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Jackson v. Los Lunas Community Program

United States Court of Appeals, Tenth Circuit

January 23, 2018

WALTER STEPHEN JACKSON, by his parents and next friends, Walter and Helen Jackson; STEVE NUNEZ, by his guardian and next friend, ARC of New Mexico; MARY KATHERINE NOWAK, by her next friend, James W. Ellis, Esquire; RICHARD STANFIELD, by his father and next friend, The Reverend Clyde Stanfield; BETTY YOUNG, by her next friend, Mary Dudley, Ph.D.; KELLY VAN CUREN, by her parents and next friends, Ted and Sallie Van Curen, on behalf of themselves and all others similarly situated, Plaintiffs - Appellees,
LOS LUNAS COMMUNITY PROGRAM; NEW MEXICO DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH; LYNN GALLAGHER, in her official capacity as Secretary of the New Mexico Department of Health; JILL MARSHALL, in her official capacity as Administrator for the Los Lunas Community Program; NEW MEXICO HUMAN SERVICES DEPARTMENT; BRENT EARNEST, in his official capacity as Secretary of the New Mexico Human Services Department; NEW MEXICOPUBLIC EDUCATION DEPARTMENT; JOE D. CORDOVA, in his official capacity as Director of the New Mexico Vocational Rehabilitation Division, Defendants - Appellants. and ARC OF NEW MEXICO; AVA PEETS, Plaintiffs Intervenors - Appellees,

         Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of New Mexico (D.C. No. 1:87-CV-00839-JAP-KBM)

          Jerry A. Walz (James J. Grubel appeared with him on the briefs), Walz and Associates, P.C., Albuquerque, New Mexico, for Defendants - Appellants.

          Steven J. Schwartz, Center for Public Representation, Northampton, Massachusetts (Cathy Costanzo, Center for Public Representation, Northampton, Massachusetts; Peter Cubra, Albuquerque, New Mexico; Philip Davis, Albuquerque, New Mexico; Ann Sims, Los Lunas, New Mexico; Tim Gardner and Nancy Koenigsberg, Disability Rights New Mexico, Albuquerque, New Mexico, appeared with him on the briefs), for Plaintiffs -Appellees.

          Before MATHESON, McKAY, and McHUGH, Circuit Judges.


         This civil rights class action lawsuit was filed thirty years ago to challenge various aspects of the institutionalization of developmentally disabled individuals at two state-supported facilities in New Mexico. After a lengthy trial in 1990, the district court ruled that Defendants-the two institutions and the individuals charged with their operation-were violating class members' federal constitutional and statutory rights. The district court ordered the parties to develop a plan to cure the violations, and the plan was implemented over the ensuing years through several consent decrees and other court-approved agreements (collectively, consent decrees). Although the two institutions closed in the 1990s, the district court has continued to monitor whether Defendants are in compliance with the obligations set forth in those consent decrees (decree obligations). And in the twenty-five years since the court's initial ruling, the parties have agreed to, and the court has approved, numerous additional decree obligations of varying specificity with which Defendants must comply before the court will discontinue its oversight. As of the district court's most recent order, Defendants had yet to fulfill over 300 decree obligations.

         In August 2015, Defendants moved under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b)(5) to vacate all consent decrees and to terminate the court's oversight, arguing that changed factual circumstances warrant the requested relief. The district court denied the motion in June 2016. Defendants appealed. We vacate the 2016 Order and remand for the district court to decide whether Defendants are currently violating class members' federal constitutional or statutory rights and to reassess the equity of continuing federal oversight with the benefit of that determination.

         I. BACKGROUND

         To provide context for this dispute, we begin with an overview of the procedural history of this multi-decade litigation. We then examine the district court's ruling on Defendants' Rule 60(b)(5) motion under the governing legal standard.

          A. Litigation History

         In July 1987, twenty-one developmentally disabled individuals brought this class action lawsuit on behalf of themselves and others similarly situated. In their complaint, Plaintiffs challenged the conditions of institutionalization at Fort Stanton Hospital and Training School (Fort Stanton) and Los Lunas Hospital and Training School (Los Lunas), both of which were state-supported institutions for the developmentally disabled in New Mexico. Jackson v. Fort Stanton Hosp. & Training Sch. (Jackson II), 964 F.2d 980, 985 (10th Cir. 1992). Plaintiffs sought to correct the federal constitutional and statutory deficiencies of the conditions at Fort Stanton and Los Lunas. Id. They also requested relief permitting developmentally disabled persons residing at the institutions to live in integrated family-like settings within the community. Id.

         In June 1988, the district court allowed more than 125 parents and guardians of residents at Fort Stanton and Los Lunas to intervene. Id. Like Plaintiffs, Intervenors sought to bring the conditions at the two institutions into compliance with federal constitutional and statutory law. Id. But Intervenors opposed Plaintiffs' efforts to require mandatory transfer of the institutions' residents to community-based facilities. Id.

