Appeals Court Affirms Settlement of Marisol v. Giuliani

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2nd Circuit Court of Appeals finds Marisol settlement offers tangible and valuable relief to all children in its effort to reform New York City's Administration for Children's Services.

The Second Circuit Court of Appeals has affirmed the decision of Judge Robert J. Ward, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York to approve the settlement in Marisol v. Giuliani (Marisol settlement) the class action lawsuit seeking reform of the entire New York City child welfare system. In a decision issued on July 10, a three-judge panel of the appeals court fully endorsed the Marisol settlement as benefiting all members of the class by providing "the beginnings of a solution to the persistent inadequacies of New York City's foster care system."

Judge Ward's approval of the Marisol settlement had been challenged by a group seeking to represent a class of gay and lesbian foster children (the Joel A. plaintiffs). The Joel A. plaintiffs had sought to bring their own class action suit alleging the City's failure to provide gay and lesbian foster children with appropriate services and safe conditions of care. The appeals court reaffirmed the District Court's earlier ruling that the system-wide approach taken by the settlement would benefit all children in the child welfare system and that all children shared the same interest in the relief sought which was the improvement in the quality of child welfare services.

"The appeals court quite wisely recognized that the best hope for lasting reform for all children is to finally address the fundamental causes of the problems that have resulted in harm to so many children for so long. The group seeking unsuccessfully to set aside the settlement will in fact benefit from it, along with other children," said Marcia Robinson Lowry, executive director of Children's Rights. "In fact, as part of the implementation of the settlement, the city has already begun to develop additional appropriate placements for many under-served children, including specifically the gay and lesbian youth who had sought to challenge the settlement."

The settlement of Marisol v. Giuliani, the largest child welfare reform lawsuit in the country, established an unprecedented joint mechanism that, for the first time, requires New York City to use a panel of independent outside child welfare experts to evaluate, guide, assist and monitor reform within its child welfare system. Marisol v. Giuliani has been brought by Children's Rights and Lawyers for Children on behalf of 100,000 children who are either in the City's foster care system or reported as abused and neglected against Governor Pataki, Mayor Giuliani and Commissioner Scoppetta for their failure to protect children in their care. The suit broke new legal ground by extending the constitutional rights of all children affected by a child welfare system.

The Appeals Court found that the plaintiff's settlements with the New York City and New York State were a fair exchange between parties, because they provide "tangible and valuable relief" by establishing the Panel and by requiring the State to undertake its supervisory role over the City system, and by providing for a streamlined return to court if necessary. The appeals court found that the district court did not err in finding that "these voluntary Settlement Agreements are more favorable than any remedy that could have been imposed by the Court at the end of a trial."

The appeals court also held that the fact that city settlement precluded class action suits for injunctive relief during the two-year term of the settlement did not impinge upon the Joel A. plaintiffs' due process right to access the court. The appeals court recognized that the releases were "extremely limited in scope" because children remain free to bring individual suits and class actions were not barred but only stayed for "a reasonably brief period (until Dec. 16, 2000) in order to allow an attempt to achieve an administrative solution" to their claims.

Lawyers for Children, Inc. founded in 1984, provides free legal and social work services to children before the courts in foster care, abuse and neglect, termination of parental rights, and custody proceedings. LFC's experience in providing direct services to over 15,000 children has led to a commitment to impact litigation and innovative projects which enhance LFC's ability to advocate for and protect children in foster care.

Children's Rights works throughout the United States in partnership with national and local experts, advocates and government officials to document the needs of children in the care of child welfare systems. Children's Rights helps develop realistic solutions and, where necessary, uses the power of litigation to ensure that reform takes place.
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