvania Mental Health and Mental Retardation Act of 1966. Halderman v. Pennhurst State School & Hospital, 673 F.2d 647 (3d Cir. 1982) (en banc) (Judge Gibbons). Again the Supreme Court reversed, ruling that the Eleventh Amendment barred a federal court from ordering prospective injunctive relief against state officials on the basis of violations of state law. The case was remanded again to the Third Circuit for consideration of the federal statutory and constitutional issues. Pennhurst State School & Hospital v. Halderman, 465 U.S. 89 (1984) (Justice Lewis F. Powell).
Between 1977 and 1984, Judge Broderick issued hundreds of unpublished opinions and orders implementing his original injunctive relief order. On December 8, 1978, Special Master Audette was replaced by Carla S. Morgan, who served until the Office of Special Master was closed on December 31, 1982. The court also appointed Michael S. Lottman as an impartial Hearing Master. Serving in this role from April 24, 1980, until April 30, 1985, he made individual placement determinations for class members or their families who contested removal from Pennhurst. During three fiscal years from 1978 to 1981, the state paid the costs of these Masters' offices, but it refused to fully fund these costs for the 1981-82 fiscal year. This led to hearings and a finding that the state was in contempt. Halderman v. Pennhurst State School & Hospital, 533 F. Supp. 631 (E.D. Pa. 1981). The court levied fines of $10,000 per day, which the state paid rather than fund the Masters' offices. When the paid fines totaled over $1.2 million, exceeding the amount needed to fund the Masters' offices, Judge Broderick declared the Commonwealth purged of the contempt finding. Halderman v. Pennhurst State School & Hospital, 533 F. Supp. 641 (E.D. Pa. 1982). The county defendants' placement of class members into community living arrangements occurred slowly. As a result, hearings ensued in which three counties (Bucks, Delaware, and Montgomery) were held in contempt. They were not fined, however, as the court found they achieved substantial compliance with the court's order after their "flurry of activity" immediately following the contempt hearing. Halderman v. Pennhurst State School & Hospital, 526 F. Supp. 414 (E.D. Pa. 1981).
On July 12, 1984, while the case was pending before the appellate court after the Supreme Court's 1984 remand, the parties reached a settlement and the Third Circuit remanded the case to the district court. There, Judge Broderick approved the settlement and entered a consent decree on April 5, 1985. Halderman v. Pennhurst State School & Hospital, 610 F.Supp. 1221 (E.D. Pa. 1985).
According to the agreement, Pennhurst would be closed by July 1, 1986. (A later agreement delayed that event.) The Pennsylvania state and county defendants also agreed in the settlement, among other things, to provide community living arrangements and such services to plaintiffs necessary to provide minimally adequate habilitation. The court decree required the defendants to provide each class member a written habilitation plan in accord with professional standards, an annually-reviewed individualized habilitation program, and an opportunity to be heard in the program review process. The defendants were mandated to monitor the services provided and to take corrective action when necessary. Additionally, the settlement replaced the functions of the Hearing Master with an independent intellectual disability professional, retained at state expense, to review the individual habilitation plans. As approved, the agreement defined the class only as persons who resided at Pennhurst on or after May 30, 1974. Persons on the waiting list for Pennhurst placement or who only might have been placed at Pennhurst were not included in the class. Few members of the class objected to the settlement's terms, with those objections falling into two categories: some Pennhurst "waiting list" persons contested their removal from the class and some family members of Pennhurst residents objected to community placement for particular members thus having to leave familiar surroundings. The objections were unsuccessful and the consent decree issued. Id.
Non-compliance with the decree was a recurring issue, with plaintiffs filing a motion for contempt before Pennhurst finally closed on October 27, 1987. The court found in 1989 and again in 1994 that the Commonwealth and three of the five defendant counties were in contempt for failure to provide required rehabilitative services. The court did not impose sanctions in the 1989 proceedings, instead requiring that the violations be remedied by March 1, 1990, and that the defendants were to submit monthly reports on their progress. The Third Circuit affirmed, agreeing with the district court that the state was jointly responsible with the counties for providing community services under the decree and had monitoring responsibilities which included taking necessary corrective action, not just tracking counties' compliance. Halderman v. Pennhurst State School & Hospital, 901 F.2d 311 (3d Cir. 1990) (Circuit Judge Robert E. Cowen).
On August 19, 1991, Pennsylvania filed a motion in the district court seeking to vacate the consent decree as lacking legal predicates, in light of developments in constitutional law and federal statutory rights. Judge Broderick denied the motion, Halderman v. Pennhurst State School & Hospital, 784 F. Supp. 215 (E.D. Pa. 1992), and the Third Circuit affirmed. Halderman v. Pennhurst State School & Hospital, 977 F.2d 568 (3d Cir. 1992)(table).
