National Center for Youth Law


Katie A. v. Bonta  

This class action lawsuit was filed against Los Angeles County’s Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) and California’s Department of Social Services and Department of Health Services to end statutory and constitutional violations of the rights of California’s foster children.  The suit challenges these county and state agencies for neglecting their duties to provide necessary and legally mandated health care services to treat the mental health conditions of children. Plaintiffs seek declaratory and injunctive relief under provisions of the Medicaid Act, the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Rehabilitation Act, and other state statutes. Plaintiffs seek the establishment and implementation of a community-based mental health service delivery system for children in foster care or at imminent risk of out-of-home placement.

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CV-02-05662 (C.D. Cal., July 18, 2002)


433 F.Supp. 2d 1065 (C.D. Cal. 2006); 481 F. 3d 1150 (9th Cir. 2007)




Mark D. Rosenbaum
American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California
1616 Beverly Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90026-5752
(213) 977-9500
Fax: (213) 250-3919

Melinda Bird, Marilyn Holle
Protection & Advocacy, Inc.
3580 Wilshire Boulevard, Suite 902
Los Angeles, CA 90010-2512
(213) 427-8747
Fax: (213) 427-8767

Patrick Gardner, Leecia Welch
National Center for Youth Law
405 14th Street, 15th Floor
Oakland, CA 94612
(510) 835-8098
Fax: (510) 835- 8099

Ira Burnim, Alison Barkoff
Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law
1101 Fifteenth Street, NW, Suite 1212
Washington, DC 20006
(202) 467-5730
Fax: (202) 223-0409

Ronald C. Peterson, Alissa Kolek
Heller Ehrman White & McAuliffe
601 S. Figueroa Street, 40th Floor
Los Angeles, CA 90017
(213) 689-0200
Fax: (213) 614-1868

Robert D. Newman, Kimberly Lewis
Western Center for Law and Poverty
3701 Wilshire Boulevard, Suite 208
Los Angeles, CA 90010
(213) 487-7211
Fax: (213) 487-0242



DCFS and plaintiffs entered into negotiations and settled in March 2003.  The settlement commits the county to a number of comprehensive reforms, including improved identification of mental health needs, enhancement of permanency planning, and prompt provision of individualized services designed to promote stability and ensure quality care for children in custody.  Plaintiffs also succeeded in committing the county to offering family-based wraparound services to children with mental, emotional, or behavioral issues with the aim of facilitating family reunification and reducing multiple and arbitrary placements.  Finally, the settlement mandated the immediate closure of the MacLaren Children’s Center and the re-routing of its funding to family- and community-based programs.  Plaintiffs continue to monitor implementation of the settlement agreement with DCFS.
The state agencies did not participate in the settlement.  Accordingly, the lawsuit against them is ongoing. On June 19, 2003, the Court granted class certification.  Fact discovery against the state agencies closed in late 2004.  On September 9, 2005, plaintiffs filed a preliminary injunction motion to compel the state agencies to make wraparound services and therapeutic foster care available to all class members on a consistent statewide basis through the Medi-Cal program or other means.
On March 14, 2006, the federal district court ordered the state defendants to provide both wraparound services and therapeutic foster care to all class members. A federal appeals court reversed the injunction on March 23, 2007. However, the appeals court affirmed California’s obligation to provide effective services to all class members, and upheld the lower court’s finding that these children face the grave harm of unnecessary institutionalization without the injunction.  The appeals court remanded the case on the narrow issue of whether the lower court rightly mandated specific types of services.
In September 2008, plaintiffs filed a renewed preliminary injunction motion. Following a hearing, the court ordered the parties to report back by October 29, 2008, on how “wraparound” services could be covered by Medi-Cal and properly billed.  The court ruled that all of the mental health services identified by plaintiffs as components of wraparound are Medi-Cal eligible.  He ordered the parties to provide guidance to county mental health agencies and eligible recipients on how wraparound services should be designated and billed.
In March 2009, the court appointed Richard Saletta to act as special master in the case.  Since that time, the special master and the parties have been engaged in settlement negotiations.