New York Advocates Hopeful Despite Ruling to Overturn Adult Home Decision
Mental Health Weekly April 16, 2012
A Court of Appeals ruled on April 6 that an advocacy group did not have the “standing” to bring a lawsuit against New York State for segregating
people with mental illness in adult homes, despite an historic ruling on the case three years ago that the state had violated the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Olmstead decision.
The lawsuit, Disability Advocates Inc. v. Paterson, represented a nearly decade-long battle to ensure that thousands of New York City adult home residents are integrated into the community. The lawsuit alleged that the adult homes, which house former psychiatric hospital patients, lack the
staff, resources or mandate to provide integrated housing and services to promote community living.
Disability Advocates, Inc., an Albany, N.Y.-based nonprofit organization that provides legal representation and advocacy on behalf of individuals with disabilities in New York, filed the federal lawsuit on July 1, 2003.
U.S. District Judge Nicholas G. Garaufis ruled on September 8, 2009 in favor of New York’s adult home residents by ruling that the state discriminated
against more than 4,000 people with psychiatric disabilities by placing them in adult homes and therefore not serving the residents in the “most integrated setting.” Advocates called the historic decision one of the most comprehensive and detailed Olmstead decisions (MHW, September 14, 2009).
On March 1, 2010 the Eastern District Court of New York ordered the state to afford all qualified residents an opportunity to move into supported housing where they can receive mental health and social services in their own apartments and homes. One year ago a federal Court of Appeals judge placed a hold on the order.
In the new ruling, the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit essentially vacated the ruling that New York’s practice of segregating more than 4,000 people with mental illness in large adult homes constitutes discrimination and violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
According to court documents, the Second Circuit acknowledged that its decision is unlikely to be the judiciary’s last word on the issue, which could end up back before U.S. District Judge Nicholas Garaufis.
“Should that situation arise,” the appellate court wrote, “we are confident that the experienced and able district judge, as a consequence of his familiarity with prior proceedings, can devise ways to lessen those burdens and facilitate an appropriate, efficient resolution.”
Cliff Zucker, executive director of Disability Advocates, Inc., plaintiff in the case, said that despite the setback, advocates are hopeful that something can be worked out with state officials and that people living in adult homes will have the opportunity to live in the most integrated setting in the community. “We’re talking with the state and we hope we can resolve this without further litigation,” Zucker told MHW.
The second circuit court found the earlier district court ruling by Garaufis to be “problematic,” he said. “The lower courts have always recognized this standing.”
Problem for Future or Existing Litigation?
What about Disability Advocacy groups in other parts of the country that are waging similar battles with other states for not providing opportunities
for consumers with mental health disorders to live in integrated settings.? “No other states are organized the same way,” said Zucker.
“This [situation] will have no impact outside New York State.” Jennifer Mathis, an attorney for the Judge David L. Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law, a plaintiff in the original lawsuit, concurs. “The DAI decision should have little or no impact on other states,” Mathis told MHW. “While the decision is very disappointing for New York’s adult home residents, who will not soon have the opportunity to move to supported housing as the trial court had ordered, it is based on the very narrow ground that Disability Advocates, Inc., the plaintiff, did not present enough evidence to show that it
had standing to bring the lawsuit.”
Mathis added that the appeals court focused on the fact that Disability Advocates is a contractor rather than the designated protection and advocacy system for people with disabilities.
“We hope to be able to resolve this matter with the state without new litigation, but if necessary we will refile the lawsuit with individual plaintiffs,” she said.“The Court of Appeals recognized that its decision would not end the matter.”
On February 9, the Bazelon Center filed a complaint on behalf of people with serious mental illnesses in, or at risk of being institutionalized in state-run facilities due to New Hampshire’s failure to provide community-based mental health services. The U.S. Department of Justice has also stepped in.
Potential Changes Looming
“The Administration is committed to helping vulnerable people live in more integrated settings and will pursue those solutions,” Leesa Rademacher, spokesperson for the New York State Office of Mental Health, told MHW. “The decision may lead to changes in how the interests of adult home residents are represented, potentially complicating future litigation; we will not speculate on that.”
Advocates say they are not swayed by the recent setback.
“While we’re disappointed that the ruling was rejected by the appeals court on a technicality we’re hopeful that Gov. [Andrew] Cuomo will do the right thing for adult home residents with psychiatric disorders,” Harvey Rosenthal, executive director of the National Association of Psychiatric Rehabilitation Services (NYAPRS), told MHW.
Rosenthal pointed to a recent New York Times article in which the governor voiced his commitment to improving the quality of care for vulnerable populations and supporting opportunities for community living for people with disabilities.
“The governor has shown “strong leadership” in this area,” he said. Rosenthal added, “Moving people with disabilities into integrated settings is the centerpiece of the governor’s disability policy. The governor will forge ahead; it shouldn’t take a court order to bring adults residents into the community.”
Advocates are also encouraged that there is $16 million in the state budget to move residents in New York City into supportive apartments.
Adult Home Advocates Hopeful Despite Legal Setback
New York Nonprofit Press April 10, 2012
Advocates appear hopeful that New York State will move to provide supportive housing for individuals with mental illness living in New York City Adult Homes- despite last week’s legal setback vacating a federal court order that had required corrective action. On Friday, a federal appeals court overturned a 2010 order by U.S. District Judge Nicholas Garaufis requiring the state to create 4,500 supportive housing units for Adult Home residents. The Court of Appeals said that Disability Advocates Inc. (DAI), the plaintiff in the case, did not have legal standing to bring the litigation.
In its response, DAI noted that Friday’s decision did not question Judge Garaufis’ original findings that adult homes are institutions and that New York State is violating the Americans with Disabilities Act. Resolution of the appeal sets the stage for either further litigation or negotiations towards a possible settlement of the issue.
“We hope New York State will negotiate a remedy to end the unnecessary institutionalization of adult home residents,” said Cliff Zucker, the Executive Director of DAI. “We will work with New York to solve this problem, hopefully without the need for future litigation.”
DAI and other advocates appear hopeful that the State will now be prepared to take action on its own – without the need for further litigation. They point to Governor Cuomo’s commitment in his State of the State address to “develop an Olmstead Implementation Plan that will guide the transition of individuals from institutional to community-based care, provide access to affordable and accessible housing and promote employment of persons with disabilities.”
“This administration has shown a commitment to community integration that goes far beyond its predecessors,” says Zucker.
They also cite the existence of $16 million in this year’s budget which, while originally earmarked for possible implementation of Judge Garaufis’ order, is already dedicated to creating supportive housing for Adult Home residents.
“It shouldn’t take a court order to bring long awaited justice to thousands of New Yorkers whose road to recovery and independence out of state hospitals got stranded in the dead end of long time confinement in adult homes that were not designed for them, but were convenient places to put them,” said Harvey Rosenthal, Executive Director of New York Association of Psychiatric Rehabilitation Services (NYAPRS). “We appear to have the right leadership, the money and the right time to bring justice to adult home residents.”