Judge denies class action status for disabled housing rights lawsuit
Housing rights for the developmentally disabled in Illinois won’t change for now, after a court ruling that dismisses the class action portion of the Ligas v. Maram lawsuit.
U.S. District Court Judge James Holderman, rejected an agreement between the plaintiffs and defendants, that would have required the state to create a service plan for all individuals with developmental disabilities before enrolling them in a private Intermediate Care Facility (ICF) or a waiver-funded community based program. In his ruling the judge wrote that the agreement was much “broader than was necessary to address the needs” of the class members. Holderman also dismissed the case’s class action status because the definition for class members was too broad and the plaintiffs in the case didn’t have “sufficient commonality.”
For some, the ruling is a step back in a case that could have expanded or created new programs for the developmentally disabled in housing placement. The plaintiffs argued that many developmentally disabled people who are eligible for Community Integrated Living Arrangements (CILA) are not being placed in these settings because the services they need are not available in current programs, or there aren’t enough spaces in current community programs to fill the need.
But for those associated with intermediate care facilities, the decision is a victory. With the state’s budget crisis, ICF supporters felt that a court order to funnel more money to community living arrangements could jeopardize services and funding at institutions. They feared this gradual shift could lead to some institutions closings, where many developmentally disabled residents have thrived while receiving the care they need.
Although the class action case cannot move forward, the nine plaintiffs can file individual lawsuits. Barry Taylor, counsel for the plaintiffs and the legal director for Equip for Equality, a non-profit advocacy group for the developmentally disabled, said the case hasn’t been dismissed and that the court still has to determine whether Illinois is in compliance with federal law. A status hearing will be held on July 30.
One of the plaintiffs’ arguments was that Illinois isn’t in compliance with the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Olmstead v. L.C. The Supreme Court ruled that unnecessarily institutionalizing a person with developmental disabilities is discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act if that person could live in the community with some support. The ruling required states to create comprehensive plans to evaluate those who are, or who are at risk of, being institutionalized unnecessarily.
Taylor said Illinois continues to rank last among the states in providing community based living options for the developmentally disabled. He said the developmentally disabled have a civil right to choose where they live and that the state must grant these rights, under the Olmstead ruling. Although the class decertification is disappointing, Taylor said, the groups involved in the case will keep pushing for change to make more housing options available to the developmentally disabled.
“This outdated system does not serve our friends, neighbors, family members and colleagues with developmental disabilities,” Taylor said. “The struggle to enforce their civil rights did not end with this ruling.”
William Choslovsky, an attorney who represented a group of developmentally disabled people on a waiting list for the Misericordia Heart of Mercy facility, said they are pleased that the judge listened to their arguments against the settlement. In addition to their dissenting comments from a hearing on July 1, Holderman received 2,500 written objections to the agreement. Choslovsky said the ruling recognizes that the needs of the disabled are too varied to be lumped together in a one size fits all solution. He said “expanding choice for some should not come at the expense of eliminating choice for others.”
“The judge’s decision demonstrates that what is lacking most in Illinois is not choice, but rather funding for all the existing choices, be they for small homes, large homes, or something in between,” Choslovsky said. “Illinois’ current budget crisis makes it painfully clear that everyone’s focus should be on making the disability pie bigger for all –not robbing Peter to pay Paul.”
To read coverage of the Ligas v. Maram fairness hearing and for more background on the case, click on the July 2009 archive link and go to the July 2, 2009 blog post, “Housing Rights Choice Rests with Judge.”