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Thursday, April 26, 2007

Right to Intervene in Community Placement Olmstead Litigation

In a lawsuit for community placement, which institutional residents are the plaintiff class? To what participation in the suit are residents satisfied with institutional care entitled?

This is an ADA class action by people with developmental disabilities who live in institutions but, with adequate services, could live in the community. As the appeals court put it, the suit’s purpose is “to hasten the state of Illinois down the road to community-based care.” The class is not yet certified.

The suit was not unanimously supported by other residents and families. Representatives institutional residents who do not wish to live in the community were worried they might be included in a class which they opposed. They asked the trial court to allow them to intervene in the case. The trial court denied the motion. In this recent decision, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals agreed that there is no right to intervene, nor is permissive intervention required.

The appeals court recognized the importance of these issues and the dramatic effect of the Americans with Disabilities Act on this sort of litigation. Citing Olmstead v. L.C., 527 U.S. 581 (1999), the court began by noting that “[t]his case arises in the context of a much larger debate over the proper way to provide care for the developmentally disabled.” However, Olmstead “has left the exact route to implementing this integration mandate somewhat murky.”

Because the complaint emphasized the need for the state to provide a “choice” between institutional and community services, and the proposed class consisted of people who “do not oppose” community placement, the court of appeals was satisfied that the proposed intervenors’ rights could not be impaired by the action going forward without their participation. In any event, the court found that the state defendants presumptively would provide adequate representation for the group who wanted to remain in institutional care.

The appeals court thus avoided clarifying the “murky” Olmstead standards and indicated that the lines set out in the class definition (separating those desiring placement from those opposing it) are sufficient to defeat motions to intervene such as these.

NOTE: For a decision on whether one has a right to live in institutional settings, see Richard C. ex rel. Kathy B. v. Houstoun, 196 F.R.D. 288 (W.D.Pa.1999), aff'd sub nom. Richard C. v. Snider, 229 F.3d 1139 (3d Cir.2000) (unpublished order).

Ligas v. Maram,
478 F.3d 771 (7th Cir. 2007).

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