Court Finally Approves Settlement Agreement in New Mexico Institutional Case

June 21, 2019

On June 21, 2019, the United States District Court for the District of New Mexico gave its final approval to a new Settlement Agreement in the longstanding community integration case, Jackson v. Los Lunas. The Court concluded that the Settlement Agreement was fair, reasonable, and adequate because it established a durable remedy to cure the original constitutional and federal statutory violations which were found in 1990.

The Court first reviewed the history of this case, which originally included over 700 individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) who were confined in two large state institutions. After failing to comply with the remedial order entered as part of the Court’s 1990 liability decision, the parties eventually entered four consent decrees in 1997, 2005, and 2015 – none of which were fully satisfied. Frustrated by its failure to comply with its own agreements, in 2015 the State moved to terminate the case, claiming that changed circumstances rendered these agreements onerous and against the public interest. Although the District Court found that the State’s ongoing noncompliance with both the purpose and the provisions of the consent decrees precluded termination of the case, the Tenth Circuit reversed, holding that the proper test was whether there remained an ongoing violation of federal law and whether a durable remedy had been implemented. In response to this decision, the parties decided to negotiate a new Settlement Agreement that would describe in detail what was necessary to achieve that durable remedy.

In approving the Settlement Agreement, the Court noted that the parties concurred that the State had established policies, procedures, and waiver standards that were sufficient to create a durable remedy, but that there was a significant gap between actual practice and these policies. The core purpose of the Settlement Agreement was to ensure compliance with those policies and standards. The parties had agreed, in entering the settlement, that a durable remedy required compliance with all designated policies and standards, and that only when such compliance was achieved would the Court dismiss the case.