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Youngberg v. Romeo
Seal of the United States Supreme Court.svg
Supreme Court of the United States
Argued January 11, 1982
Decided June 18, 1982
Full case name Duane Youngberg, Superintendent, Pennhurst State School and Hospital, et al. v. Nicholas Romeo, an incompetent, by his mother and next friend, Romeo
Citations 457 U.S. 307 (more)
102 S. Ct. 2452; 73 L. Ed. 2d 28; 1982 U.S. LEXIS 128; 50 U.S.L.W. 4681
Prior history Certiorari to the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit.
Court membership
Case opinions
Majority Powell, joined by Brennan, White, Marshall, Blackmun, Rehnquist, Stevens, O'Connor
Concurrence Blackmun, joined by Brennan, O'Connor
Concurrence Burger

Youngberg v. Romeo, 457 U.S. 307 (1982), was a landmark United States Supreme Court case regarding the rights of the involuntarily committed and mentally retarded. Nicholas Romeo was mentally retarded with an infant level IQ and was committed to a Pennsylvania state hospital. He was restrained for many hours of the day and repeatedly injured.[1]

The Supreme Court agreed with the Third Circuit Court of Appeals that involuntarily committed residents had the right to reasonably safe confinement conditions, no unreasonable body restraints and the habilitation they reasonably require.

The defendants, who were management personal at Pennhurst State School, an old state mental retardation facility to which Romeo’s mother had him committed when she could no longer control him, did not dispute Romeo’s right to care, habilitation, training and security. The critical issue in the case was the standard of care and whether the defendants had violated that standard, and therefore, Romeo’s federally-protected civil rights. The federal courts had not yet addressed this question in the context of mental retardation. The trial court therefore looked to a then-recent Supreme Court decision holding that deliberate indifference to serious medical needs of prison-ers constitutes “unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain” in violation of the 8th Amendment. The jury found for the defendants. The 3d Circuit reversed and ordered a new trial, explaining that the standard of care should have been based on the 14th rather than the 8th Amendment and the Supreme Court agreed. However, the high court rejected the circuit court’s articulation of the standard of care.

The syllabus summarizes the court's holding:

“Respondent [Romeo] has constitutionally protected liberty interests under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to reasonably safe conditions of confinement, freedom from unreasonable bodily restraints, and such minimally adequate training as reasonably may be required by these interests. Whether [his] constitutional rights have been violated must be de-termined by balancing these liberty interests against the relevant state interests. The proper standard for determining whether the State has adequately protected such rights is whether profes-sional judgment, in fact, was exercised. And in determining what is ‘reasonable,’ courts must show deference to the judgment exercised by a qualified professional, whose decision is pre-sumptively valid.”

Shortly after it was remanded to the trial court the case was settled in conjunction with a state decision to close Pennhurst in 1986, and close all other such institutions.

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