Phyllis C. Panzano, Psychology Department, The Ohio State University, 1827 Neil Avenue, Columbus, OH 43210
Robert S. Billings, Psychology Department, The Ohio State University

The stances taken by 48 Community Mental Health Boards (plaintiff, non-party, intervenor, defendant) in a lawsuit against the mental health department were conceptualized as levels of resistance to institutional pressure. An expanded strategic issue diagnosis model (context --> frames --> working relationships --> organizational resistance) was used to explain this unusual interorganizational response.


This study examines litigation among organizations in the same system, which is an unusual and powerful event. In 1993, 53 Community Mental Health Boards were forced by an Ohio court to choose among four possible stances (e.g., plaintiff, defendant) in a lawsuit brought against the Ohio Department of Mental Health (ODMH). Plaintiff Boards contended that ODMH was in violation of the Mental Health Act (Act) by withholding funds owed to Boards to the care for severely mentally disabled (SMD) clients. The lawsuit was unexpectedly initiated shortly after we completed a survey of the Boards. The implementation of the Act was the focal issue in the survey and in the lawsuit. Thus, although we did not design the survey to predict this outcome, our theoretical framework allowed us to develop and test a model predicting response to the lawsuit.

The key elements of this model are as follows. Board stance is conceptualized as organizational resistance to institutional pressure using a typology developed by Oliver (1991). This organizational decision is also conceptualized as the product of strategic issue diagnosis, using Thomas, Shankster & Mathieu's (1994) model. In addition, as stance in the lawsuit is an interorganizational response, relationships among the organizations involved is a relevant concept. Our general conceptual model is presented in the top portion of Figure 1. Following a description of the research context, we discuss the specific components of the model.

Insert Figure 1 about here


ODMH directs the public mental health system within the state and provides funds to Boards, who control the system in their area and provide services to clients through local mental health agencies. Because ODMH depends on the Boards to carry out its community service mission and Boards rely on ODMH for the funds to provide services, Boards and ODMH have an agent-sponsor relationship. According to Oliver (1990), agents and sponsors are expected to be motivated by reciprocity, even when agents are heavily dependent on the sponsor for financial resources, although heavy reliance may increase an agent's susceptibility to domination and influence.

The linkage between Boards and ODMH is mandated; they are locked into an interorganizational relationship (IOR) with no option to dissolve the relationship, and Board responses are enacted within the institutional environment governed by ODMH. The Board response to the court-approved motion initiated by ODMH can therefore be interpreted within Oliver's (1991) framework of strategic responses to institutional pressure.


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