         In June 1989, the district court certified a class of "all persons who at that time resided at [Fort Stanton] or [Los Lunas], all persons who would become residents of the institutions during the pendency of the action, and all persons who had been transferred from these two institutions to other facilities funded by [D]efendants." Id.

         1. The 1990 Order

         After a prolonged trial, the district court issued, on December 28, 1990, an extensive Memorandum Opinion and Order (1990 Order). Jackson v. Fort Stanton Hosp. & Training Sch. (Jackson I), 757 F.Supp. 1243 (D.N.M. 1990), rev'd in part, 964 F.2d 980 (10th Cir. 1992). In the 1990 Order, the court "made detailed findings of fact regarding almost every aspect of the conditions" at the two institutions, Jackson II, 964 F.2d at 986, and determined that the conditions were statutorily and constitutionally deficient in eighteen areas, Jackson I, 757 F.Supp. at 1315-16.[1] The court concluded that Defendants were discriminating against class members in violation of § 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 by failing to provide adequate accommodations for severely handicapped residents capable of residing in a community setting, while simultaneously serving less severely handicapped individuals in the community. See id. at 1297-99; see also 29 U.S.C. § 794. And the court ruled that Defendants were violating class members' substantive due process rights under the Fourteenth Amendment and Youngberg v. Romeo, 457 U.S. 307 (1982). See Jackson I, 757 F.Supp. at 1305-13. Specifically, the court ruled that Defendants were violating due process by failing to provide residents of the two institutions with minimally adequate medical care; by failing "to provide reasonable conditions of safety for the residents"; by physically restraining residents as a result of understaffing; by failing to provide "minimally adequate training" to the residents; and by failing to implement recommendations by interdisciplinary treatment teams (Teams)-consisting of qualified professionals-that certain of these residents should be placed in community settings. Id. at 1306-07, 1312.[2]

         The district court ordered the parties to work together in good faith "to formulate by agreement a plan to correct" the eighteen areas of deficiencies at the two institutions. Id. at 1315. The court required the parties to formulate a "detailed written policy to be adopted by and followed at each institution, " to designate persons responsible at each institution for implementing the correction plans, to describe the "strategies to be adopted by each institution" in order to ensure successful implementation of the correction plans, and to develop a "detailed timetable establishing deadlines by which specific components of the correction plan for each deficiency will be achieved." Id. at 1316. The court also set September 10, 1991, as the deadline for "complete correction of all deficiencies." Id. And the court required the parties to describe the "[m]eans of assuring continued compliance with appropriate standards after correction of the deficiencies has been achieved." Id.

         The court further ordered Defendants to prepare, by March 1, 1991, "a written plan of transfer to an appropriate community setting for each resident whose [Team] has recommended placement in a community setting." Id. at 1317. The court urged Plaintiffs to confer in good faith with Defendants to resolve any concerns Plaintiffs may have with the proposed plans and to amend the plans accordingly. Id. at 1316- 17. The court also afforded Plaintiffs the opportunity to "file with the court and serve on [D]efendants a statement of any remaining objections they may have to, and their proposals for amending, any particular plan." Id.

         Over the next several years, the district court entered various remedial orders and continued to oversee enforcement of those orders.[3] See Jackson v. Los Lunas Ctr. (Jackson III), No. CIV 87-839-JAP/KBM, 2016 WL 9777237, at *2 (D.N.M. June 14, 2016).

          2. The 1994 Stipulation Concerning Fort Stanton

         In 1994, New Mexico elected to close Fort Stanton by 1995 and to transfer all of the residents at the institution to community-based services. In April 1994, the parties filed a joint motion under Rule 60(b) and Rufo v. Inmates of Suffolk County Jail, 502 U.S. 367 (1992), to modify portions of the district court's 1990 Order, and to terminate the 1990 Order's requirements as to Fort Stanton upon closure of that facility.

         The district court found the parties' joint motion "well-taken" and determined that "the proposed modification is consistent with the rights of the classmembers." JA Vol. 3 at 582. As a result, the court relieved Defendants from making further improvements to Fort Stanton. In doing so, the court stated, "[i]n the event that all classmembers have been transferred from Fort Stanton to appropriate settings by July 31, 1995, this Order and all portions of the [1990 Order] concerning corrections of deficiencies . . . at Fort Stanton will hereby be terminated." Id. at 584.

