Welsch v. Likins

Decision Date15 February 1974
Docket NumberNo. 4-72-Civ. 451.,4-72-Civ. 451.
Citation373 F. Supp. 487
PartiesPatricia WELSCH, by her father and natural guardian, Richard W. Welsch, et al., Plaintiffs, v. Vera J. LIKINS, Individually and as Commissioner of Public Welfare for the State of Minnesota, et al., Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — District of Minnesota


Luther A. Granquist and Neil H. Mickenberg, The Legal Aid Society of Minneapolis, Inc., Minneapolis, Minn., for plaintiffs.

Warren Spannaus, Atty. Gen., State of Minnesota, by Theodore N. May, Special Asst. Atty. Gen., Judy L. Oakes, Asst. Atty. Gen., and Thomas L. Fabel, Dep. Atty. Gen., St. Paul, Minn., for defendants.

LARSON, District Judge.


Six mentally retarded residents of the Minnesota State Hospitals bring this action seeking declaratory and injunctive relief regarding treatment and conditions in six State-owned hospitals and alternatives to placement in these institutions.

Ranging in ages from 18 to 33 years-old and in degree of retardation from moderate to severe, the plaintiffs have been involuntarily (judicially) committed to the care and custody of the defendant Commissioner of Public Welfare.1 They seek to represent a class composed of themselves and all other mentally retarded persons currently and hereafter involuntarily committed to the Minnesota State Hospitals at Brainerd, Cambridge (including the Lake Owasso Annex), Faribault, Fergus Falls, Hastings, and Moose Lake.2

Although maintainability as a class action has not yet been litigated or determined by the Court under Rule 23(c) (1) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the parties have by stipulation confined the case thus far to the purported subclass of residents at the Cambridge State Hospital. Determination of certain legal and factual issues at that institution will facilitate consideration of the issues at the five other challenged institutions.

The defendants are public officials responsible for the care and conditions of the plaintiffs and the class they seek to represent. Defendant Vera J. Likins is the Commissioner of Public Welfare for the State of Minnesota; defendant Ove Wangensteen is the former Acting Commissioner of Public Welfare and currently is the Assistant Commissioner of Public Welfare; the other six defendants are the administrators of the six State Hospitals.3

The plaintiffs contend that defendants have been and currently are violating the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution by not providing an adequate program of "habilitation," consisting essentially of individualized treatment, education, and training for the residents of the institutions. Plaintiffs term this as the "Right to Treatment." They make a similar State law claim under the Minnesota Hospitalization and Commitment Act, as amended. M.S.A. §§ 253A.01-253A.21.

They also assert a due process claim compelling defendants to seek out and develop less restrictive, community based alternatives for the care and treatment of judicially committed mentally retarded persons. They further contend that certain restrictions and conditions existing at the institutions violate the cruel and unusual punishment clause of the Eighth Amendment.

Extensive relief is sought. Plaintiffs desire declaratory judgments regarding their rights to treatment and less restrictive alternatives and also injunctive relief specifying minimal constitutional standards of treatment and further compelling defendants to adhere to such standards and to plan and provide the plaintiffs and the class with less restrictive alternatives to institutionalization.

This Court's jurisdiction is based on 28 U.S.C. § 1343(3), relating to actions arising under the Civil Rights statute, 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and 28 U.S.C. §§ 2201, 2202, relating to declaratory judgments. The Court has pendent jurisdiction over the State law claim. United Mine Workers of America v. Gibbs, 383 U.S. 715, 86 S.Ct. 1130, 16 L.Ed.2d 218 (1966).

A twelve day trial was conducted in September and October 1973. Various professional experts in mental retardation were among the witnesses testifying for both sides. Much documentary evidence also was received. Following completion of the presentation of evidence, the Court on October 17 made an unannounced one-day tour of the facilities at Cambridge, accompanied by counsel for both sides.

Because there are preliminary legal issues dispositive of many of the claims in this case, the Court now deems it appropriate to pass upon these questions. In so doing, the Court cannot divorce itself entirely from the factual evidence presented in this case. In the main, however, this decision will be confined to certain threshold legal issues. At a subsequent date, the Court will consult with the parties before entering formal Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law, required under Rule 52(a), and making its determination regarding the nature of relief, if any, that may be granted.

