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U.S. Supreme Court

Secretary of Pub. Welfare v. Institutionalized Juveniles, 442 U.S. 640 (1979)

Secretary of Public Welfare of Pennsylvania

v. Institutionalized Juveniles

No. 77-1715

Argued October 10, 1978

Decided June 20, 1979

442 U.S. 640


Appellees filed a class action in Federal District Court against the Pennsylvania Secretary of Public Welfare and the directors of three state mental health facilities, seeking declaratory and injunctive relief and contending that Pennsylvania's procedures for the voluntary admission of mentally ill and mentally retarded children to a state hospital violated the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Holding that the State's procedures were insufficient to satisfy the Due Process Clause, and that only a formal adversary hearing could suffice to protect children in appellees' class from being needlessly confined in mental hospitals, the District Court concluded that specified procedures were required before any child could be admitted voluntarily to a mental hospital.


1. The risk of error inherent in the parental decision to have a child institutionalized for mental health care is sufficiently great that some kind of inquiry should be made by a "neutral factfinder" to determine whether the statutory requirements for admission are satisfied. That inquiry must carefully probe the child's background and must also include an interview with the child. It is also necessary that the decisionmaker have the authority to refuse to admit any child who does not satisfy the medical standards for admission. Finally, the child's continuing need for commitment must be reviewed periodically. Parham v. J.R., ante, p. 442 U. S. 584, controlling. P. 442 U. S. 646.

2. Pennsylvania's procedures comply with these due process requirements. No child is admitted without at least one and often more psychiatric examinations by an independent team of mental health professionals whose sole concern is whether the child needs and can benefit from institutional care. The treatment team interviews the child and parents and compiles a full background history. If the treatment team concludes that institutional care is not in the child's best interest, it must refuse the child's admission; every child's condition is reviewed at least every 30 days. Pp. 442 U. S. 646-650.

459 F.Supp. 30, reversed and remanded. chanrobles.com-red

Page 442 U. S. 641

BURGER, C.J.,delivered the opinion of the Court, in which WHITE, BLACKMUN, POWELL, and REHNQUIST, JJ., joined. STEWART, J., filed a statement concurring in the judgment, post, p. 442 U. S. 650. BRENNAN, J., filed an opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part, in which MARSHALL and STEVENS, JJ., joined, post, p. 442 U. S. 650.


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