Goebel v. Colorado Dept. of Institutions

Decision Date14 November 1988
Docket NumberNo. 87SC27,87SC27
Citation764 P.2d 785
PartiesRuth GOEBEL; Kathy Edmiston; George Wooten; Lee A. Williams, Jr.; Laura Munson; and All Other Similarly Situated Persons, and Jessie Arevalo; Lindsey Griffith; Robert Phares; Bill Pemberton, individually and on behalf of the class of persons herein described, Petitioners, v. COLORADO DEPARTMENT OF INSTITUTIONS, and Frank Traylor, M.D., in his official capacity as the Director of the Colorado Department of Institutions; City and County of Denver; Federico Pena, in his official capacity as Chief Executive of the City; Joyce Neville, in her official capacity as Director of the Department of Health and Hospitals; and Edmund Casper, in his official capacity as Director of the Department of Health and Hospitals Mental Health Program, Respondents.
CourtColorado Supreme Court

Legal Aid Soc. of Metropolitan Denver, James W. Dean, Kathleen Mullen, Denver, Colorado Lawyers Committee, Pryor, Carney & Johnson, P.C., Rodney R. Patula, Englewood, for petitioners.

Duane Woodard, Atty. Gen., Charles B. Howe, Chief Deputy Atty. Gen., Richard H. Forman, Sol. Gen., Carolyn Lievers, First Asst. Atty. Gen., Margery T. Bornstein, Sp. Asst. Atty. Gen., Denver, for respondents Colorado Dept. of Institutions, Frank Traylor, M.D., as the Director of the Colorado Dept. of Institutions, Joyce Neville as the Director of the Dept. of Health and Hospitals, and Edmund Casper as the Director of the Dept. of Health and Hospitals Mental Health Program.

Stephen H. Kaplan, City Atty., Morris P. Evans, R.W. Hibbard, III, Asst. City Attys., Denver, for respondents City and County of Denver and Federico Pena as Chief Executive of the City.

Charles Turner, Michael R. Dice, Jon S. Nicholls, Lloyd L. Boyer, Joseph N. de Raismes, Daniel M. Taubman, Denver, for amicus curiae Colorado Bar Ass'n.

LOHR, Justice.

In this class action brought on behalf of certain chronically mentally ill persons residing in northwest Denver, the plaintiffs challenged the adequacy of the mental health care provided to them by the Colorado Department of Institutions and the Denver Department of Health and Hospitals, and sought declaratory and injunctive relief as well as damages. After holding a number of hearings, the trial court dismissed all the claims for relief. The plaintiffs then appealed, the defendants cross-appealed, and we granted certiorari prior to judgment by the Colorado Court of Appeals pursuant to C.A.R. 50. We are required to determine whether the certification of the class was proper under C.R.C.P. 23 and, if so, whether the plaintiffs' claims under the Colorado Act for the Care and Treatment of the Mentally Ill, §§ 27-10-101 to -127, 11 C.R.S. (1982 & 1988 Supp.); the Colorado Community Mental Health Services Purchase Act, §§ 27-1-201 to -208, 11 C.R.S. (1982 & 1988 Supp.); the Federal Rehabilitation Act of 1973, 29 U.S.C. § 794 (1982); the Federal Civil Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (1982); the first, fifth, eighth and fourteenth amendments to the United States Constitution; article II, section 25, of the Colorado Constitution; and for breach of the common law duty of clinical care were properly dismissed. 1 We affirm the judgment in part, reverse it in part, and remand this case to the trial court for further proceedings.

I.

The delivery of public mental health services in Colorado is supervised by the Colorado Department of Institutions through its Division of Mental Health. Mental health services are provided through two state hospitals--the Colorado State Hospital at Pueblo and the Fort Logan Mental Health Center--and a number of community mental health centers throughout the state serving particular geographic areas, called "catchment areas." The City and County of Denver is divided into four catchment areas, each served by a separate mental health center. This litigation focuses on the northwest catchment area, which includes downtown Denver and Capitol Hill and which has a high concentration of chronically mentally ill persons. 2 Many of these persons were released into the community from the Colorado State Hospital and other state institutions during the 1960s and 1970s as part of a nationwide movement toward deinstitutionalization of the mentally ill. At the time this litigation commenced, the community mental health center for the northwest Denver catchment area was the Denver Department of Health and Hospitals (DHH), which had contracted with the state to serve in that capacity.

