For 30 years poor children in Idaho, suffering from severe emotional and mental disabilities, have been at the center of a lawsuit to force the state to improve care. The original children who filed the class action lawsuit have long since grown to adulthood and still adequate care is denied mentally handicapped kids in Idaho.
A federal appeals court told Idaho on May 25 that it had to do better. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected a lower court holding that after years of negotiated agreements and promises of change, the state substantially complied with court orders by 2007.
The appeals court said the trial judge wrongly required the children and their parents to show the state was in contempt for violation of the promises to improve. Instead, the appeals court said it was the state’s obligation to prove it had “substantially complied” with court decrees.
As far back as 1980, Jeff D., sued on behalf of all indigent Idaho children with mental and emotional disabilities alleging their constitutional rights to adequate care were violated. Just three years later the state settled, agreeing to provide care and allowing the courts to oversee its progress for five years.
But by the end of the 1980s, with years of inaction by the state, families asked the courts to enforce the deal. By 1990, the state renegotiated its promises and again another eight years of inaction followed and again families sought contempt orders to force the state to act.
Central to the plan was providing an assessment of the needs and a plan to comply with those needs. By 2001 there was an implementation plan with 50 specific recommendations. The trial judge ordered the state to provide a matrix showing which items it had complied with and which it had not. By 2006, the judge found the state had violated the terms but said once it had substantially complied it could ask the court to end the consent agreement with the children of Idaho.
The state said it complied in 2007, but the families said no. The judge sided with the state. The appeals court overturned his decision and the case goes back to the Idaho court and again efforts resume to get Idaho to help its children.
Case: Jeff D. v. Ott, No. 07-36009 (9th Circuit)