March 24, 2017
COLUMBUS, OH – 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.