National Center for Youth Law


Marisol v. Giuliani
also known as Marisol v. Pataki

Plaintiffs charged that New York City’s failure to care for and protect children in its custody (or those reported to be in danger of abuse and neglect), jeopardized their health, education, safety, stability, permanency, and developmental well-being.  The lawsuit sought to reform all aspects of the system



95-Civ-10533 (S.D.N.Y., Dec. 13, 1995)


929 F. Supp. 660 (S.D.N.Y. 1996); 929 F. Supp. 662 (S.D.N.Y.1996), aff’d, 26 F.3d 372 (2d Cir. 1997); 104 F.3d 524 (2d Cir. 1996), cert. denied, 520 U.S. 1211 (1997); 1998 WL 199927 (S.D.N.Y. Apr. 23, 1998) (unreported); 1998 WL 265123 (S.D.N.Y. May 22, 1998) (unreported); 1998 WL 274472 (S.D.N.Y. May 27, 1998) (unreported); 185 F.R.D. 152 (S.D.N.Y. 1999), aff’d, Joel A. v. Giuliani, 218 F.3d 132 (2d Cir. 2000); 111 F. Supp. 2d 381 (S.D.N.Y. 2001); 157 F. Supp. 2d 303 (S.D.N.Y. 2001)




Marcia Robinson Lowry
Susan Lambiase
Shirman Nothenberg
Children’s Rights Inc.
330 Seventh Avenue, Fourth Floor
New York, NY 10001
(212) 683-2210
Fax: (212) 683-4015

Karen Freedman
Lawyers for Children
110 Lafayette Street, 8th Floor
New York, NY 10013
(212) 966-6420
Fax: (212) 966-0531

Schulte Roth & Zabel
919 3rd Avenue
New York, NY 10022
(212) 756-2000
Fax: (212) 593-5955

Ira Dembrow
Cahill, Gordon & Reindel
80 Pine Street
New York, NY 10005
(212) 701-3000
Fax: (212) 269-5420


In June 1996, the court certified a class of children in foster care and those reported to be abused or neglected.  The court also denied defendants’ motion to dismiss, interpreting children’s constitutional right to protection from harm to include harm that results from unnecessary separation from parents and from extended stays in foster care without a permanent family.  On September 26, 1997, the Second Circuit affirmed the district court’s certification of the plaintiff class and directed that the district judge divide the classes into subclasses for organizational and management purposes.

In July of 1998, the parties began settlement negotiations.  Over the objections of would-be interveners representing a subclass of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender youths in the custody of the city agency, the court approved separate settlement agreements with the city and the state defendants in 1999.  On July 13, 2000, the Second Circuit of Appeals affirmed the district court’s approval of both the city and state settlement agreements.

The settlement reached by plaintiffs and New York City required the city to use independent outside child welfare experts to guide and assist it in undertaking systemic reform.  The advisory panel had complete access to all aspects of the city’s child welfare agency, and was empowered to provide recommendations, issue progress reports on the status of the reform effort, and determine whether the city is acting in good faith in implementing systemic reform.  The city settlement was successfully concluded in 2001.

In January 2001, plaintiffs sought an order of noncompliance by the state with specific terms of the state settlement agreement.  The areas of noncompliance included the failure to implement a statewide child welfare management information system.  After an August 2001 evidentiary hearing, the court decided that the state had not acted with sufficient diligence in implementing the information management system, extended the terms of the agreement in this area, and directed that plaintiffs receive semi-annual reports.  Plaintiffs continued to monitor implementation of these terms of the state settlement agreement.

A 2007 assessment of New York City’s child welfare system compiled by Children’s Rights revealed alarming problems, including a growing rate of repeat abuse and neglect of children known to the child welfare system. The city is currently implementing its own reform effort, which Children’s Rights continues to monitor to determine whether it yields improvements for children and families.