parens patriae

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Parens Patriae

[Latin, Parent of the country.] A doctrine that grants the inherent power and authority of the state to protect persons who are legally unable to act on their own behalf.

The parens patriae doctrine has its roots in English Common Law. In feudal times various obligations and powers, collectively referred to as the "royal prerogative," were reserved to the king. The king exercised these functions in his role of father of the country.

In the United States, the parens patriae doctrine has had its greatest application in the treatment of children, mentally ill persons, and other individuals who are legally incompetent to manage their affairs. The state is the supreme guardian of all children within its jurisdiction, and state courts have the inherent power to intervene to protect the best interests of children whose welfare is jeopardized by controversies between parents. This inherent power is generally supplemented by legislative acts that define the scope of child protection in a state.

The state, acting as parens patriae, can make decisions regarding mental health treatment on behalf of one who is mentally incompetent to make the decision on his or her own behalf, but the extent of the state's intrusion is limited to reasonable and necessary treatment.

The doctrine of parens patriae has been expanded in the United States to permit the attorney general of a state to commence litigation for the benefit of state residents for federal antitrust violations (15 U.S.C.A. § 15c). This authority is intended to further the public trust, safeguard the general and economic welfare of a state's residents, protect residents from illegal practices, and assure that the benefits of federal law are not denied to the general population.

States may also invoke parens patriae to protect interests such as the health, comfort, and welfare of the people, interstate Water Rights, and the general economy of the state. For a state to have standing to sue under the doctrine, it must be more than a nominal party without a real interest of its own and must articulate an interest apart from the interests of particular private parties.


Antitrust Law; Child Abuse; Children's Rights; Infants.

parens patriae

(paa-wrens pat-tree-eye) n. Latin for "father of his country," the term for the doctrine that the government is the ultimate guardian of all people under a disability, especially children, whose care is only "entrusted" to their parents. Under this doctrine, in a divorce action or a guardianship application the court retains jurisdiction until the child is 18 years old, and a judge may change custody, child support or other rulings affecting the child's well-being, no matter what the parents may have agreed or the court previously decided. (See: divorce, custody, child support, guardian, ward)

parens patriae

the jurisdiction of the court to assume responsibility for the welfare of those otherwise unprovided for, such as children or lunatics, regardless of whether there is statutory power.
References in periodicals archive ?
individuals or the State of Colorado as parens patriae seeking some sort
States possess this power through the doctrine of parens patriae: literally "parent of the country," parens patriae permits a state to bring an action as a single party on behalf of a number of its injured citizens.
On appeal, Justice Saunders was asked to decide whether Justice LeBlanc erred by failing to: (i) exercise his parens patriae jurisdiction so as to take account of children's distinct vulnerability; and (ii) find that the publication of the allegedly defamatory statements was evidence in itself of a serious risk of harm.
While taxes are the lifeblood of the government and while it depends upon taxation to serve the people for whose benefit taxes are collected, the State, for humanitarian reasons and as parens patriae, should grant these tax reliefs," Tan said.
ACA member companies have been targeted in a number of parens patriae lawsuits filed by private, contingent fee attorneys on behalf of state attorneys general, and ACA accordingly has a unique perspective on the constitutional issues raised when out-of-state defendants are compelled to defend against mass action-type claims in state courts.
The panelists, all of whom are state enforcers, will examine current and ongoing pricing investigations and enforcement actions in their respective states, as well as discuss the nexus between state consumer protection and false claims act statutes relative to pricing actions, parens patriae and class claims and off label claims relative to pricing actions.
Justice June Ross decided that she could use the court's parens patriae (the power of a court to deal with persons under a disability, particularly children) and that this power must be exercised in the best interests of the protected person.
The state may compel the treatment of mentally ill individuals under the principle of parens patriae and the state's police powers.
Child protection legislation, laws regulating the operation of hospitals, statutes governing health decision-making, as well as codes of professional ethics for health care professionals, may all be brought into play, along with the court's parens patriae jurisdiction.
unavailability of parens patriae standing, the absence of statutory
We argue that the government-initiated parens patriae actions are necessary to supplement, but not to supplant, the other three mechanisms in order to vindicate the larger societal injury.
However, if disagreement persists, it may be useful to apply to the court to exercise its parens patriae jurisdiction, given the tenuous legal basis of withdrawal of therapy in both Australia and New Zealand.