Update: March 24, 2017
Disability Rights Ohio (DRO) and its legal partners – the law firm of Sidley Austin, the Center for Public Representation (CPR), and attorney Sam Bagenstos – applaud the federal court decision in the case of Ball v. Kasich. Chief Judge Edmund A. Sargus, Jr., rejected arguments by Governor Kasich and other state officials to dismiss the class action lawsuit, which charges state officials with violating federal law by administering a service system that illegally segregates people with disabilities and denies them the right to live and work in the community. The decision means that the class action lawsuit challenging the institutionalization and segregation of individuals with disabilities will go forward.
The federal court’s decision rejected a series of procedural arguments raised by the state defendants in an effort to challenge the court’s authority to hear the case. Of particular note, the court did not agree that a one-time, time-limited settlement in a similar case that ended in 2009 could prevent these individuals from filing a new case for new wrongful conduct. The court noted that where “important human values” are at stake, even a small change in circumstances is enough to allow new legal claim.
“The court’s decision is an important recognition of the significant legal rights at stake here for thousands of individuals with developmental disabilities in Ohio,” said Michael Kirkman, executive director of Disability Rights Ohio. “Significantly, the Court recognizes that the provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act are broad enough to protect individuals who are on wait lists, and to address the isolation that they experience in their daily lives. This decision properly allows the case to be heard on behalf of people with disabilities in Ohio who are spending their lives in isolation because of the state’s policies.”
“Now that the Court has unequivocally rejected the State’s efforts to use procedural ploys to avoid the issues in this case, we are hopeful that the State will recognize what is at stake for the thousands of class members and act to correct Ohio’s illegal policies and practices,” said Cathy Costanzo, executive director of the Center for Public Representation.
The class action lawsuit by Ohioans with intellectual and developmental disabilities was filed in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Ohio on March 31, 2016, against Governor John Kasich and the Directors of the Ohio Departments of Medicaid, Developmental Disabilities, and Opportunities for Ohioans with Disabilities. It asserts that Ohio is in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Supreme Court ruling in Olmstead v. L.C., which says that people with disabilities have the right to live, work and spend their days integrated into the community.
For years, Ohio has relied too greatly on institutions to provide services to individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Indeed, state officials acknowledge that Ohio’s institutional “footprint is one of the largest in the United States.” Nearly 6,000 individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities are institutionalized across the state in facilities with eight or more beds. Similarly, the state has channeled people with disabilities into segregated facilities, such as sheltered workshops and other equally segregated facilities, for day programming. This has resulted in a lack of opportunity for thousands of individuals who want to live, work or spend their days in integrated, community settings, but need home and community-based supports to do so. In addition, tens of thousands of individuals are waitlisted for home and community services – services the state has failed to provide. Families are struggling to keep their loved ones at home, but without needed supports the families are increasingly overwhelmed – and the person with disabilities is at risk of institutionalization.
In ruling that all the plaintiffs could go forward with their legal claims, the court relied in part on the U.S. Department of Justice’s Statement of Interest and its position regarding the rights of individuals who are at risk of institutionalization to bring a lawsuit. The court also found that the Ability Center, as an organization that advocates for individuals with disabilities, could bring claims to challenge the state’s illegal segregation of thousands of Ohioans.
“The Court’s decision is a victory for the many people we serve in Northwest Ohio, who lack the support necessary to live independently in the community,” said Tim Harrington, executive director of the Ability Center of Greater Toledo.
People with developmental disabilities have the right to live, work and pursue activities in their communities with the appropriate supports they need to be successful. Today, Disability Rights Ohio (DRO), the law firm of Sidley Austin, the Center for Public Representation (CPR), and attorney Sam Bagenstos filed a class action lawsuit against the state of Ohio seeking changes to the system that would give people with developmental disabilities real choices in how they live their lives. The Ability Center has signed on as a plaintiff in this case on behalf of those living with developmental disabilities.