I. Constitutional Right to Treatment.

Because civil confinement in a State institution involves a "massive curtailment of liberty," Humphrey v. Cady, 405 U.S. 504, 509, 92 S.Ct. 1048, 31 L.Ed.2d 394 (1972), it bears scrutiny under the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. This infringement on liberty is particularly true in Minnesota, where the plaintiffs and the class they purport to represent face severe restrictions on their personal freedoms as a result of being committed to the care and custody of the Commissioner of Public Welfare. See Department of Public Welfare Manual VII — 7325.03 (empowering the Commissioner to control the residence, freedom to marry and divorce, making of contracts, and management of property of committed persons). See also MSA § 256.07 (forced sterilization, under certain circumstances); M.S.A. § 171.04(5) (1973 Supp.) (inability to obtain driver's license).

Whether such commitment gives rise to a constitutional right to treatment is a difficult question, involving complex legal, medical, and "political" considerations. See Martarella v. Kelley, 349 F.Supp. 575, 598 (S.D.N.Y.1972), enforcement, 359 F.Supp. 478, 483-486 (S.D.N.Y.1973); New York State Association for Retarded Children, Inc. v. Rockefeller, 357 F.Supp. 752, 758 (E.D. N.Y.1973).

Analysis of plaintiffs' claim must begin with Rouse v. Cameron, 125 U.S. App.D.C. 366, 373 F.2d 451 (1966). Involuntarily committed to a mental hospital following his acquittal by reason of insanity on a misdemeanor charge, Rouse brought a petition for a writ of habeas corpus in the District Court. He based his petition on a right to be discharged in the absence of receiving adequate treatment. The District Court denied the writ, viewing its jurisdiction as limited to the question whether the petitioner had regained his sanity.

Drawing on prior decisions in the District of Columbia Circuit and elsewhere, Judge Bazelon, writing for the majority, reversed and remanded the case for a hearing and findings on the adequacy of treatment accorded the petitioner.4 In so doing, the Court declared the existence of a right to treatment under the 1964 Hospitalization of the Mentally Ill Act, D.C.Code § 21-562 (Supp. V, 1966).

Although this right was predicated on statutory grounds, the Court observed that civil commitment without treatment would raise "considerable constitutional problems" under the due process, equal protection, and cruel and unusual punishment clauses. 373 F.2d at 453. The District of Columbia Circuit Court has subsequently reiterated these views, again relying on statutory grounds. In re Curry, 147 U.S.App.D.C. 28, 452 F. 2d 1360, 1362-1363 (1971); Covington v. Harris, 136 U.S.App.D.C. 35, 419 F.2d 617, 623-625 (1967).

Rouse is considered the seminal decision from which all other right to treatment cases are traceable. See New York State Association for Retarded Children, Inc. v. Rockefeller, supra, 758. But the principles proclaimed in Rouse had aroused critical thought and approval several years earlier. See Editorial, A New Right, 46 A.B.A.J. 516 (1960); Birnbaum, The Right to Treatment, 46 A.B. A.J. 499 (1960). Many subsequent cases have relied on Rouse in expressly finding a constitutional right to treatment for persons confined or incarcerated under State authority without having been found guilty of criminal offenses. E. g., Martarella v. Kelley, supra, 349 F.Supp. at 599-601; Wyatt v. Stickney, 325 F. Supp. 781, 784 (M.D.Ala.1971); Nason v. Superintendent, Bridgewater State Hospital, 353 Mass. 604, 613, 233 N.E.2d 908, 913 (1968).

Wyatt is the most notable of these cases and the one upon which plaintiffs place primary reliance in the instant case. In a series of decisions involving two State hospitals for the mentally ill and one for the mentally retarded in Alabama, Judge Johnson found that the institutions failed to meet minimally adequate standards of treatment and hence violated the residents' rights under the due process clause.5

Based on Rouse and other District of Columbia Circuit cases, Judge Johnson stated that persons involuntarily committed for mental deficiencies "unquestionably have a constitutional right to receive such individual treatment as will give each of them a realistic opportunity to be cured or to improve his or her mental condition." 325 F.Supp. 781, 784. This right springs from the principle that treatment, not mere custodial care or punishment, "is the only justification, from a constitutional standpoint, that allows civil commitments to mental institutions . . . ." Ibid.

The three essential conditions to fulfill this right to treatment were declared to be a humane psychological and physical environment, qualified staff personnel in sufficient numbers, and individualized treatment plans. 334 F. Supp. 1341, 1343. To implement this right, extensive relief was ordered, encompassing medical and constitutional minimums. 344 F.Supp. 373, 379-386; 344 F.Supp. 387, 395-407.

Just as Rouse has been a...

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