National Center for Youth Law

STRATEGIES

Norman v. McDonald
also known as Norman v. Suter, Norman v. Johnson, and Fields v. Johnson

This class action was filed on behalf of impoverished parents and legal guardians who have lost, are at risk of losing, or cannot regain custody of their children from the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) because they are homeless or unable to provide food or shelter for their children. Plaintiffs alleged that defendants’ policies violated provisions of Title IV-E of the Social Security Act, as well as the First and Fourteenth Amendments.

Plaintiffs sought declaratory and injunctive relief challenging the policies and practices of taking and retaining children of impoverished parents; failing to assist parents to secure food, cash, shelter, and other subsistence through coordination of services; failing to make reasonable efforts at reunification; and abridging the liberty and property interests of parents in retaining custody of their children while requiring them to maintain the means to support themselves and their families.

Overview

FILE NO., COURT AND DATE FILED

89 C 1624 (N.D. Ill., Feb. 27, 1989)

CITATIONS

739 F. Supp. 1182 (N.D. Ill. 1990); 930 F. Supp. 1219 (N.D. Ill. 1996)

CLEARINGHOUSE REVIEW NO.

44,465

ATTORNEYS FOR PLAINTIFFS

Laurene Heybach
Law Project of the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless
1325 S. Wabash Avenue, Suite 205
Chicago, IL 60605
(312) 435-4548
Fax: (312) 435-0198
RHeybach@aol.com

Diane Redleaf
Lehrer & Redleaf
36 S. Wabash , Suite 600
Chicago, IL 60603
(312) 332-2121
Fax: (312) 332-1717
lehred1@aol.com

John Bouman
Dan Lesser
National Center on Poverty Law
50 E. Washington
Chicago, IL 60602
(312) 263-3830
Fax: (312) 263-3846
johnbouman@povertylaw.org

HISTORY AND STATUS

Two class members secured a preliminary injunction, requiring defendants to issue sufficient funds to secure housing and utilities, restore Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) benefits, and identify all other sources of financial assistance.

On March 28, 1992, the court approved a consent decree, providing for detailed policies and development of new programs for cash and housing assistance, and for extensive monitoring. After defendants failed to meet several deadlines, the parties negotiated the scope of the decree, its implementation, and mandated compliance reports.

On March 10, 1995, the parties entered an agreed order to extend the monitor’s term for two years, to have DCFS hire a housing specialist to create a system for ensuring that families are reunified speedily, to investigate a new pre-court “screening” to prevent unnecessary removal of children, and to provide for an ombudsperson to resolve individual class member problems. The court reduced the monitoring period to one year. When DCFS refused an extension at the expiration of the monitor’s term, plaintiffs filed a motion for continued monitoring and/or declaratory and injunctive relief for noncompliance.

Defendants argued that the decree was unenforceable after Suter v. Artist M. absent a finding of contempt. Defendants also argued that DCFS had “substantially complied” with the decree, and, therefore, the court could neither make a finding of contempt nor grant relief. On April 11, 1996, the court ruled against defendants, ordering continued monitoring on limited issues.

Monitoring continued for one year, and the parties entered into a limited out-of-court agreement for continued monitoring. Counsel for plaintiffs continue to work with impoverished parents to ensure that they are able to access Norman services.