Sixth Circuit Refuses to Vacate Tennessee Consent Decree Involving Conditions in Arlington Development Center

United States v. Tennessee, 615 F.3d 646 (6th Cir. 2010)

The 6th Circuit Court of Appeals has refused to vacate a consent decree and court orders entered in the 1993 lawsuit concerning conditions at the Arlington Development Center. In the lawsuit originally brought by the Department of Justice under the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act, the trial court had found that the Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities had failed to provide individuals residing in ADC with medical care, and keep them free from abuse and neglect and undue bodily restraint. Tennessee sought to have the consent decree vacated on the grounds that there was a change in the law between the time the federal trial court approved the consent decree and entered orders enforcing its terms. Tennessee argued that “state control” changed the standard for determining when a resident is voluntarily confined as opposed to a person being placed involuntarily in a state-operated facility.

The Court stated that even though there was a split in the courts as to whether the state owes an affirmative constitutional duty of care and protection to voluntarily admitted residents as it owes to involuntarily committed individuals under Youngberg v. Romeo, the 6th Circuit had not ruled on the issue. It also noted that although individuals with intellectual disabilities are considered “voluntary” residents in Tennessee and are free to leave the facility at any time they wish, they are admitted with the consent of their parents or guardians and are at their mercy as to whether they will remain placed at the facility. The Court also recognized the comprehensive involvement of the state in every facet of a resident’s daily life, including provision of their food, transportation, shelter, medical care and protection, and that they generally remain in the state’s care for years. The Court therefore held that there had been no change in the law since entry of the consent decree and subsequent orders that would warrant vacation of the consent decree.

Found in DMHL Volume 30 Issue 1