         3. The 1997 Joint Stipulation on Disengagement (JSD) and Plan of Action

         In October 1997, the parties presented the court with the JSD, a Plan of Action, and a joint motion requesting the court's approval of the JSD. According to the parties' stipulation, the JSD "does not seek a remedy for past violations of Plaintiffs' constitutional and statutory rights." JA Vol. 7 at 1403. It is instead designed to prevent future harm by ensuring that "Plaintiffs' rights are not violated in the community settings." Id. at 1394. To that end, the JSD "defines the further actions and requirements" that Defendants had to complete, "and the services, supports, and benefits" that Defendants had to provide to class members, in order for Defendants to comply with their obligations under the court's existing orders. JA Vol. 4 at 622.

         The JSD acknowledges Defendants' "substantial efforts to develop a non-discriminatory service system for persons with developmental disabilities and to provide appropriate community living arrangements and supports to classmembers." Id. at 620. And it states Defendants had made "efforts to reasonably accommodate the residents of Fort Stanton and Los Lunas in community settings." Id. at 621. As a result of those efforts, Fort Stanton closed in March 1995 when all its residents had transitioned to community settings, and Los Lunas closed in July 1997 when its last resident transitioned to the community.

         The JSD also includes a process for judicial disengagement of Defendants' decree obligations. And it identifies the "Continued Improvement of Community Services" as an area subject to disengagement. The Continuous Improvement obligations address "a quality improvement approach that requires Defendants to achieve a certain score on an annual audit." Jackson III, 2016 WL 9777237, at *2 (internal quotation marks omitted). In the order denying Defendants' Rule 60(b)(5) motion that is the subject of this appeal, the district court recognized that Defendants have achieved disengagement from fifty-six of the seventy Continuous Improvement obligations. Id.

         The parties identified additional obligations in the Plan of Action, which Defendant Department of Health developed "to [e]nhance the Community Service System" for persons with developmental disabilities. JA Vol. 4 at 629. The Plan of Action contains "a narrative, desired outcomes, and specific activities for thirteen components of the community service system."[4] Id. Those thirteen components are contained in the Plan of Action's thirteen attached appendices. Two more appendices were later added by consent of the parties.

         After holding a fairness hearing, the district court issued, in December 1997, an order approving the JSD and the Plan of Action. The court noted the JSD "does not call for immediate dismissal of this lawsuit, " but instead "contemplates continued judicial oversight that could extend well into the next [millennium]." Id. at 801. The court further observed that the JSD "states the parties' intention to fulfill most of the activities described in the Plan of Action by December 31, 1998, but makes an exception for certain requirements that may not be met until December 31, 2000." Id.

         4. The 2005 Stipulation to Resolve Motion for Noncompliance (Appendix A)

         In May 2004, Plaintiffs moved for an order to show cause and for further remedial relief to require Defendants to comply with the court's December 1997 order approving the JSD and the Plan of Action. In June 2004, Plaintiffs moved for an Order to Reengage Effective Case Management, Desired Outcome A, Under the Plan of Action.

         In May 2005, the parties filed a Joint Stipulation on Agreed Actions to Comply with Joint Stipulation of Disengagement and Plan of Action and to Resolve Pending Motions to Show Cause and to Re-engage (2005 Stipulation). Attached to the 2005 Stipulation is "Appendix A[:] Agreed Actions to Address Contempt Motions" (Appendix A). JA Vol. 10 at 1903. The 2005 Stipulation states that it "is intended to obligate Defendants to take certain actions outside the Plan of Action as more specifically outlined in Appendix A." Id. at 1898. "[T]he actions identified in Appendix A are intended to facilitate compliance with the JSD, to promote completion of . . . Audit Recommendations, to further address Case Management even though Plan of Action Desired Outcomes related to Case Management have been previously disengaged by an order of the Court and to address certain aspects of Vocational Rehabilitation." Id. at 1898-99. The 2005 Stipulation clarifies that it is not intended to change or modify the terms of the JSD, which remain in effect. And it further states that Defendants "agree to implement all of the actions identified and listed in Appendix A, " and that the parties agree some of the Appendix A actions supplanted or modified activities listed in the Plan of Action. Id. at 1899.

         Appendix A imposes 107 specific obligations on Defendants. Some of the obligations are identified as "complete, " while many obligations were scheduled to be completed by May 2006 or in 2007. Although those deadlines were not met, Defendants represent that one third of the activities in Appendix A have been disengaged. Jackson III, 2016 WL 9777237, at *4.

         The district court issued an order adopting the parties' stipulation the same day the parties submitted it.

         5. The 2012 Order

         In mid-July 2010, Plaintiffs filed another Motion for Further Remedial Relief to Remedy Noncompliance. After full briefing, the district court denied the motion without prejudice so Plaintiffs could refile after an evidentiary hearing scheduled for June 2011.

