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New York State Association for Retarded Children v. Paterson (“Willowbrook Case” monitoring and enforcing injunction)

This is an ongoing case in which the NYCLU monitors and enforces an injunction concerning the rights of the developmentally disabled. From the early 1970s, the NYCLU has represented the plaintiff class in a landmark case asserting constitutional rights on behalf of people with mental retardation and developmental disabilities. These rights include protection from harm, a safe, clean and appropriate physical environment, high quality community residential and treatment services in the least restrictive setting and high quality case management and advocacy services. Accordingly, Willowbrook class members are entitled to certain levels of notice, or due process, with respect to community placements and programming. They are entitled to voice grievances; they are entitled to incident review and quality control and certification of residential and habilitative services. These rights have been ensured through a series of orders entered in the Willowbrook litigation, culminating in a permanent injunction, signed on March 11, 1993 and modified by stipulation in March 1995.

The current role of the NYCLU in the Willowbrook matter relates to the monitoring and enforcement of the permanent injunction, along with the New York Lawyers for the Public Interest. The monitoring will continue until the death of the last class member. 

E.D.N.Y., Index No. 72 Civ. 356, 357 (JRB) (direct) 

Editor’s note: The lead plaintiff in the NYCLU-led case was the New York State Association for Retarded Children, Inc., subsequently known as NYSARC, Inc. 

The term “intellectual disability” has replaced the term “mental retardation” nationwide. Advocates for individuals with intellectual disability have rightfully asserted that the term “mental retardation” has negative connotations, has become offensive to many people, and often results in misunderstandings about the nature of the disability and those people who have it. 

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