Disability Rights Ohio (DRO), the law firm of Sidley Austin, the Center for Public Representation (CPR), and attorney Sam Bagenstos filed a class action lawsuit against the state of Ohio, including the Ohio Department of Developmental Disabilities, the Ohio Department of Medicaid, and Opportunities for Ohioans with Disabilities. The suit, filed in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Ohio and initiated on behalf of individuals with developmental disabilities who are trapped in institutions or are at risk of institutionalization because of Ohio’s illegal service system, asserts that the state is in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Supreme Court ruling in Olmstead v. L.C. Six named plaintiffs, as well as The Ability Center of Greater Toledo, will represent the class in the suit.
People with developmental disabilities have the right to live, work and pursue activities in their communities with the appropriate supports they need to be successful. Currently, state funding is provided for anyone to go into an institution, but state funding for community options is very limited. This often forces individuals to accept institutionalization as their only option. This lawsuit demands that these barriers be removed so that real options are available for community supports for all individuals with developmental disabilities and their families.
“Statewide, there are about 5,800 people with intellectual and developmental disabilities currently segregated in large intermediate care facilities (ICFs), and over 40,000 people are on waiting lists for waiver services that would allow them to have appropriate supports in the community,” says Michael Kirkman, Executive Director of DRO. “Of those, 22,000 individuals are at serious risk of institutionalization. Historically, these waiting lists are long and excruciatingly slow moving. As of 2013, the median wait time for people in ICFs to access home and community-based services exceeded 13 years. It is time to change the system and offer real community options that fit the individual needs of every person.”
“State officials acknowledge the need to rebalance the developmental disabilities system, but nonetheless continue to rely on segregated residential, employment and day services,” says Cathy Costanzo, Executive Director of the Center for Public Representation. “As a result, class members experience segregation in the places they live, work and spend their days, in violation of federal law.”
Tim Harrington, Executive Director of The Ability Center, states, “Ohio has invested for too long in segregated, institutional options instead of community opportunities. Ohio needs to give real options to people with developmental disabilities and their families so that they can live in the community with the care that they need, find jobs in the community with the help that they need, and pursue activities in the community with the support that they need.”
“For 150 years, Sidley has been committed to its community and actively providing pro bono legal services to non-profit organizations, such as DRO, CPR and The Ability Center,” said Neil Ellis, partner at Sidley Austin LLP. “We are extremely proud of our involvement in this case, which sheds light on the need for the state of Ohio to do more to implement the Supreme Court’s Olmstead decision and to provide community options to people with developmental disabilities. This is an important step towards enabling them to live meaningful and productive lives as fully integrated members of their communities.”
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Disability Rights Ohio is the federally and state designated Protection and Advocacy System and Client Assistance Program for the State of Ohio. The mission of Disability Rights Ohio is to advocate for the human, civil and legal rights of people with disabilities in Ohio. Disability Rights Ohio provides legal advocacy and rights protection to a wide range of people with disabilities. www.disabilityrightsohio.org
The Center for Public Representation is a non-profit, public interest law firm that seeks to improve the quality of life for individuals with disabilities – especially those who are institutionalized and discriminated against – and to enforce their legal rights to exercise choice and self-determination in all aspects of their lives. www.centerforpublicrep.org
The Ability Center of Greater Toledo is a non-profit Center for Independent Living (CIL) serving northwest Ohio. The Center is located in Sylvania, Ohio, and has two satellite offices in Bryan and Port Clinton, Ohio. The Ability Center believes in and supports equitable and inclusive communities for people living with disabilities. The mission of The Ability Center is to assist people with disabilities to live, work and socialize within a fully accessible community. www.abilitycenter.org
About Sidley Austin LLP: With 1,900 lawyers in 19 offices worldwide, Sidley has built a reputation as a premier legal adviser for global businesses and financial institutions. As global citizens, the firm also recognizes its profound responsibility to use its skills and experience to provide legal services to the underserved and disadvantaged individuals and organizations. Sidley’s lawyers and staff devote more than 100,000 hours to pro bono projects annually and play a vital role in people’s lives throughout the world, including through death penalty appeals, political asylum matters, civil rights litigation and veterans’ benefits appeals. www.sidley.com