Saving 60(B)(5): The Future of Institutional Reform Litigation

41 Pages Posted: 21 Oct 2015 Last revised: 27 Oct 2015

Date Written: October 20, 2015


Institutional reform decrees are one of the chief means by which federal courts cure illegal state and federal institutional practices, such as school segregation, cruel and unusual conditions in prisons and mental hospitals, and even insufficient dental services under Medicaid. The legal standards governing federal courts’ power to modify or dissolve institutional reform decrees, a crucial tool that can be used to safeguard or sabotage these decrees’ continued vitality, are rooted in Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b)(5). In Horne v. Flores, the Supreme Court tweaked Rule 60(b)(5) to make it easier for state and local institutions to modify or dissolve the institutional reform decrees to which they are bound. This Note argues that Horne has introduced considerable confusion and divergence among lower court approaches to the modification and dissolution of reform decrees, and has made it too easy for institutional defendants to escape reform decrees and thus federal oversight. At the same time, however, Horne rested on legitimate policy critiques of institutional reform litigation. This Note attempts to chart a middle ground between the doctrine’s detractors and defenders by making concrete proposals about how courts should resolve the confusion introduced by Horne. These recommendations would align the institutional reform doctrine with the policy critiques highlighted by the Court in Horne while still allowing for the effective vindication of constitutional rights.

Keywords: Injunctions, Institutional Reform, Institutional Reform Decrees, Institutional Reform Litigation, Civil Rights, Equity

Suggested Citation

Kelley, Mark, Saving 60(B)(5): The Future of Institutional Reform Litigation (October 20, 2015). Mark Kelley, Note, Saving 60(b)(5): The Future of Institutional Reform Litigation, 125 Yale L.J. 272 (2015).. Available at SSRN:

Mark Kelley (Contact Author)

Independent ( email )

No Address Available

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