457 U.S. 307 (1982), 80-1429, Youngberg v. Romeo

Docket Nº:No. 80-1429
Citation:457 U.S. 307, 102 S.Ct. 2452, 73 L.Ed.2d 28
Party Name:Youngberg v. Romeo
Case Date:June 18, 1982
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 307

457 U.S. 307 (1982)

102 S.Ct. 2452, 73 L.Ed.2d 28




No. 80-1429

United States Supreme Court

June 18, 1982

Argued January 11, 1982




Respondent, who is mentally retarded, was involuntarily committed to a Pennsylvania state institution. Subsequently, after becoming concerned about injuries which respondent had suffered at the institution, his mother filed an action as his next friend in Federal District Court for damages under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against petitioner institution officials. She claimed that respondent had constitutional rights to safe conditions of confinement, freedom from bodily restraint, and training or "habilitation" and that petitioners knew, or should have known, about his injuries, but failed to take appropriate preventive procedures, thus violating his rights under the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments. In the ensuing jury trial, the District Court instructed the jury on the assumption that the Eighth Amendment was the proper standard of liability, and a verdict was returned for petitioners, on which judgment was entered. The Court of Appeals reversed and remanded for a new trial, holding that the Fourteenth, rather than the Eighth, Amendment provided the proper constitutional basis for the asserted rights.

Held: Respondent has constitutionally protected liberty interests under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to reasonably safe conditions of confinement, freedom from unreasonable bodily restraints, and such minimally adequate training as reasonably may be required by these interests. Whether respondent's constitutional rights have been violated must be determined by balancing these liberty interests against the relevant state interests. The proper standard for determining whether the State has adequately protected such rights is whether professional judgment, in fact, was exercised. And in determining what is "reasonable," courts must show deference to the judgment exercised by a qualified professional, whose decision is presumptively valid. Pp. 314-325.

644 F.2d 147, vacated and remanded.

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POWELL, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BRENNAN, WHITE, MARSHALL, BLACKMUN, REHNQUIST, STEVENS, and O'CONNOR, JJ., joined. BLACKMUN, J., filed a concurring opinion, in which BRENNAN and O'CONNOR, JJ., joined, post, p. 325. BURGER, C.J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, post, p. 329.

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POWELL, J., lead opinion

JUSTICE POWELL delivered the opinion of the Court.

The question presented is whether respondent, involuntarily committed to a state institution for the mentally retarded, has substantive rights under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to (i) safe conditions of confinement; (ii) freedom from bodily restraints; and (iii) training or "habilitation."1 Respondent sued under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 three administrators of the institution, claiming damages for the alleged breach of his constitutional rights.


Respondent Nicholas Romeo is profoundly retarded. Although 33 years old, he has the mental capacity of an 18-month-old child, with an I.Q. between 8 and 10. He cannot talk, and lacks the most basic self-care skills. Until he was 26, respondent lived with his parents in Philadelphia. But after the death of his father in May, 1974, his mother was unable to care for him. Within two weeks of the father's death, respondent's mother sought his temporary admission to a nearby Pennsylvania hospital.

[102 S.Ct. 2455] Shortly thereafter, she asked the Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas to admit Romeo to a state facility on a permanent basis. Her petition to the court explained that she was unable to care for Romeo or control his violence.2 As part of the commitment process, Romeo was examined by a physician and a psychologist. They both certified that respondent

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was severely retarded and unable to care for himself. App. 21a-22a and 28a-29a. On June 11, 1974, the Court of Common Pleas committed respondent to the Pennhurst State School and Hospital, pursuant to the applicable involuntary commitment provision of the Pennsylvania Mental Health and Mental Retardation Act, Pa.Stat.Ann., Tit. 50, § 4406(b) (Purdon 1969).

