National Center for Youth Law

STRATEGIES

L.J. v. Massinga

Plaintiffs filed this civil rights action against Maryland’s Department of Human Services (DHS) on behalf of approximately 2,500 Baltimore foster children, seeking injunctive relief for class members and damages for the five named plaintiffs.

Plaintiffs based their allegations of widespread, systemic abuses in the Baltimore foster care system in part on a random study that reviewed 149 cases, concluding that 25% of children were likely to have been mistreated in foster care.  The study, with other evidence, documented major systemic problems, including inappropriate placement of children; low foster care payments; an insufficient number of homes combined with a lack of recruitment efforts; inadequate health care; failure to train foster parents and caseworkers; infrequent caseworker visits; and failure to provide services to children placed with relatives.

Overview

FILE NO., COURT, AND DATE FILED

JH-84-4409 (D. Md., Dec. 8, l984); 87-2l56 (4th Cir. 1988)

CITATIONS

838 F.2d 118 (4th Cir. 1988), cert. denied, 488 U.S. 1018 (1989); 699 F. Supp. 508 (D. Md. l988); 778 F. Supp. 253 (D. Md. 1991); 1991 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 18744 (D.M.D. 1991).

CLEARINGHOUSE REVIEW NO.

43,403

ATTORNEYS FOR PLAINTIFFS

Mitchell Mirviss
Venable LLP
1800 Mercantile Bank and Trust Buildin
Two Hopkins Plaza
Baltimore, MD 21201
(410) 244-7412
Fax: (410) 244-7742
mymirviss@venable.com
Gary S. Posner
Whiteford, Taylor & Preston, LLP
Signet Tower, 14th Floor
7 Saint Paul Street
Baltimore, MD 21202
(410) 347-7406
Fax: (410) 752-7092
gposner@wtplaw.com

HISTORY AND STATUS

In July 1987, the federal district court issued a preliminary injunction, and denied defendants’ claim of qualified immunity.  The Fourth Circuit, in February 1988, upheld the preliminary injunction and affirmed the denial of immunity.  The Supreme Court denied defendants’ petition for certiorari.  Shortly thereafter, the state and named plaintiffs agreed to settlements in the damages cases totaling more than $800,000.

In September 1988, the parties settled the class claims and the court approved a consent decree.  The consent decree provided for relief in a wide range of areas including caseload standards; foster parent and caseworker training; provision and monitoring of health care; reporting of suspected abuse or neglect of foster children to child’s counsel; and a study of the quality of kinship care provided by relatives with whom the state places children.  In October 1991, the court approved the parties’ modification of the decree, extending protections to children in kinship care.

Plaintiffs have monitored the decree, but obtaining compliance with numerous provisions has been difficult.  On March 5, 2004, DHS submitted its 31st Compliance Report.

In 2007, plaintiffs filed a motion to enforce and modify the consent decree and a separate contempt motion against defendants for failure to meet the requirements of the original decree.  They also requested that the court install an independent monitor to oversee the child welfare program.  The parties engaged in mediation and in June 2009, they presented the court with proposed modifications to the consent decree.

Within days after jointly presenting the proposed modifications, defendants requested that the court allow defendants to file a motion to vacate the consent decree in light of a newly decided Supreme Court case (Horne v. Flores).  In September 2009, defendants filed a motion to dismiss the existing consent decree and to oppose adoption of the proposed modifications they had, negotiated.  The court denied the motion and entered the modified decree over defendants’ objections.  Defendants filed an appeal in November 2009, which is pending in the Fourth Circuit.