A March 2010 decision in a New York court ordering the transfer of 4,300 people with disabilities from large institutional adult homes to smaller supported housing units is under appeal in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit.
Following seven years of litigation, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York ruled, in a 210-page decision in September 2009, that “virtually all” of the residents in the homes were not integrated to the extent required by the Supreme Court’s 1999 Olmstead decision, which outlawed unnecessary institutionalization for people with disabilities.
In response to the opinion, the state proceeded to filed a new proposal, but this too was rejected by the court in March, in favor of a proposal offered by the case’s plaintiff, Disability Advocates Inc.
In its March opinion, the court ruled that the state’s “proposed remedy is so egregiously deficient as to arouse suspicion that Defendants submitted the proposal knowing full well that the court would have to reject it.”
The state’s plan proposed building 1,000 supported housing units over a five year period. The state argued it could not construct the 1,500 units per year figure recommended by Disability Advocates Inc., and approved by the court, under some of the exceptions to implementation written in the Olmstead decision.
The state argued it could not afford to build that many units amid the economic crisis, using the Olmstead exception regarding implementation if the changes require the state to make a “fundamental alteration” in how it provides services to people with disabilities. The court countered that constructing the units would, in fact, cost less than retaining people with disabilities in large, institutional settings.
Under the Olmstead decision, the state also cannot transfer individuals from institutions to supported housing units over the individual’s objection. As a remedy, the state proposed a once annual “educational opportunity” to inform these residents about their choices. It also limited supported housing candidates to individuals “who are able to maintain their living environment’ shop and prepare meals, and manage their medication without ongoing assistance.”
The court stated the state’s plan could not educate the individuals to the extent necessary to make informed choices, and that it’s criteria for moving individuals to supported housing candidates is too restrictive.
The original lawsuit was filed with the assistance of the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law. The Justice Department filed an amicus brief in November 2009 on behalf of the plaintiffs. A trial date for the appeal has not been set.
Disability Advocates Inc. is part of the federally funded protection and advocacy system and a member of the National Disability Rights Network.