Heller v. Doe

PETITIONER: Heller, Secretary, Kentucky Cabinet For Human Resources
RESPONDENT: Doe, By His Mother And Next Friend, Doe, et al.
LOCATION: Mental Retardation Residential Treatment Center

DOCKET NO.: 92-351
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1991-1993)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit

CITATION: 509 US 312 (1993)
ARGUED: Mar 22, 1993
DECIDED: Jun 24, 1993

Kelly Miller - on behalf of the Respondents
William K. Moore - on behalf of the Petitioner

Facts of the case

A class of involuntarily committed mentally retarded persons brought suit against Kentucky in a Kentucky federal court challenging the constitutionality of the state's involuntary commitment procedures. The district court agreed that the procedures were unconstitutional and prevented the enforcement of the applicable statute. After multiple appeals, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit instructed the state to amend its procedures.


Do Kentucky's involuntary commitment procedures for retarded persons violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment?

Media for Heller v. Doe

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - March 22, 1993 in Heller v. Doe

William H. Rehnquist:

We'll hear argument next in No. 92-351, Leonard Heller v. Samuel Doe.

Mr. Moore, you may proceed whenever you're ready.

William K. Moore:

Thank you, Mr. Chief Justice.

May it please the Court:

This is a civil rights action brought under 42 U.S.C., section 1983 by Respondents, who in this case are Sammy Doe and the class that he represents, to challenge the procedures utilized in the Commonwealth of Kentucky for admission of mentally retarded persons to the residential facilities operated by the State.

The record contains more than 10 years of history of the State's efforts to comply with the requirements established by the courts below for those admissions procedures.

At the time the litigation began all admissions to the State's facilities were done on a voluntary basis.

The applications for admission were made by the local community health centers who had certified to the State that there were no less restrictive provisions available for the mentally retarded person.

There was nothing that was available for them in the community, and the State reviewed those applications by and through a... what they call a records review committee, which was a group of qualified mental health professionals or mental retardation professionals, to determine, in fact, whether or not the individual could best be served in one of the State's facilities.

If that committee determined that they could be so served to determine which facility the person would be placed in, the person was put on a waiting list, and when a space became available, they were then admitted to the facility on the application or signature of their guardian.

The guardian provided the substituted informed consent for the admission, and the admission was treated as voluntary.

The individual then had the right to be released at any time upon his or her request or upon the request of the guardian.

The initial decision of the district court reviewed those procedures, found that those procedures were in keeping with the procedures required by the Constitution except an additional procedure that the State had informally adopted which permitted the parents of mentally retarded children to essentially veto a decision or recommendation to place the children from a facility into a community setting.

Upon reconsideration--

William H. Rehnquist:

What does that mean, Mr. Moore, to say a decision to place the children from a facility into a community setting?

What... describe that in a little more detail, if you would.

William K. Moore:

--The commonwealth's services for the mentally retarded are operated through the Cabinet for Human Resources.

It's an umbrella agency.

It has a division called the Division of Institutional Care which operates the State's residential facilities.

There are four of those.

They are intermediate care facilities for the mentally retarded, intermediate care being the Medicaid reference--

William H. Rehnquist:

All I did was ask you to explain two phrases you used in an earlier statement.

Can you do that a little more shortly than you're doing it?

William K. Moore:

--Yes, Your Honor.

In addition to the residential facilities, there are also community facilities.

The record describes that the community facilities were also developed by the Cabinet for Human Resources, under contract with the local community health agencies, to provide group home type placements, placements in what they call alternate living units, where someone could live outside of the community... or outside of a residential facility in a more community like setting.

William H. Rehnquist:

A more community like setting is where they would have more freedom than they have in the so-called facility?

William K. Moore:

That's an issue which is subject to debate, Your Honor.

For many of the people that are subject to being admitted to the facility, their freedom is... the idea of freedom or the idea of liberty is very limited.

For some of those... the people that are in the facilities, virtually any four walls will make a prison.