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DAVID B. v. PATLA

September 27, 1996

DAVID B., JAMES S., RICHARD D. CHRISTINE B., GERMAINE M., Through their Guardian Ad Litem, PATRICK T. MURPHY, on behalf of themselves and a class of individuals too numerous and transitory to mention, Plaintiffs,
v.
ANN PATLA, Director of the Illinois Department of Mental Health & Developmental Disabilities, JESS McDONALD, Director of the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, and JOSEPH A. SPAGNOLO, State Superintendent of Education for the Illinois State Board of Education, Defendants.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: ASPEN

 MARVIN E. ASPEN, Chief Judge:

 The parties settled this dispute almost fifteen years ago with the entry of a Consent Decree. One of the defendants, Jess McDonald, Director of the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services ("DCFS"), *fn1" no longer wishes his agency to be bound by that agreement. The plaintiffs, a class of adolescent wards and potential wards of the Juvenile Court of Cook County who suffer from severe emotional, physical, or mental impairments, and who previously were denied necessary services by the defendant agencies, oppose any attempt to vacate or modify the Consent Decree. After careful consideration of the memoranda and supplemental memoranda submitted by the parties, we conclude that vacatur or modification of the Consent Decree is not warranted, and therefore deny the defendant's motion.

 I. Background

 The original complaint in this action was filed on April 25, 1979, but the relevant pleading for purposes of the instant motion is the Second Amended Complaint ("Complaint") filed on March 1, 1980. *fn2" The named plaintiffs--David B., James S., Richard D., Christine B., and Germaine M.--brought suit on behalf of a class of children in Cook County who (1) were either wards of the Juvenile Court or who had petitions for wardship pending against them in Juvenile Court, and (2) who suffered from emotional, physical, or mental disabilities. Compl. P 3. The Complaint alleges that the plaintiffs' disabilities caused them to commit delinquent and criminal acts, leading the Illinois State's Attorney's Office or other entities to petition for orders adjudicating them wards of the Juvenile Court. See 705 ILCS 405/2-13 (abused, neglected, dependent minors), 405/5-13 (delinquent minors). In most cases, however, the State's Attorney's Office did not consider the offenses serious enough, or the children culpable enough, to prosecute the delinquency petitions or seek commitment of the children to the Illinois Department of Corrections ("DOC"). Compl. P 11. While children in this situation would usually be released to the custody of their parents or guardians, the children in the plaintiff class demonstrated such severe mental and emotional disabilities that their families were unable to adequately treat and care for them. Id. PP 10, 13. Instead of incarcerating these children at the DOC, where treatment options were severely limited, judges of the Juvenile Court sought to place these youngsters with various state agencies that could provide treatment and care for them.

 However, the plaintiffs alleged that the defendants--the heads of DCFS, the Illinois Department of Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities ("DMHDD"), and the State Board of Education ("SBE")--refused to provide them with necessary services and treatment because of their disabilities. All of the defendant agencies took the position that the children were either too disabled or not disabled enough to receive public services or public funds for private care. Thus, despite the fact that these children had mental and emotional disabilities, DMHDD decided that they were not entitled to treatment from DMHDD because they did not require extended hospitalization. Complaint P 12. DCFS conceded that many of these individuals were neglected and abused, and thus would normally be entitled to assistance, but the agency maintained that the plaintiffs were not entitled to DCFS services because either they were not so abused as to require placement outside the family, or they were too disruptive to be placed with other DCFS children. Id. PP 13, 29-30. SBE acknowledged that these children had special educational needs, but considered them the problem of DMHDD and DCFS because they required placement in residential treatment programs. As a result, these children "fell between the placement cracks," and were left to fend for themselves at the DOC or on the streets. Id. PP 11-23.

 The putative class action Complaint alleged that the defendants denied the plaintiffs necessary services because of their disabilities, and that this conduct violated Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended, 29 U.S.C. § 794, and the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment. On September 4, 1980, Judge John Powers Crowley denied the defendants' motion to dismiss the Complaint in an unpublished opinion. The court concluded it could not dismiss the plaintiffs' equal protection claims because, based on the allegations in the Complaint, not even a rational basis had been proffered for the refusal to treat these children. The court also rejected the defendants' attack on the Rehabilitation Act claims, finding that the Complaint sufficiently alleged (1) that the plaintiffs were disabled, (2) that they were "otherwise qualified" for the defendants' services, and (3) that they were being excluded from these services "solely by reason" of their disability. *fn3"

 There is no real dispute that since the entry of the Consent Decree, GYSI has operated rather smoothly in its evaluation and placement of children in the plaintiff class. After hearing a delinquency petition against a child with mental or emotional disabilities, a juvenile court judge will refer that child to GYSI if the judge concludes that commitment of the child to DOC would be inappropriate. After receiving a report on each child from the probation department, a GYSI panel comprised of representatives from the defendant agencies evaluates each referral and proposes recommendations. For most of the children, GYSI recommends residential placement in a facility that can provide adequate supervision and treatment. Since none of the defendant agencies operates this type of facility, the children are usually placed with private treatment providers that bill the defendants for the cost. Although the Consent Decree does not explicitly apportion the costs of such treatment among the defendants, in practice DCFS has borne approximately one-third of the cost of treating these individuals. Since the entry of the Consent Decree, none of the parties has come before this court to request enforcement or modification of the agreement.

 However, DCFS now contends that because of changes in federal and state law since 1980, the plaintiffs no longer have a substantial federal claim supporting enforcement of the Consent Decree. *fn4" Specifically, the defendant maintains that its rejection of the plaintiffs does not violate the Rehabilitation Act because this decision is not made "solely" by reason of the plaintiffs' disabilities. Alternatively, DCFS maintains that recent amendments to both its enabling statute and the Juvenile Court Act prevent the agency from paying for services provided to minors above the age of thirteen who are charged with criminal conduct or adjudged delinquent. Therefore, DCFS argues, this substantial change in Illinois law removes any valid federal claim for many of the plaintiffs since these persons are no longer "otherwise qualified" for DCFS services. The agency contends it should no longer be obligated by the Consent Decree, or at a minimum, DCFS should not be required to pay for the residential treatment of those over age thirteen who have been charged with a crime or adjudicated delinquent. *fn5"

 II. Standard for Vacating or Modifying a Consent Decree

 
On motion and upon such terms as are just, the court may relieve a party or a party's legal representative from a final judgment, order, or proceeding for the following reasons: . . . (5) the judgment has been satisfied, released, or discharged, or a prior judgment upon which it is based has been reversed or otherwise vacated, or it is no longer equitable that the judgment should have prospective application . . . .

 "A party seeking modification of a consent decree bears the burden of establishing that a significant change in circumstances warrants revision of the decree." Rufo, 502 U.S. at 383. Although district courts must be flexible in their application of Rule 60(b)(5), in general, modification or vacatur of a consent decree will be justifiable only if the movant shows "a significant change either in factual conditions or the law." Id. at 384, 393. The former sort of change must be a significant factual variation that the parties did not anticipate at the time they entered into the decree. Id. at 384-85. The latter type of change may include alterations in federal law that now prohibit a party from performing its obligations under the decree, or changes that "make legal what the decree was designed to prevent." Id. at 388. The Court in Rufo further explained that "while a decision that clarifies the law will not, in and of itself, provide a basis for modifying a decree, it could constitute a change in circumstances that would support modification if the parties had based their agreement on a misunderstanding of the governing law." Id. at 390. Thus, after considering whether the district court properly exercised its discretion in refusing to modify a consent decree covering a county jail, the Court remanded for the district court to determine whether (1) the increase in the population of pretrial detainees was unexpected ...


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