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State Consent Decree Valid Despite Governor’s Objection

The state submitted a consent decree to plaintiffs and agreed to several changes; the day before it was to be presented to court, the Assistant AG repudiated it at the direction of the Office of the Governor, which had just learned of the litigation. Defendants argued that the department had lacked authority to consent to settlement. The district court rejected this argument and held the state to the decree based on the state's prior representation that the department head did have the authority to settle.

The validity of the consent decree depends on whether the people who agreed to it had actual authority under state law to do so. State law suggests that others besides the Governor have that authority. The record does not show whether the department head had that authority. The case must be remanded to determine whether the settlement had been approved by anyone with authority to do so. The matter does not turn on the state's prior representations to the court that the department head had authority, though the court is not precluded from sanctioning the state in other appropriate ways for failure to produce a person with settlement authority as ordered. See: King v. Walters, 190 F.3d 784 (7th Cir. 1999).

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Related legal case

King v. Walters