This case has a long and complex history. During 1980 it became clear that Denver would not be able to continue funding DHH in amounts required to maintain services at existing levels unless the state legislature increased its support. When the necessary support from the state was not forthcoming, Denver conducted a study to assess the situation at DHH and to recommend ways to cut the budget. Recommendations for service reductions were submitted to the mayor in April of 1981. These were accepted and scheduled to take effect on June 1, 1981.

In May 1981, claims were asserted in Denver Probate Court on behalf of the chronically mentally ill persons in northwest Denver by several individuals who had received treatment for mental illness from the Colorado Department of Institutions and who resided in the northwest Denver catchment area. These claims were brought against the Colorado Department of Institutions and the director of that department. 3 The plaintiffs challenged the adequacy of the mental health care provided to the chronically mentally ill living in the northwest quadrant of Denver, and asserted that the inadequacy of the care available to them violated their rights under a number of federal and state constitutional and statutory provisions. The case was designated People in the Interest of Goebel, 81MH270. The plaintiffs moved for class certification and for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction to prevent the reduction of mental health services scheduled to take effect on June 1, 1981.

On May 29, 1981, a hearing was held on these motions. The individual plaintiffs requested that they and all others similarly situated be certified as a class under C.R.C.P. 23. They asserted that the state had acted or refused to act on grounds generally applicable to the class, that there were common questions of law and fact, and that the claims of the representative parties were typical of the claims of the class. The plaintiffs estimated that there were between 3,000 and 5,000 chronically mentally ill persons in the northwest Denver catchment area. The motion described the class as

all persons in Colorado presently receiving services, who may receive services during the pendency of this action, or whose aftercare upon discharge from any other mental health facility is the responsibility of Denver Health and Hospitals/Mental Health Program by virtue of any statutory provisions....

The court granted the motion for class certification under C.R.C.P. 23(b)(2) and (b)(3).

At the May 29 hearing, the court also heard evidence on the motion for preliminary injunction. The plaintiffs asserted that the program reductions were likely to increase the time chronically mentally ill individuals would spend hospitalized or in jail and the number of suicides among the chronically mentally ill, causing irreparable harm. The court denied this motion, concluding that the plaintiffs had not sustained their burden of showing irreparable harm, and the reduction in services took place as scheduled on June 1, 1981. A number of mental health programs that closed at that time reopened several months later, although on a smaller scale.

In August 1981, four other persons filed an action in Denver District Court individually and on behalf of the class of chronically mentally ill persons residing in northwest Denver. This action was designated Arevalo v. City and County of Denver, No. 81CV6961. As in Goebel, the plaintiffs in this case sought declaratory and injunctive relief for violations of the class members' statutory and constitutional rights to receive adequate community-based mental health treatment and services. They also sought damages for each named plaintiff for loss of appropriate care and treatment, physical and mental anguish, as well as deprivation of liberty and violations of other constitutional guarantees. The named defendants consisted of the City and County of Denver, the Denver City Council, the Mayor, the Director of the Department of Health and Hospitals, the Director of the DHH Mental Health Program, the Colorado Department of Health and its director, and the Colorado Department of Institutions and its director. 4 In September 1981 the chief judge of the Denver District Court ordered the Goebel and Arevalo actions consolidated for hearing and designated the probate judge as an acting district court judge to hear the consolidated cases.

The municipal and state defendants filed motions to dismiss all the claims for relief. The court issued its ruling on these motions on July 7, 1982, nunc pro tunc April 14, 1982. The judge reviewed the legal theories upon which the plaintiffs' claims were based and dismissed the claims for relief that were based on:

A. The first and eighth amendments to the United States constitution and its Colorado counterpart; and

B. The Federal Community Mental Health Center Act and the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of August 1981 (as to the request for private rights and institutional reform, including the creation of programs; but not as to the request for declaratory and injunctive relief); and

C. The Federal Rehabilitation Act of 1970 [sic] (as to the request for private rights and institutional reform, including the creation of programs); and

D. § 1983 of the Federal Civil Rights Act.

The cases proceeded to trial before a different judge on the remaining claims. Prior to trial, it was agreed that the...

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