Deinstitutionalization Nationwide


Deinstitutionalization Nationwide — Tennessee

People First v. Arlington Developmental Center (1997) and U.S. v Tennessee (2005)
  • 2007 – The state decided to close the institution
  • 1996 – The defendants in People First quickly agreed to settle
  • 1995 – The Law Center was named intervenors in the S. case to represent the residents in the continuing proceedings
  • 1993 – S. v. Tennessee went to trial and the Court issued a ruling against Arlington
  • 1992 – The DOJ filed a similar lawsuit
  • 1991 – The Law Center with the People First of Tennessee brought a class action lawsuit, alleging that Arlington’s inhumane conditions violated the rights of its residents
  • 1990 – The U.S. Department of Justice began an investigation into Arlington Developmental Center

In 1990, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) began an investigation of the Arlington Developmental Center, a state-run institution for people with developmental disabilities in Tennessee. DOJ found the conditions in Arlington were dangerous: residents suffered abuse, neglect, inadequate medical care, and a general lack of services. The following year, the Law Center partnered with People First of Tennessee to bring People First v. Arlington, a class action alleging that Arlington’s inhumane conditions violated the rights of its residents. In 1992, DOJ filed a similar lawsuit.

Following the filing of DOJ’s lawsuit, the court dismissed the claims in People Firstcovered by the DOJ lawsuit, essentially leaving only a charge that Arlington had prevented residents from associating with disability rights advocates, a serious violation of their First Amendment rights. Meanwhile, U.S. v. Tennessee proceeded to trial, and in 1993 the court issued a ruling against Arlington, finding that the conditions violated the rights of its residents. The court soon after issued an order compelling the defendants to fix Arlington’s dangerous conditions. In 1995 we were named intervenors in the U.S. case to represent the residents in the continuing proceedings.

In People First, the court adopted the findings from the DOJ case and certified a class of all Arlington residents. The defendants then quickly agreed to settle in 1996, acknowledging violations of residents’ First Amendment rights and agreeing to change their policies and practices to allow for full freedom of speech and association.

Litigation in U.S. v. Tennessee continued intermittently for another decade, as People First and DOJ worked to force Arlington into compliance with the law. Ultimately, the state decided to close the failing institution in 2007.


A favorable settlement agreement was reached.

The Law Center partnered again with People First. The DOJ also filed a lawsuit and the two were consolidated.

The DOJ investigated the facilities at Clover Bottom Developmental Center.

In 1995, we partnered again with People First of Tennessee in a lawsuit against Tennessee on behalf of residents the state’s remaining institutions for people with developmental disabilities. The lawsuit built on a U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) investigation of the facilities in 1994, which found patterns of abuse and neglect, as well as a failure to educate school-age children in violation of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

DOJ filed a lawsuit in the same court soon after, and the two lawsuits were consolidated.

We quickly secured a favorable settlement agreement, which was approved in November of 1996. In the settlement, the state agreed to individually evaluate all citizens with developmental disabilities to determine their need for services, to develop community living arrangements with appropriate services, to improve living conditions in state institutions, and to provide education for all children with disabilities.