FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Barry C. Taylor, Equip for Equality, (312) 895-7317, email@example.com
Benjamin Wolf, ACLU of Illinois, (312) 201-9740 x320, firstname.lastname@example.org
Max Lapertosa, Access Living, (312) 253-7000 x131, email@example.com
John Grossbart, Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal LLP, (312) 876-8095, firstname.lastname@example.org
Federal Judge Gives Green Light to Class Action Seeking Community Services for People with Developmental Disabilities in Illinois
CHICAGO (March 13, 2006) --Thousands of Illinois' developmentally disabled residents moved a step closer to having a choice over where they live thanks to a recent ruling by a federal judge. U.S. District Court Judge James Holderman granted class action status in a lawsuit that charges the State of Illinois is violating the civil rights of people with developmental disabilities by effectively forcing them into large institutions rather than offering them the choice of living in smaller community settings.
"This ruling means that thousands of Illinois residents, in addition to the nine original plaintiffs, will benefit from any relief obtained in this lawsuit," said Barry Taylor of Equip for Equality, counsel for the plaintiffs. Equip for Equality is the federally-mandated protection and advocacy agency for persons with disabilities in Illinois.
"The judge's decision is an enormous step forward," said Max Lapertosa, a lawyer with Access Living, co-counsel in the suit. Access Living is Chicago's Center for Independent Living and works toward the full equality, inclusion, and empowerment of people with disabilities. "People with developmental disabilities have the right to choose to live in integrated community settings that best fit their needs. And that choice must remain with them, not with the State."
Seven years ago, the Supreme Court ruled that unnecessary institutionalization is discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act. As a result, most states have invested in community-based housing and services, but Illinois has dragged its feet. Illinois currently ranks 49th among states in its efforts to place people with developmental disabilities in small integrated settings.
"The situation in Illinois is reminiscent of Henry Ford's saying ‘You can have any color Model T you want, as long as it's black,'" said Benjamin Wolf of the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois, co-counsel in the case. "In Illinois, the State is essentially telling developmentally disabled adults they can live anywhere they want as long as it is an institution. The state's funding decisions have robbed people of any real choice about their living situation."
Under Judge Holderman's ruling, the plaintiff class is now comprised of people with developmental disabilities who are unnecessarily institutionalized in private state-funded institutions and those at risk of unnecessary institutionalization. The latter group includes those living with elderly parents who one day will no longer be able to care for them at home. Now, Illinois gives them no choice but institutionalized care.
Ultimately, plaintiffs in this case are seeking an order that would require the state to provide them a choice to live within a smaller community setting. Community living provides more independence, privacy, and integration in the community.
"I want to live with friends in a small house or apartment and have my own room," says plaintiff Stanley Ligas. "I can do a lot of things on my own, and I want to be able to cook for myself." Instead, Ligas has been forced to live in a large institution for the past 12 years in order to receive Medicaid services, despite his repeated requests to move into the community.
In his FY07 budget proposal, Governor Blagojevich failed to include any additional funding for community-based services for people with developmental disabilities. Advocates view this lawsuit as the only viable vehicle to achieve the State's compliance with federal law. "Now that we've cleared this important legal hurdle, we're looking forward to litigating this case to make a positive change in the lives of people with disabilities in Illinois," says John Grossbart, the partner at Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal LLP leading that firm's efforts.
The decision granting class certification follows previous rulings by Judge Holderman denying three Motions to Intervene filed by the Illinois Health Care Association, parents whose adult children live at Misericordia, and parents who are affiliated with Voice of the Retarded. In denying the motions to intervene, Judge Holderman found that the plaintiffs' complaint was simply seeking to provide people with developmental disabilities opportunities to choose where they live.
The plaintiffs are represented by four public interest organizations, Equip for Equality, Access Living, the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois and the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia, and the law firm Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal LLP, which is working in this case as trial counsel on a pro bono basis.
Reference: U.S. District Court, Northern District of Illinois, and Chicago
Case No. 1:05-cv-4331
Ligas et al v. Maram et al