Messier v. Southbury Training School, 3:94-CV-1706 (EBB).

CourtUnited States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Court (Connecticut)
Citation916 F. Supp. 133
Docket NumberNo. 3:94-CV-1706 (EBB).,3:94-CV-1706 (EBB).
PartiesRichard MESSIER, et al. v. SOUTHBURY TRAINING SCHOOL, et al.
Decision Date07 February 1996


David Shaw, Hartford, CT, for Plaintiffs.

James P. Walsh, Attorney General's Office, Education/Department of Mental Retardation Department, Hartford, CT, for Defendant, Southbury Training School.

Richard T. Lynch, Henry A. Salton, Attorney General's Office, Health & Human Services, Hartford, CT, for Defendant, Patricia Giardi, Commissioner, Connecticut Department of Social Services.

David Paul Friedman, Frank J. Silvestri, Jr., Zeldes, Needle & Cooper, Bridgeport, CT, for Defendant, Home and School Association of Southbury Training School.


BURNS, Senior District Judge.

Plaintiffs bring this action for injunctive relief against defendants Southbury Training School ("STS") and various state officials, alleging violations of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 ("Section 504"), the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA") and 42 U.S.C. § 1983 ("Section 1983"). Three named defendants — STS, Commissioner of Mental Retardation Toni Richardson and STS Director Thomas Howley — have moved to dismiss on the grounds that plaintiffs' claims are barred under the doctrine of res judicata, and on the further grounds that plaintiffs have failed to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. For the following reasons, the defendants' motion Doc. No. 20 is denied.


In 1986, the United States Department of Justice filed suit against the State of Connecticut under the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act ("CRIPA"), 42 U.S.C. § 1997 et seq. The Justice Department suit under CRIPA, United States v. Connecticut, No. N-86-252 (EBB), sought to remedy allegedly unconstitutional conditions at STS, which is an institution for persons with mental retardation operated by the Connecticut Department of Mental Retardation. In the wake of this litigation, the Justice Department and the State of Connecticut negotiated a Consent Decree which provided for a comprehensive remedial plan to ameliorate conditions at STS. This Court approved the Consent Decree on December 22, 1986.

Prior to approval of the Consent Decree, the Association for Retarded Citizens of Connecticut (ARCC) and six STS residents filed a Motion to Intervene in United States v. Connecticut. The proposed intervenors alleged, inter alia, that they had not been permitted to participate in negotiating the Consent Decree; that the terms of the Consent Decree would be inadequate to remedy conditions at STS; that the Consent Decree failed to adequately address the residents' right to be considered for community placement; and that the Consent Decree failed to require STS to provide such training to residents as is necessary to preserve the basic self-care skills that they possess when they enter STS. This Court denied the proposed intervenors' Motion to Intervene, on the grounds that the proposed intervenors were not prejudiced by the suit brought by the Justice Department and remained free to file their own lawsuits against STS. Ruling on Pending Motions, Dec. 22, 1986.

In 1990 and 1991, this Court approved two additional Consent Orders, which were negotiated in response to continuing deficiencies found by Justice Department monitoring of STS. In November 1993, Justice Department medical experts and attorneys undertook further investigation of conditions at STS, and found severe deficiencies in care and treatment of residents. These alleged deficiencies include a systemic failure to provide residents with adequate medical care and physical therapy, as well as a near complete absence of behavioral program implementation. The Justice Department indicated its intent to pursue a further enforcement action against STS unless an agreement could be reached as to appropriate remedial steps.

In response to the Justice Department's findings, the Connecticut Department of Mental Retardation retained outside consultants to assess conditions at STS. These consultants largely concurred with the findings of the Justice Department, while also noting progress being made by STS in several areas.

The Justice Department and the State failed to reach an agreement concerning further remedial steps, and the Justice Department sought an order to show cause why the State should not be held in civil contempt. This Court held a hearing on the Justice Department's motion, which is currently pending.

