Texas settles disabilities lawsuit
Americas, August 20 2013
The Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division announced that it has joined with private plaintiffs in entering an interim settlement agreement with the state of Texas intended to enable Texans with intellectual and other developmental disabilities to live in community settings rather than nursing facilities. The interim agreement calls for the state to begin expanding community alternatives to nursing facilities for thousands of persons with these types of disabilities, while the parties temporarily suspend their ongoing litigation and work to negotiate a comprehensive settlement of all remaining issues in the case.
The litigation involves claims that the state has not complied with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), other federal statutes and the Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Olmstead v. L.C. in ways leading to the needless institutionalization of people with intellectual and other developmental disabilities in nursing facilities.
“We applaud the state’s commitment to initiate steps providing real options to Texans with intellectual and other developmental disabilities, so that they can live and engage in their own communities, rather than spend their lives in nursing facilities,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights Jocelyn Samuels. “The Supreme Court made clear more than a decade ago that people with disabilities must be provided the same opportunities to participate in community life as those without disabilities. This agreement is an important step to making that promise a reality in Texas.”
The interim agreement offers meaningful improvement in the lives of people like plaintiff Eric Steward. After spending nearly a decade in a nursing facility, Mr. Steward recently moved to his own home in San Antonio and, for the first time, attended the city’s annual celebration and street festival. There are thousands of people who remain unnecessarily segregated, and the interim agreement will help ensure that they, like Mr. Steward, have opportunities to live their lives as they want.
The interim agreement calls for the state to identify people with developmental disabilities in nursing facilities, inform them about community options and help those who want to move to the community receive the services that they need there, instead of in a nursing facility. In addition, the state will establish a system to help divert people from avoidable nursing facility admission.
Private plaintiffs filed suit against the state in 2010, represented by Disability Rights Texas, the Center for Public Representation, and the law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP. The Justice Department intervened in the case in 2012. The department and private plaintiffs subsequently entered into extensive settlement negotiations with the state, leading to this interim agreement. It is the Department of Justice’s first statewide settlement to vindicate the Olmstead rights of individuals in nursing facilities.
The Civil Rights Division enforces the ADA, which authorizes the Attorney General to investigate whether a state is serving individuals in the most integrated settings appropriate to their needs. Please visit http://www.justice.gov/crt and http://www.ada.gov to learn more about the ADA and other laws enforced by the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.
This agreement is due to the efforts of Alison Barkoff, Special Counsel for Olmstead Enforcement and the following staff members of the Civil Rights Division, Special Litigation Section: Jonathan Smith, Chief ; Benjamin Tayloe, Deputy Chief; Robert Koch, Regan Rush and Alexandra Shandell, Trial Attorneys; and Gary Graca, paralegal