         On April 26, 2011-the day before the pretrial conference for the evidentiary hearing-Defendants filed a Rule 60(b)(5) motion to terminate all remaining orders and to conclude the court's oversight. Defendants maintained that they have made more than a reasonable effort to comply with the court's orders, that they have substantially complied with all existing orders, and that changed factual conditions make continuing compliance substantially more onerous. The court held the motion in abeyance and suspended briefing on it until the completion of the evidentiary hearing, which occurred from June 13 to June 17, 2011. Jackson III, 2016 WL 9777237, at *4. The court later terminated the pending Rule 60(b)(5) motion without deciding its merits. Id. at *4 n.12.

         In November 2011, after the evidentiary hearing, Plaintiffs filed a Renewed Motion for Further Remedial Relief to Remedy Noncompliance. Plaintiffs argued that Defendants had failed to comply with the JSD, the Plan of Action, Appendix A, the Rehabilitation Act, and the ADA (collectively, decrees). Plaintiffs also asked the court to appoint a Jackson Compliance Administrator (Compliance Administrator) to oversee and ensure Defendants' compliance. In October 2012, the district court issued a 206-page, Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law (2012 Order). The court praised Defendants' "innovations and progress, " but determined that Defendants were still in substantial noncompliance with the decree obligations. JA Vol. 25 at 5303. Indeed, the court identified instances of noncompliance in the areas of health, safety, and supported employment.

         Based on the evidence before it, however, the court stated it "is unable to conclude that Defendants have violated the Rehabilitation Act and ADA." The court explained:

To start with, the Court could not conclude that Defendants have discriminated against severely disabled class members with respect to the provision of health care services. In fact, the Court commends Defendants for accommodating those severely disabled class members who live in rural New Mexico by providing them meaningful access to health care services . . . and for developing more and better health care services directed to severely disabled persons. There is, however, a question as to whether Defendants violated the Rehabilitation Act and ADA by intentionally denying severely disabled class members supported employment services equivalent to those received by less severely disabled persons. Unfortunately, that question of disparate treatment cannot be analyzed at this time, but must be further briefed. On the other hand, the Court was unable to find a violation of the Rehabilitation Act and ADA when severely disabled class members choose to participate in segregated, congregate day services while less severely disabled persons more often chose to engage in supported employment.

Id. at 5304-05.

         The court also noted that Defendants "are close to substantially complying with [their] obligations, " and suggested that "the parties reconsider the descriptions of the more broadly stated obligations and restate them in language that makes the obligations achievable." Id. at 5303-04. After all, "many of the obligations are described in language that is more aspirational in nature than operational." Id. at 5304. Finally, the court granted Plaintiffs' request to appoint a Compliance Administrator, who could "prod Defendants into final substantial compliance."[5] Id. at 5305.

         6. The 2015 Revised Table IV

         After the district court issued its 2012 Order, the parties were to develop a consolidated remedial plan in the areas of health, safety, and supported employment to address the identified violations. See Jackson III, 2016 WL 9777237, at *6. The parties, counsel, the Compliance Administrator, and the court then worked together for over two years before finalizing a consolidated plan. Id.

         In June 2015, the parties jointly filed the 2015 Revised Table IV-which is a final list of objectives in the areas of health, safety, and supported employment- along with evaluative components (or disengagement criteria) and projected completion dates for each objective. In November 2015, the parties jointly filed a Stipulated Agreement on Disengagement Process for Revised Table IV. Under the agreed-upon disengagement process, Defendants would submit a request for disengagement of a specific decree objective to the Compliance Administrator, who would then make a written "determination" on whether the disengagement criteria had been met. If the Compliance Administrator did not agree that the criteria had been met, then Defendants could withdraw their request for a determination or pursue a disengagement motion with the court.

         The court noted that, as of May 2016, the Compliance Administrator had issued approximately three determinations on Defendants' requests, with roughly 197 decree obligations remaining for which the Compliance Administrator had not issued preliminary determinations. Jackson III, 2016 WL 9777237, at *7 n.20. The court also stated Revised Table IV did not replace or modify existing decree obligations that were not the subject of Plaintiffs' Renewed Noncompliance Motion and the court's 2012 Order. Id. at *8. Thus, Defendants must demonstrate substantial compliance with the earlier outstanding decree obligations, in addition to those listed in Revised Table IV. Id. The court estimated that, between the JSD, the Plan of Action, Appendix A, and Revised Table IV, Defendants must still show substantial compliance with approximately 307 decree obligations. Id. at *9.

         B. District Court's Denial of Defendants' Rule 60(b)(5) Motion

         In August 2015, Defendants filed their current motion under Rule 60(b)(5), arguing that factual circumstances have changed to the extent that the district court should vacate all remaining orders and conclude its oversight entirely. Defendants identified four changed factual circumstances they claim warrant vacatur of all pertinent decrees and termination of the case. First, Defendants argued that their decree obligations have increased in number and complexity to the point they will never be able to satisfy the "labyrinth ...

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