On July 22, 2013, attorneys from United States Department of Justice Civil Rights Division (DOJ) filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida against the State of Florida. The DOJ alleged that nearly two hundred children with disabilities were unnecessarily segregated from their communities and the general population by the State, which had placed them in nursing homes. The DOJ sought an injunction requiring the State to comply with Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), 42 U.S.C. § 12131-12134, which, as interpreted by the Supreme Court in Olmstead v. L.C., 527 U.S. 581 (1999), forbids the unnecessary institutionalization of disabled individuals, and mandates that their rehabilitative and medical needs be provided in a manner that enables disabled individuals to be independent and integrated members of the community. The federal regulations implementing the ADA require that disabled recipients of government benefits receive those benefits in the most integrated setting," i.e., and environment that "enables individuals with disabilities to interact with nondisabled persons to the fullest extent possible..." 28 C.F.R. § 35.130(d), App. B., at 673 (2011).
According to the DOJ's complaint, the unnecessary institutionalization of children denies them the opportunity to develop bonds with family and limits their ability to interact with people without disabilities. The DOJ also asserted that placement in nursing homes denies children important experiences that contribute to healthy child development. The nursing homes in which these children were institutionalized resembled hospitals, with children housed in rooms shared by one to three other patients. According to the DOJ's complaint the facilities did not prove adequate, age-appropriate stimulation. The children had limited very limited control over how they spent their time. The complaint provides as an example an instance an institutionalized teenager asked to be taken in his wheelchair to an activity area. The teen was taken to a room where he was left with a group of toddlers listening to nursery rhymes.
The DOJ also alleged that Florida's policies and practices of limiting community-based services and its reductions to these services, and the State's unnecessarily burdensome recertification processes for individuals receiving these services, put at risk of unnecessary institutionalization children who were dependent on these services and who received care in their family homes or in small, community-based facilities. The complaint noted that Florida's reimbursement rates for home-based health services had not been raised or modified since 1987. The complaint also noted that the State's reductions to in-home care services coincided with an increase in the number of children placed in nursing facilities. In 2004 there were about 136 spots in nursing facilities designated to serve children, and by 2012, more than two hundred children resided in such facilities, in addition to a significant number of adults who remained in the facilities after entering as children.
In September 2012, after conducting a six-month investigation, the DOJ had provided notice to Florida that it had found the State to be in violation of the ADA. The complaint acknowledges that Florida had made some improvements to its policies, but alleged that the State's processes for transitioning institutionalized children into community-based settings remained deficient. After several months of negotiations, the DOJ determined that the State would not comply with the ADA requirements voluntarily, and therefore it filed this suit.
The DOJ sought injunctions barring Florida from failing to provide adequate community-based services and support for institutionalized disabled children and those children at risk of institutionalization. They also sought compensatory damages for injuries suffered by these children as a result of Florida's failure to comply with Title II of the ADA, and a declaratory judgment holding Florida to have violated the ADA.
On June 26, 2014, the Court consolidated this case with another pending case, A.R. v. Dudek
, No. 0:12-cv-60460-WJZ in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida, and ordered that no more filings occur with this docket entry. The consolidated case is in the Clearinghouse as PB-FL-0007. Alex Colbert-Taylor - 07/23/2013
Andrew Junker - 11/06/2014