Thursday, October 08, 2015

6th Circuit Reopens Settlement of Suit Challenging Kentucky's Placements In Faith-Based Facilities

In Pedreira v. Sunrise Children's Services, Inc., (6th Cir., Oct. 6, 2015), the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals in a 2-1 decision essentially reopened an Establishment Clause lawsuit that had been settled after 14 years of litigation. At issue was the state of Kentucky's funding of treatment for abused and neglected children in facilities operated by Sunrise Children's Services, a Baptist organization. A Kentucky federal district court entered an order incorporating terms of a settlement between the parties and held that Sunrise had no standing to object to the settlement between Kentucky and plaintiffs challenging the funding.  (See prior posting.) The 6th Circuit however held that the district court's dismissal was effectively a consent decree, and before entering a consent decree the court is required to allow anyone affected by the decree to present evidence and have its objections heard. It emphasized that
the consent decree singles out Sunrise by name for special monitoring by the ACLU and Americans United; and in doing so, Sunrise argues, the decree subjects Sunrise to unique reputational harm. Thus, the decree denies Sunrise a chance to clear its name—and instead, over Sunrise’s objection, imposes the very reputational harm that Sunrise sought to avoid by means of 15 years of litigation. 
Judge Black dissented, saying: "After fourteen years of contentious litigation, the district court judge helped effectuate settlement of this case. His actions should be entitled to our deference."  Courthouse News Service reports on the decision.