Arlington Developmental Center lawsuit settled after 21 years

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit filed over conditions at the Arlington Developmental Center, ending the 21-year legal fight over the center for the developmentally disabled.

U.S. Attorney Edward Stanton had previously announced an agreement outlining steps the state would take to help former patients of the center, located in the Memphis suburb of Arlington. The federal government filed legal action in 1992 over abuse and mistreatment of people confined there. The state closed the center in 2010.

Gov. Bill Haslam’s office says U.S. District Judge Jon McCalla approved the plan and dismissed the lawsuit Wednesday.

The agreement requires the state to expand community-based services, help former patients now in nursing homes to move into community settings and demolish the former residential cottages on the Arlington campus.

Note: A news release on the lawsuit settlement is below.

News release from the governor’s office:
NASHVILLE – Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam today announced that after 21 years of litigation, a federal judge has dismissed the lawsuit originally filed over conditions at the now-closed Arlington Development Center in Memphis.

Judge Jon Phipps McCalla of the U.S. District Court, Western Division, entered an order and final judgment yesterday that the state has “complied with all material provisions of the Exit Plan” that was filed in January.

“In Tennessee, we are committed to taking care of our most vulnerable citizens,” Haslam said. “The state appreciates the cooperation of the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and People First of Tennessee during this past year.

“I am especially grateful to the Attorney General’s Office, the Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (DIDD) and the TennCare Bureau for their tireless efforts in working toward a conclusion to this case. This is a big deal for our state.”

The lawsuit was originally filed in 1992 after a letter from DOJ detailed poor conditions for the residents of Arlington Developmental Center. People First of Tennessee later filed a separate lawsuit.

“This case could not have been resolved without the dedicated efforts and hard work of DIDD, TennCare, and the lawyers representing them. I appreciate the cooperation shown by all of the parties in bringing this long-running lawsuit to a close,” Tennessee Attorney General Bob Cooper said.

Since the suit was originally filed, quality assurance and protection from harm programs have been developed in Tennessee that have been recognized nationally as models for other states.

In January, the parties agreed to an exit plan aimed at resolving the litigation. Under the agreement, the state enrolled a small number of additional people in the Arlington class to receive home- and community-based services, provided additional efforts to assist class members in nursing homes to transition to the community, and unveiled plans to demolish the former residential cottages on the Arlington campus.

The state completed the exit plan two months ahead of schedule.

News release from People First of Tennessee:
Judge Jon P. McCalla approved the order to end the long-standing lawsuit
against the Arlington Developmental Center today in Federal Court in Memphis,
TN. The order marks the end to a 21-year struggle to improve the quality of
services and supports for individuals with intellectual disabilities in West
Tennessee. People First of Tennessee, Inc. and the U.S. Department of Justice
both filed lawsuits over disturbing conditions of abuse and neglect at the
facility. At its peak, over 400 individuals with intellectual disabilities
resided at the facility. It closed in 2010 following years of unsuccessful
efforts to implement the Court’s orders for improvements.

The class action case was the first in the country to be brought by individuals
with disabilities, including former residents of Tennessee’s developmental
centers. It marked the beginning of a significant shift in programs for
individuals with intellectual disabilities from state-run public institutions to
small community based homes and apartments operated by a broad network of
community service providers.

People First of Tennessee, Inc. and the U.S. Department of Justice agreed that
the Tennessee Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities had met
the final requirements needed to end the historic case.

William Gage, President of People First of Tennessee, Inc. stated that, “It’s
pretty good that everything is ironed out and situated and settled. I think it’s
good that people were able to more out into the community and lead normal lives.
Thank goodness that people with disabilities are being treated like everyone
else.”

Three other facilities included in the Settlement Agreement in People First of
Tennessee, Inc. v. Clover Bottom Developmental Center are still under
litigation.

Update/Note: Legislators subsequently passed a resolution congratulating the state from getting out from the order.