Wilber v. Cate (formerly Morris v. Harper)

This lawsuit was filed in May 2000, challenging the failure of the California Youth Authority (now the Division of Juvenile Justice) to license its inpatient medical and mental health services as required by State law. At the time the lawsuit was filed, the Youth Authority was more than four years beyond the date the licensing requirements took effect, even though there was clear evidence that inpatient services were being provided at each of the correctional facilities. Youth Authority’s own reports established serious deficiencies in staffing, policies and procedures, record keeping, administrative oversight, and treatment protocols that would necessarily have to be addressed in the licensing process. In addition, particularly with respect to mental health care, there was evidence that many Youth Authority wards required inpatient services.


On November 28, 2000, Judge Ronald Quidachay of the Superior Court for the City and County of San Francisco granted the petition for writ of mandate. The judgment required Youth Authority to complete licensing at the three facilities where efforts were already under way, and to comply with the law either through licensing or alternative means of providing for inpatient needs at the other eight facilities. Youth Authority appealed.


On October 31, 2001, the California Court of Appeal for the First District, Division Two, emphatically affirmed the trial court judgment. The strongly worded opinion stated: “We cannot agree that this level of inaction can be characterized as a good faith effort to comply with the law. Indeed, the lack of any justifiable reason for the protracted delay is, at best, gross indifference to, if not outright defiance of, the mandates of the Legislature and the judiciary. That this apparent intransigence comes at the expense of the health of at-risk juvenile wards in this state is appalling. We trust that our displeasure at this state of affairs at CYA will be communicated to those in whom this important public trust is reposed. Morris v. Harper (2001) 94 Cal.App.4th 52, 60-61.”


The parties entered into a stipulated agreement in June 2002, setting new dates for compliance with the judgment, and detailing Youth Authority’s plans for handling inpatient services at the facilities where licensing will not occur; with a completion date of April 30, 2004. The case name changed from Morris v. Harper to Wilber v. Warner, and later became Wilber v. Cate, as administrators in state agencies changed.


The case remains active. Although the negotiated agreement called for the State to develop four correctional treatment centers – at the Northern California Youth Correctional Center, Heman G. Stark, Ventura and Southern Youth Correctional Center and Clinic, CYA (now renamed Division of Juvenile Justice) obtained a license for only two inpatient programs. This left the system without on site inpatient bed capacity in Northern California, and without a dedicated on- site inpatient unit for girls. YLC filed a new motion to enforce the judgment but agreed to continue the motion to determine whether the state’s response to Farrell v. Cate, which calls for an overhaul of the entire DJJ mental health system, will adequately address the need for inpatient services. YLC has continued to monitor the progress of the Farrell mental health remedial efforts, with the understanding that if those efforts adequately addressed inpatient needs, YLC would hold off on enforcement in Wilber. As of Fall 2009, the experts in Farrell found that inpatient mental health care needs are not adequately addressed by the system. With diminishing institutional population and repeated budgetary proposals to close the Division of Juvenile Justice, the number of youth requiring licensed inpatient care has changed, but these changes have also interposed unexpected barriers to providing inpatient care. Youth Law Center continues to monitor compliance.


Youth Law Center attorneys Sue Burrell, Alice Bussiere, and Maria Ramiu have served as counsel in this case.