Disability Rights Ohio and Legal Partners Respond to State Officials Seeking to Dismiss Class Action Lawsuit on Behalf of Ohioans with Developmental Disabilities

July 27, 2016 / developmental disabilities

Today, Disability Rights Ohio (DRO) and its legal partners - the law firm of Sidley Austin, the Center for Public Representation (CPR), and attorney Sam Bagenstos - forcefully responded to recently filed motions to dismiss its class action lawsuit charging state officials with violating federal law by administering a service system that denies people with disabilities the right to live and work in the community.

The class action lawsuit, initiated 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 in a community integrated environment.

The plaintiffs' response, filed by DRO and legal partners, highlights the systemic flaws of the current service system and the importance of this case to thousands of Ohioans who want the opportunity to live, work and spend their days in the community.

For years, Ohio has relied too much on institutions to provide services to individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Indeed, state officials acknowledge that Ohio's Intermediate Care Facility "footprint is one of the largest in the United States." More than 6,000 individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities are institutionalized in facilities with eight or more beds across the state. Similarly, the state has channeled people with disabilities into segregated facilities, such as sheltered workshops, for employment and equally segregated facilities for day programs. 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.

As a result, families are overwhelmed and struggling to support their loved ones because the system is failing them.

"I have been requesting integrated community-based services for Nathan ever since he became an adult, but I have repeatedly been told that our only option was to place Nathan on a waiting list, which he's been on now for four years," said Jeannine Narowitz, mother of class member Nathan Narowitz. "Nathan is an outgoing and charismatic young man who wants to work in his community, and be engaged in relationships with his peers. But until the state commits to fixing the problems in the system, I'm afraid Nathan will not realize his full potential." 

Only after DRO and its partners sent a demand letter to State officials seeking changes did the State make any new investments in home and community-based services to address this illegally segregated service system. But progress has been slow. A recent report showed that only five people have been enrolled in the expanded home and community-based waivers that the Department of Developmental Disabilities recently offered in its most recent budget. 

In spite of the urgency of these problems, the response of state officials to date has been to raise a series of procedural arguments that challenge the court's authority to hear the case and to have the case dismissed without a trial. For example, they argue that a case that ended in 2009 prevents this new group of individuals, with new concerns and violations, from filing a new case. Or that the Governor, who is chief executive of the state and makes all final decisions related to funding and policy for the state, doesn't have any accountability for any of the decisions leading to the illegal segregation of thousands of Ohioans.

"Although the state has refused to recognize the importance of the issues raised by the plaintiffs, Disability Rights Ohio and our partners will continue to advocate forcefully for our clients' rights," said Michael Kirkman, executive director of Disability Rights Ohio. "Our response today provides specific information and individualized examples of Ohio's discriminatory system, and will leave no doubt that this case must move forward."

For more information about this case, visit our website.

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