(CN) - The Baltimore Social Services Department cannot overturn a 23-year-old ruling that laid out reforms for the city's foster care system, and a 2009 settlement it reached after reports of neglect and mistreatment cropped up again, the 4th Circuit ruled.
A class of foster children had sued the department, as well as several other city and state foster care officials, 26 years ago, claiming civil rights abuses in the system had stemmed from bureaucratic mismanagement. The latest ruling in the case, released Jan. 26, notes that the class children in foster care were allegedly "suffering physical abuse, sexual abuse, medical neglect and otherwise being subjected to dangerous living conditions."
Shortly after the case was filed, the court issued an injunction setting out substantial improvements to be implemented in the Baltimore foster care system. In 2002, the class found that social services officials had been fudging the data to suggest compliance with the court's decree. When the department began using its offices as emergency shelters for needy children, the class discovered "disturbing conditions, with children sleeping on the floor, unable to shower or change clothes, and subsisting on a diet of fast food."
A federal judge was set to approve a new settlement in June 2009, but the city officials claimed that a new Supreme Court ruling "changed the law in a way that deprived the district court of subject matter jurisdiction to enforce the 1988 decree," according to the 4th Circuit.
The judge disagreed, ruling to enter the 2009 settlement, and the federal appeals panel in Richmond, Va., affirmed the decision on appeal.
Judge Allyson Duncan, on behalf of the court's three-judge panel, wrote that the city officials did not prove that a footnote of the Supreme Court ruling created "a significant change in the law."
"Given that Footnote 6 did not address either the actual statute upon which the judgment in the case was based or the court's continuing authority to enforce it, such a holding would require a significant logical leap unsupported by the footnote's sparse language," Duncan wrote.
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