Due process, Equal Protection, civil commitment, state hosiptals, retarded children, civil rights


Civil rights action was brought on behalf of residents at Willowbrook State Hospital by their parents and guardians attacking the conditions and treatment offered violated due process and equal protection. The court refused to extend a right to treatment to patients civilly committed to state hospitals - forestalling an extension of such rights to the retarded. Plaintiffs sought to classify the vast majority of commitments as involuntary despite original admission data mandating due process protection. The court determined that a hearing with procedural safeguards would suffice and in certain situations the court may find the appointment of a guardian at law is an appropriate way to prevent harm. Although recognizing the alternative approaches which have been applied in the right to treatment area, the court took a big step and withheld. It limited the relief guaranteeing Willowbrook patients protection against harm and defined freedom from harm as limited to physical care. The decision fails to indicate where the right to protection from harm ends and the right to treatment begins. The court has assumed the initial responsibility of supervising defendant's compliance with its order. Currently, the right to treatment is a higher standard and would require training programs and the like to be implemented.



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