Victory for Children in New York Detention Facilities

January.16.2014

​A litigation team led by Peter Coll, Rene Kathawala, Alison Roffi, Eliza Golden and Scott Roehm favorably settled a class action brought by 15 juveniles on behalf of all children who were detained by the Office of Children and Family Services (OCFS) as juvenile delinquents in certain New York state detention facilities. In addition to reaching a comprehensive settlement that requires OCFS to implement large-scale mental health and physical restraint reforms, a substantial six-figure settlement for the named plaintiffs and $1 million in attorneys' fees were obtained.

Orrick and the Legal Aid Society of New York (LAS) filed this civil rights class action on behalf of all children who were or will be civilly confined in the "limited secure" residential centers, "reception" residential centers and one "nonsecure" center operated by OCFS. The children are placed for rehabilitative purposes in OCFS custody by New York State Family Court judges as a result of juvenile delinquency proceedings.

The lawsuit alleged that children are subject to a pattern and practice of unconstitutional and excessive force by employees of OCFS and deprived of legally required mental health services while in OCFS care and custody.

The Orrick and LAS team achieved a significant preliminary win in fending off a motion to dismiss the complaint on failure to exhaust administrative remedies grounds under the federal Prison Litigation Reform Act. The court rejected this argument in its entirety and, in a precedent-setting decision, ruled, in part, that the children were excused from filing a formal administrative proceeding because of their age and, in many cases, their mental health condition, something that no court had previously done. This decision and substantial work on a preliminary injunction hearing and discovery paved the way for the very positive settlement.

The significant and sweeping changes to how restraint policies and mental health care will be administered in OCFS facilities were described by the judge at the fairness hearing as creative.

United States District Judge Paul A. Crotty complimented the Orrick team for our aggressive litigation strategy and approach, which ultimately resulted in a settlement that should improve conditions for children detained by OCFS for years to come. Orrick and LAS will continue to play a significant role in monitoring the implementation of the settlement over the next three years.

Critical support on the case was provided by lawyers and staff in our New York and Wheeling offices, including Thomas Horan, Timothy Hoye, Brian Jenson, Thomas Ryan, Luis Fermin, Wilson Addo, Michael Fillinger, Patricia Alberts, Marc Shapiro, Jacob Albertson, Brad Grimes, Logan Herlinger, James Muhly, Ashley Robertson, Alana Rose, Aaron Ruben, Margaret West, Michelle Todescato, Christopher Giles, Stephen Constance, Richard Coup, William Frank, Damon Clark, Matthew Coe, Daniel Colonna, Lisa Bauer, Linda Baynes, Heather Boylan Clark, Sarah Breisinger and Gabriel Cain.