Learn more about the historic Welsch versus Linkins court case

This issue of Access Press contains a story by Luther Granquist about a landmark court case for Minnesotans with disabilities. […]

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This issue of Access Press contains a story by Luther Granquist about a landmark court case for Minnesotans with disabilities. Granquist wrote the newspaper’s History Note for several years and worked at the Minnesota Disability Law Center. He was counsel for the plaintiffs in the case. 

Access Press is pleased to welcome him back for this issue, to recount the history of Welsch versus Likins. This month’s History Note provides additional resources for readers wishing to learn more. 

In August 1972, six residents of different Minnesota state hospitals, due to their developmental disabilities, filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota. The residents alleged that conditions in the institutions violated their constitutional rights under the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution.

Failure to provide an adequate program of habilitation violated the residents’ right to treatment under the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, as was the failure to develop less restrictive, community-based alternatives for care and treatment. Certain restrictions and conditions at the institution violated the cruel and unusual punishment clause of the Eighth Amendment. 

Richard Welsch in 1972 sought help from the Legal Aid Society of Minneapolis for his daughter, Patricia Marie. She was a resident of Cambridge State Hospital. He told Neil Mickenberg, an attorney there, that Patricia was at that “hellhole” and wondered if the attorney could do anything about it. 

Welsch had heard that Mickenberg and Jeffrey Hartje, another Legal Aid lawyer, had been told by state hospital professional staff that Cambridge and Faribault State Hospitals were ripe for the kind of lawsuits that had been brought in other states. 

On August 30, 1972, with the support of the Arc Minnesota, they sued state officials charging that the residents at Cambridge, Faribault and four other state institutions were denied their rights to habilitation and to live in less restrictive community settings. 

The lawsuit lasted for 17 years. The trials in the 1970s centered on Cambridge State Hospital. A trial in 1980 involving Faribault, Moose Lake, Brainerd and Fergus Falls State Hospitals led to a settlement that included Rochester, St. Peter and Willmar State Hospitals. Another settlement in 1987 led to a final dismissal of the case in 1989. 

Coverage of the court case gave the public an eye-opening picture of the difficult and at times tragic lives of people who lived in state institutions. 

Want to learn more about Welsch versus Likins? Go to The Minnesota Governor’s’ Council on Developmental Disabilities (MNCDD) website to learn more.

The council published a 45th anniversary history of the court case. Go to Welsch v. Linkins 

Another good resource is the website Disability Justice. Here is a link to some case history: Welsch v. Linkins

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 Governor’s Council on Developmental Disabilities website. 

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