U.S. Rep. Barney Frank has reintroduced a bill that would create new restrictions on class action lawsuits filed by federally funded entities against facilities housing people with disabilities.
The bill would create a time-limited avenue for residents with disabilities, through their legal representative, living in institutional settings to opt out of class action lawsuits.
When previously introduced, the bill applied only to the federal Protection and Advocacy groups. Under federal law, every state which accepts certain federal funds must also designate a Protection and Advocacy organization to advocate on behalf of people with disabilities.
The new version also relates to lawsuits filed by the Department of Justice, which has been active during the past few years enforcing the Supreme Court’s Olmstead decision. The decision prohibits unnecessary institutionalization by requiring states to provide services ensuring that people with disabilities live in the most integrated setting possible.
Disability rights groups, including the National Disability Rights Network, strongly opposed the bill in 2010, arguing it would lead to more cases of unnecessary institutionalization and that the Federal Rules of Civil Procedures already provide avenues to hear opinions from people with disabilities, and their legal guardians, in class action lawsuits.
The American Bar Association sent a letter to Congress June 15 in opposition to the bill.
“The ABA opposes this legislation as an unnecessary change in class action rules and a limitation on the ability of those representing individuals wiht disabilites to obtain protection for their legal rights in courts…Having a full range of appropriate remedies, including the use of a class action, has been a keystone to protecting the civil and legal rights of individuals with disabilites in all facets of their lives,” the letter states.
The only group in favor of the bill is the Voice of the Retarded, an organization that often opposes deinstitutionalization efforts.