At Pennhurst, Romeo was injured on numerous occasions, both by his own violence and by the reactions of other residents to him. Respondent's mother became concerned about these injuries. After objecting to respondent's treatment several times, she filed this complaint on November 4, 1976, in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania as his next friend. The complaint alleged that "[d]uring the period July, 1974, to the present, plaintiff has suffered injuries on at least sixty-three occasions." The complaint originally sought damages and injunctive relief from Pennhurst's director and two supervisors;3 it alleged that these officials knew, or should have known, that Romeo was suffering injuries and that they failed to institute appropriate preventive procedures, thus violating his rights under the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments.

Thereafter, in late 1976, Romeo was transferred from his ward to the hospital for treatment of a broken arm. While in the infirmary, and by order of a doctor, he was physically restrained during portions of each day.4 These restraints were ordered by Dr. Gabroy, not a defendant here, to protect

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Romeo and others in the hospital, some of whom were in traction or were being treated intravenously. 7 Tr. 40, 49, 76-78. Although respondent normally would have returned to his ward when his arm healed, the parties to this litigation agreed that he should remain in the hospital due to the pending lawsuit. 5 id. at 248; 6 id. at 57-58 and 13. Nevertheless, in December, 1977, a second amended complaint was filed alleging that the defendants were restraining respondent for prolonged periods on a routine basis. The second amended complaint also added a claim for damages to compensate Romeo for the defendants' failure to provide him with appropriate "treatment or programs for his mental retardation."5 All claims for injunctive relief were dropped prior to trial because respondent is a member of the class seeking such relief in another action.6

An 8-day jury trial was held in April, 1978. Petitioners introduced evidence that respondent participated in several programs teaching basic self-care skills.7 A comprehensive behavior modification program was designed by staff members to reduce Romeo's aggressive behavior,8 but that program was never implemented because of his mother's objections.9

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Respondent introduced evidence of his injuries and of conditions in his unit.10

At the close of the trial, the court instructed the jury that "if any or all of the defendants were aware of and failed to take all reasonable steps to prevent repeated attacks upon Nicholas Romeo," such failure deprived him of constitutional rights. App. 73a. The jury also was instructed that, if the defendants shackled Romeo or denied him treatment "as a punishment for filing this lawsuit," his constitutional rights were violated under the Eighth Amendment. Id. at 73a-75a. Finally, the jury was instructed that only if they found the defendants "deliberate[ly] indifferen[t] to the serious medical [and psychological] needs" of Romeo could they find that his Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment rights had been violated. Id. at 74a-75a.11 The jury returned a verdict for the defendants, on which judgment was entered.

The Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, sitting en banc, reversed and remanded for a new trial. 644 F.2d 147 (1980). The court held that the Eighth Amendment, prohibiting cruel and unusual punishment of those convicted of crimes, was not an appropriate source for determining the rights of the involuntarily committed. Rather, the Fourteenth Amendment and the liberty interest protected by that Amendment provided the proper constitutional basis for these rights. In applying

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the Fourteenth Amendment, the court found that the involuntarily committed retain liberty interests in freedom of movement and in personal security. These were "fundamental liberties" that can be limited only by an "overriding, nonpunitive" state interest. Id. at 157-158 (footnote omitted). It further found that the involuntarily committed have a liberty interest in habilitation designed to "treat" their mental retardation. Id. at 164-170.12

The en banc court did not, however, agree on the relevant standard to be used in determining whether Romeo's rights had been violated.13 Because physical restraint "raises a presumption of a punitive [102 S.Ct. 2457] sanction," the majority of the Court of Appeals concluded that it can be justified only by "compelling necessity." Id. at 159-160 (footnote omitted). A somewhat different standard was appropriate for the failure to provide for a resident's safety. The majority considered that such a failure must be justified by a showing of "substantial necessity." Id. at 164. Finally, the majority held that, when treatment has been administered, those responsible are liable only if the treatment is not "acceptable in the light of present medical or other scientific knowledge." Id. at 166-167 and 173.14

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Chief Judge Seitz, concurring in the judgment, considered the standards articulated by the majority as indistinguishable from those applicable to medical malpractice claims. In Chief Judge Seitz' view, the Constitution "only requires that the courts make certain that professional judgment in fact was exercised." Id. at 178. He concluded that the appropriate standard was whether the defendants' conduct was

such a substantial departure from...

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