On May 5, 1993, Pennsylvania moved to dismiss all plaintiffs except the United States from the action, asserting the Eleventh Amendment required this. Judge Broderick denied the motion and his ruling was not appealed. Halderman v. Pennhurst State School & Hospital, 834 F. Supp. 757 (E.D. Pa. 1993).
The 1994 contempt finding (referenced above) stemmed from contempt proceedings initiated by ARC/PA in November 1987. Settlement negotiations regarding the contempt accusations failed, but led to a May 1990, agreement that a Special Master, Dr. Sue Gant, would be appointed to review Philadelphia County's intellectual disability programs. She filed a report with the court in February, 1991, detailing noncompliance. The report prompted the setting of a June 1991, hearing date on the contempt motion (which, by now, had been joined by all plaintiffs). Attempts to settle led to delay of the hearing, as the parties proposed developing a comprehensive plan to serve all Philadelphia residents with intellectual disabilities. Agreement on such a plan broke down in the summer of 1993, so the judge had Dr. Gant update her February 1991, report. She found that the Commonwealth and Philadelphia were still not in compliance with the 1985 court decree. Nine days of court hearings in December, 1993, led to Judge Broderick's March 28, 1994, memorandum finding the state and Philadelphia in contempt. The court's subsequent remedial order did not impose fines but, instead, required these defendants to use their resources to ensure that each class member received the habilitation and protection mandated by the 1985 decree. The order set affirmative requirements, deadlines, and daily fines of $5,000 for non-compliance. Halderman v. Pennhurst State School & Hospital, 154 F.R.D. 594 (D. Pa. 1994). The court also, on May 12, 1994, appointed J.A. (Tony) Records to serve as Special Master to oversee compliance and implementation of the contempt order's requirements.
During the next four years, the Commonwealth and Philadelphia improved their compliance and developed several comprehensive plans to benefit Philadelphia class members, including an investigation plan, a medical and dental plan, a quality assurance plan, and an employment plan. In 1998, the court announced its intention to conclude its active supervision of the Philadelphia class members' receipt of relief under the decree. As a precaution, the Special Master was directed to conduct a comprehensive review of these class members to assess the defendants' compliance. Halderman v. Pennhurst State School & Hospital, 995 F. Supp. 534 (E.D. Pa. 1998).
Filed on June 30, 1998, the Special Master's report found that the defendants were substantially complying with their obligations under the 1985 decree. Some deficiencies remained in four areas: (1) development of individual habilitation plans in accordance with professional standards; (2) provision of therapy, day program, vocational and transportation services; (3) investigation of allegations of abuse and neglect by housemates or co-workers; and (4) provision of adequate dental services. Although the Special Master recommended another review in two years to ensure corrective action in these four areas had been taken, Judge Broderick declined to adopt that recommendation. As the Commonwealth and Philadelphia had submitted plans to address these shortcomings and had shown a transformation in efforts to comply with the 1985 decree, the court ordered the contempt purged and ended its active supervision over the Philadelphia members of the Pennhurst class. Halderman v. Pennhurst State School & Hospital, 9 F.Supp.2d 544 (E.D. Pa. 1998). An unpublished September 21, 1998, order noted on the court's docket sheet reflects that Pennsylvania had an ongoing obligation, pursuant to the 1985 decree, to conduct yearly "snapshot" reviews of day services provided to members of the plaintiff class and was in the process of satisfying that obligation. We have no additional information on the case.
Mike Fagan (4/17/2008)
Aldisert, Ruggero John (California)
Abramson, Howland W. (Pennsylvania)
Albert, Sheldon L. (Pennsylvania)
Aiyetoro, Adjoa A. (District of Columbia)
Allen, Frank D. Jr. (District of Columbia)
Aldisert, Ruggero John (California)
Broderick, Raymond Joseph (Pennsylvania)
Cowen, Arnold Wilson (District of Columbia)
Gibbons, John Joseph (Pennsylvania)
Powell, Lewis Franklin Jr. (District of Columbia)
Rehnquist, William Hubbs (District of Columbia)
Weis, Joseph Francis Jr. (Pennsylvania)
Last updated July 9, 2023, 3:04 a.m.Docket sheet not available via the Clearinghouse.
State / Territory: Pennsylvania
Filing Date: May 30, 1974
Closing Date: 1998
Case Ongoing: No
Former and present residents of Pennhurst School and Hospital, a state institution for persons with retardation.
Public Interest Lawyer: No
Filed Pro Se: No
Class Action Sought: Yes
Class Action Outcome: Granted
Causes of Action:
Prevailing Party: Plaintiff
Nature of Relief:
Source of Relief:
Form of Settlement:
Order Duration: 1985 - 1998
Jails, Prisons, Detention Centers, and Other Institutions:
Disability and Disability Rights:
Type of Facility: