HISTORY NOTE: Want to learn about court case? Read all about it

HISTORY NOTE: Want to learn about court case? Read all about it

It’s sometimes said that news is the first rough draft of history. Access Press is among the newspapers and other media outlets that has followed the case of Jensen et al v. Minnesota Department of Human Services et al. for more than a decade. 

The lengthy court case changed the way people with disabilities are treated in state institutions. It also led to renewed work on Minnesota’s Olmstead Plan, which spells out how the state will help people with disabilities participate fully in their home communities. 

The court case files are now part of the Minnesota Governor’s Council on Developmental Disabilities (MNCDD) online archives, for people to view for years to come. Almost all of the court documents have been placed online for easier reference. (Court documents with private information on class members have been redacted for privacy reason.)

The case was filed in summer 2009 by James and Lori Jensen on behalf of their son, Bradley J. Jensen; James Brinker and Darren Allen on behalf of their son, Thomas Allbrink, and Elizabeth Jacobs on behalf of her son, Jason Jacobs. The case centered on treatment of residents of the Minnesota Extended Treatment Options or METO facility in Cambridge. 

The plaintiff/parents wished to call out inhumane treatment of their family members. The case eventually became a class action, with many people involved. METO, which has since closed, was a program intended to serve people with developmental disabilities. 

Use of seclusion and restraint was called out as a significant problem, as excessive punishment for the residents. The plaintiffs contended that such treatment was unlawful and unconstitutional. 

The lawsuit was based in part on a report submitted by the Ombudsman’s Office for Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities, called Just Plain Wrong. The report concluded that some of the people within the METO system were being denied their constitutional right to live in a safe and humane living environment, free of unnecessary restraints, abuse and neglect. 

Rather than take the case to trial, the plaintiffs negotiated a settlement agreement that would help all people with disabilities in Minnesota, not just their own family members. The agreement demanded that METO be shut down, that the state update its rules about how people with developmental disabilities are treated, and that a Rule 40 Committee and an Olmstead Committee be created to make sure that updated policies were applied system-wide. 

The agreement also spelled out specific principles to be followed, such as: Olmstead’s “most integrated setting standard,” person-centered planning, positive behavioral supports, and the legislative intent to declare as a top concern, the safety and quality of life of people with developmental disabilities. The Jensen Settlement Agreement, as it came to be called, was a significant disability rights decision in Minnesota. 

Go to the MNCDD Jensen case website and use links to find selected court documents, including the original complaint filed in 2009, court orders, hearing notices, initial settlement agreements and the completed settlement agreement that was approved by Judge Donovan Frank on December 5, 2011. Although the case reached a significant milestone in fall 2020 with a change in court monitoring, more updates and filings are possible and will be added in the future. 

Additional resources:

Disability Justice: The Jensen Case

Access Press coverage: The Jensen Case


The History Note is a monthly column produced in cooperation with the Minnesota Governor’s Council on Developmental Disabilities. Past History Notes and other disability history may be found at on the MNCDD website.