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Connor B. v. Patrick

United States Court of Appeals, First Circuit

December 15, 2014

CONNOR B., by his next friend Rochelle Vigurs; ADAM S., by his next friend Denise Sullivan; CAMILA R., by her next friend Bryan Clauson; ANDRE S., by his next friend Julia Pearson; SETH T., by his next friend Susan Kramer; and RAKEEM D., by his next friend Bryan Clauson, for themselves and those similarly situated, Plaintiffs, Appellants,
DEVAL L. PATRICK, in his capacity as Governor of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts; JOHN POLANOWICZ, in his capacity as Secretary of the Massachusetts Executive Office of Health and Human Services; and ERIN DEVENEY, in her capacity as Interim Commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families, Defendants, Appellees

As Amended December 18, 2014.

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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Sara M. Bartosz, with whom Marcia Robinson Lowry, Rachel B. Nili, Sarah T. Russo, Children's Rights, Mary K. Ryan, Daniel J. Gleason, Jonathan D. Persky, and Nutter McClennen & Fish, LLP were on brief, for appellants.

Liza J. Tran, Assistant Attorney General, with whom Martha Coakley, Attorney General of Massachusetts, was on brief, for appellees.

Andrew C. Glass, Stacey L. Gorman, and K& L Gates LLP, on brief for Center for Public Representation, Juvenile Law Center, Massachusetts Juvenile Bar Association, National Center for Youth Law, and Youth Law Center, as amici curiae in support of plaintiffs-appellants.

Before Lynch, Chief Judge, Selya and Kayatta, Circuit Judges.


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LYNCH, Chief Judge.

There is a common understanding in this case, shared by both the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and the plaintiffs, that the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families' (DCF) administration of the foster care system has flaws and is in need of improvement. In some instances, these flaws have led to horrific and heartbreaking outcomes for children.

Plaintiffs, admirably concerned about foster children, seek to have a federal court both order and oversee improvements. " A federal court, of course, must identify a constitutional predicate for the imposition of any affirmative duty on a State." Youngberg v. Romeo, 457 U.S. 307, 319 n.25, 102 S.Ct. 2452, 73 L.Ed.2d 28 (1982). The plaintiffs have articulated convincing moral arguments that Massachusetts should do better. But they have not established, based on the facts, that there have been constitutional violations as to the class of foster children, so they are not entitled to an injunction or federal court oversight. Improvements in the system must come through the normal state political processes. The problems are now for the Governor and legislature of Massachusetts to resolve.

Six children brought this class action in federal district court on behalf of about 8,500 children who are or will be committed to Massachusetts foster care custody as a result of their having suffered from abuse or neglect. These six plaintiffs did not seek individual relief, but relief on behalf of the class. They asserted that DCF so exposes the plaintiff class to harm or the risk of harm that it violates various Amendments to the United States Constitution, as well as the Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act of 1980 (AACWA), 42 U.S.C. § § 670 et seq.

After the plaintiffs fully presented their evidence at trial, and after the defendants examined two further witnesses but before they put on their whole case, the district court granted judgment on the record, under Fed.R.Civ.P. 52(c), for the defendants on all claims. Connor B. ex rel. Vigurs v. Patrick, 985 F.Supp.2d 129, 138 n.10, 166 (D. Mass. 2013). The district court's careful factual findings are supported by the record, and the district court's legal conclusions contain no errors of law. We affirm the district court's decision.


A. Litigation

Suit[1] was filed on April 15, 2010, against the Governor of Massachusetts, the Secretary of the Executive Office of Health and Human Services, and the Commissioner of DCF, in their official capacities. The defendants are alleged to have administered the foster care system in violation of the substantive and procedural components of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment,

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the constitutional right to familial association, and two rights arising from the AACWA, all resulting in harm to foster children while in DCF's care. Connor B., 985 F.Supp.2d at 133 (summarizing allegations). The plaintiffs' complaint sought a broad injunction preventing the defendants " from subjecting Plaintiff Children to practices that violate their rights." They also sought highly specific injunctive orders which are set forth in Appendix A. These proposed orders contain subcategories, including orders governing caseload limits, comprehensive training programs, assessments of additional services for each child, monitoring, visitation rights, case plans, quality assurance systems, performance-based contract monitoring, maintenance rates, and appointment of expert monitors. In some of these areas, the plaintiffs sought adoption of standards from private organizations such as the Council on Accreditation and the Child Welfare League of America. Plaintiffs also sought their attorneys' fees, as well as costs and expenses.[2]

The district court soon certified the desired class on February 28, 2011. Connor B. ex rel. Vigurs v. Patrick, 272 F.R.D. 288, 291 (D. Mass. 2011). The class consists of " all children who have been (or will be) placed in the custody of [DCF] as a result of a state juvenile court order adjudicating them in need of 'care and protection' due to abuse or neglect by their parents," an estimated 8,500 children. Id. at 291-92. The district court adopted an August 15, 2012, fact cutoff date for the liability determination. Connor B., 985 F.Supp.2d at 133 n.1. The defendants have not appealed the class certification order, so whether this class was appropriately certified is not before us.[3]

After extensive discovery, trial began on January 22, 2013. Id. at 134. At the close of plaintiffs' case, on April 30, the defendants filed a motion for judgment on the ...

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