National Center for Youth Law


R.C. v. Wally
also known as R.C. v. Petelos, R.C. v. Nachman, R.C. v. Hornsby, and R.C. v. Cleveland

This case challenged the failure of the Alabama Department of Human Resources (DHR) to preserve the families of and provide treatment to children with emotional or behavior disorders.  Plaintiffs alleged that the state agency failed (1) to provide plaintiffs and their families with in-home supports and other services needed to preserve family unity; and (2) to provide plaintiffs with appropriate care, treatment, and services after removal from home.  Plaintiffs asserted that DHR violated their constitutional rights to family integrity, proper care while in state custody, adequate mental health care, reasonable efforts toward reunification, and freedom from discrimination on the basis of their disabilities in violation of § 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.




88-D-1170-N (M.D. Ala., 1988)


969 F. Supp. 682 (M.D. Ala. June 16, 1997), aff’d by 145 F.3d 363 (11th Cir. 1998); 992 F. Supp. 1328 (M.D. Ala. Oct. 28, 1997); 390 F. Supp. 2d 1030 (M.D. Ala. May 13, 2005)




Ira A. Burnim
Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law
1101 15th Street, N.W., Suite1212
Washington, DC 20005
(202) 467-5730
Fax: (202) 223-0409

James A. Tucker
Barbara A. Lawrence
Alabama Disabilities Advocacy Program (ADAP)
University of Alabama
526 Martha Parham West
Box 870395
Tuscaloosa, AL 35487-0395
(205) 348-4928
Fax: (205) 348-3909

Richard Cohen
Southern Poverty Law Center
P.O. Box 2087
Montgomery, AL 36102
(334) 956-8200
Fax: (334) 956-8481

Douglas R. M. Nazarian
(currently Chairman of the Maryland Public Service Commission)
Hogan Lovells
111 S. Calvert St., Suite 1600
Baltimore, MD 21202
(410) 659-2749
Fax: (410) 539-6981


On April l9, 1989, the district court held that plaintiffs had a private right of action to enforce the federal statutory claims.  The court also rejected DHR’s assertions of qualified immunity and Eleventh Amendment immunity.

In June 1992, the court approved a consent decree that required the creation of a “system of care” run according to principles emphasizing placement prevention, family reunification, permanency, and home-based and community-based services.  The system was designed to assist children (1) with emotional or behavioral disorders who are in foster care; (2) with emotional or behavioral disorders who are at imminent risk of foster care placement; and/or (3) at imminent risk of foster care placement who are at high risk of developing emotional or behavioral disorders.

The system of care is required to provide services to these children and their families to protect the children from abuse and neglect, and to enable the children to live with their families, achieve permanency and stability, and become stable, gainfully employed adults pursuant to an individualized service plan.  The decree is structured to ensure that family preservation services are provided to most children at imminent risk of foster placement.

An implementation agreement, incorporated into the decree, describes how the state will achieve compliance with the decree through initiatives in staff training, service development, quality assurance, and advocacy for class members and their families.  Implementation began in October 1992.  Each year, a group of counties representing 15% of the child welfare caseload were targeted for reform.  These counties were required to implement fully the consent decree’s requirements by the end of their “conversion” year.  The goal was full statewide compliance by October 1, 1999.  An independent monitor has been overseeing compliance.

By fall 1993, though the first group of counties had achieved progress, obstacles in compliance remained, and the parties negotiated a new consent order to resolve implementation barriers.  The new order required hiring senior-level staff, setting caseload standards, creating a resource development plan, reinvesting cost-savings, and improving the system of contracting with private providers.

Plaintiffs’ March 1997 contempt motion was resolved with a consent order extending the time for compliance and granting other relief in February 1999.  One year later, the court approved an order to ensure that all child welfare workers were appropriately certified and licensed.

In November 2004, defendant filed a motion for an order terminating the consent decree.  In May 2005, the court found that DHR had not submitted evidence sufficient to sustain its burden of demonstrating that DHR is and will remain in substantial compliance with the terms of the consent decree and the implementation plan required for termination of the decree.  The court ordered DHR to file a performance report in August 2005.

In August 2005, DHR submitted a performance report and a second motion for an order terminating the consent decree.  The court requested that the court monitor file a report responding to the assertions in DHR’s second motion and plaintiffs’ response to that motion by November 18, 2005.  Following submission of the monitor’s report, the court ordered the monitor to complete an extensive qualitative and quantitative review process to determine the counties’ current compliance with the consent decree.

On January 16, 2007, the court terminated the consent decree in a 148-page order.  Subsequently, the Eleventh Circuit upheld the lower court’s decision