In 2009 the Department launched an aggressive effort to enforce the Supreme Court’s decision in Olmstead v. L.C., a 1999 ruling recognizing that the unjustified isolation of individuals with disabilities in institutional settings is a form of discrimination under the ADA. The Olmstead decision requires that people with disabilities be served in community-based settings when that is the most appropriate setting for their needs. This decision has often been called the Brown v. Board of Education of the disability rights movement.
On May 5, 2010, the Department filed a lawsuit against the State of Arkansas charging that the entire state developmental disability service system violates the ADA. The lawsuit alleges that Arkansas segregates hundreds of individuals with developmental disabilities in institutions, fails to provide services in the community, and has other discriminatory policies that essentially gives individuals the choice of receiving services in its institutions or no services at all. The lawsuit, filed in the federal court in Little Rock, seeks a court order requiring the state to correct its discriminatory service system. In a separate action, the Department goes to trial in Little Rock on September 8, 2010, in a case involving Arkansas’s largest institution for individuals with developmental disabilities, the Conway Human Developmental Center. That case involves both ADA claims and claims under the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act.
On May 24, 2010, the Department filed a brief as amicus curiae, or friend of the court, in Disability Rights New Jersey, Inc. v. Velez, a lawsuit alleging that the State of New Jersey has failed to implement its plan for transitioning individuals with developmental disabilities from institutional settings to community-based settings as required by the ADA and the Olmstead decision. The Department’s brief, filed in the federal court in Trenton, noted that the state has placed relatively few residents in community settings in recent years and expects that future placements will be made at a slower pace than anticipated in the state’s Olmstead plan, negatively impacting more than 2,000 residents who are qualified for and desirous of community placements. The Department urged the court to rule that the state must speed up its transition process.
On May 24, 2010, the Department filed a Statement of Interest in Williams v. Quinn, a lawsuit alleging that the State of Illinois relies on large institutions to provide long-term care services for individuals with mental illnesses and fails to offer services in community-based settings. (A Statement of Interest is similar to a brief filed as amicus curiae or friend of the court.) The parties had asked the federal court in Chicago to give preliminary approval of a proposed consent decree they had negotiated under which the state will provide community-based services to some individuals, and a group of 17 institutionalized individuals objected, claiming that the proposed decree lacks sufficient detail about how the plan will be implemented and funded, does not provide medical professionals enough authority for determining which residents are appropriate for community placements, and does not adequately explain the proposed attorneys’ fees. In its brief, the Department urged the court to give preliminary approval of the consent decree, which the court preliminarily approved on May 27, 2010. As in all class action cases, a “fairness” hearing will now be scheduled to give interested parties an opportunity to comment on the decree.
On May 24, 2010, the Department filed a Statement of Interest in Haddad v. Arnold, a lawsuit challenging the State of Florida’s requirement that a Medicaid-eligible woman with spinal cord injuries must enter a nursing home for sixty days as a prerequisite to receiving community-based services. The plaintiff in this lawsuit has quadriplegia as a result of a motorcycle accident and has been on the waiting list to receive community-based services since 2007. She resides in her home and was being assisted by her husband with daily living activities such as transferring in and out of bed, eating, and toileting. He continued to assist her for approximately two years after they were divorced. Her 24-year old son then stepped in to assist his mother, but he lives in another city and cannot continue to provide care for her. The Department’s brief, filed in the federal court in Jacksonville, argued that the woman is likely to win the lawsuit and should be provided with in-home services while the case is pending. On June 23, 2010, the federal court in Jacksonville issued a preliminary injunction requiring the state to provide in-home services to Ms. Haddad pending a final decision in this case.