The instant litigation was commenced in October 1994 by the ARCC, seven current STS residents, People First of Connecticut (an advocacy group comprising people with disabilities) and the Western Connecticut Association for Human Rights (an advocacy group comprising parents and families of people with disabilities). On behalf of a putative class of all STS residents, plaintiffs seek, inter alia, the following relief: to require STS professionals, in conjunction with each resident and his or her family and friends, to develop and implement an individualized plan of treatment and services appropriate for that resident; to have all residents evaluated for possible community placement regardless of the severity or nature of their disabilities; to make available to each resident an individual and independent advocate; to enjoin the use of Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) orders until procedures are developed and implemented which assure that such orders will not be issued in error; and, with respect to those residents in STS's Intermediate Care Facility for the Mentally Retarded ("ICF/MR"), to require STS to comply with all federal ICF/MR funding requirements, as set forth at 42 C.F.R. § 483.440.


A motion to dismiss under Fed. R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) should be granted only if "it is clear that no relief could be granted under any set of facts that could be proved consistent with the allegations." Hishon v. King & Spalding, 467 U.S. 69, 73, 104 S.Ct. 2229, 2232, 81 L.Ed.2d 59 (1984). "The function of a motion to dismiss `is merely to assess the legal feasibility of the complaint, not to assay the weight of the evidence which might be offered in support thereof.'" Ryder Energy Distrib. Corp. v. Merrill Lynch Commodities, Inc., 748 F.2d 774, 779 (2d Cir.1984) (quoting Geisler v. Petrocelli, 616 F.2d 636, 639 (2d Cir.1980)). In considering a motion to dismiss, a court must presume all factual allegations of the complaint to be true and must draw any reasonable inferences in favor of the non-moving party. Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46, 78 S.Ct. 99, 101-02, 2 L.Ed.2d 80 (1957).

I. Res Judicata

It is well-settled that "under res judicata, a final judgment on the merits of an action precludes the parties or their privies from relitigating issues that were or could have been raised in that action." Allen v. McCurry, 449 U.S. 90, 94, 101 S.Ct. 411, 414, 66 L.Ed.2d 308 (1980). In the instant case, Defendants assert that plaintiffs' claims are barred by res judicata, because the plaintiffs are privies of the United States, the plaintiffs' causes of action were or could have been brought in the prior action by the United States, and the consent decree entered into between the United States and the State of Connecticut constitutes a final judgment on the merits. This Court disagrees. As is discussed further below, res judicata is inapplicable to the instant case, because plaintiffs in this action are able to pursue causes of action and types of relief that were unavailable to the United States in the prior action, and plaintiffs are not in fact in privity with the United States.1

A. Differing Causes of Action and Types of Relief Available to Plaintiffs

Prior to the enactment of CRIPA in 1980, controlling precedents dictated that the Justice Department had no authority to sue on behalf of institutionalized persons. See, e.g., United States v. Mattson, 600 F.2d 1295, 1297 (9th Cir.1979). Under CRIPA, however, the Attorney General may bring suit for equitable relief to ensure the "minimum corrective measures" necessary to remediate "egregious or flagrant conditions which deprive institutional residents of any federally protected rights, privileges, or immunities," provided the Attorney General finds that such deprivations occur "pursuant to a pattern or practice of resistance." 42 U.S.C. § 1997a. Thus, the Justice Department may only sue on behalf of institutionalized persons if the strict requirements of CRIPA are satisfied, and may only seek "minimum corrective measures."2

In contrast, in order to establish a claim under the Due Process Clause, Section 504, the ADA and Section 1983, plaintiffs in this action need not meet the requirements of CRIPA and may seek more than minimum corrective measures. The Ninth Circuit has aptly summarized this difference, commenting with respect to a case brought under CRIPA that, whereas institutional residents are concerned with all aspects of conditions at their facility, "the United States in this litigation is concerned only with flagrant-conditions." United States v. Oregon, 839 F.2d 635, 638-39 (9th Cir.1988); see also United States v. Michigan, 116 F.R.D. 655, 663 (W.D.Mich.1987) (noting that remedies under a CRIPA consent decree are limited to "minimum corrective measures").

This discrepancy between the causes of action and types of relief available to the Justice Department and to institutional residents is evident in the instant case. For instance, neither the Complaint filed by the Justice Department nor the Consent Decree entered into by the Justice Department and the State of Connecticut addressed the residents' right to receive such training as is necessary to preserve those self-care skills that residents possess upon entering STS. Similarly, neither the Complaint nor the Consent Decree...

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