Judge: Case alleging Ohio 'segregates' disabled can proceed

AP News
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Posted: Mar 24, 2017 3:15 PM

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — A federal judge has rejected requests by Ohio Gov. John Kasich and several state officials to dismiss a lawsuit that alleges the state has effectively segregated people with intellectual and developmental disabilities in institutions by failing to provide accessible community- or home-based services.

Judge Edmund Sargus Jr. said Thursday that sovereign immunity granted to the Republican governor does not apply in the case and the lawsuit can proceed. He said the state waives its immunity in such cases by accepting federal funds.

Disability Rights Ohio filed the complaint on behalf of six people the group says are, or are at risk of being, "needlessly institutionalized" because of barriers to more integrated residential, employment or day services.

The suit seeks class-action status for about 27,800 disabled people in similar situations.

Sargus rejected all the agency directors' legal arguments for dismissing the case. However, he rejected claims against Kasich that involved the Americans with Disabilities and Social Security acts, agreeing that both are federal laws that the governor has a limited role in enforcing.

Dan Tierney, a spokesman for the attorney general's office, said the state was disappointed with the judge's decision but was prepared to move forward to the next stage of litigation.

The state estimates about 6,400 disabled Ohioans live in so-called intermediate care facilities, which have eight beds or more. Providers are responsible for all aspects of the person's care, including medical needs, transportation and habilitation. The suit alleges most have little to no contact with their nondisabled peers.

"Their lives are highly regimented and controlled, with little privacy, independence, or personal autonomy," the suit says.

The state contends the lawsuit is based on inaccurate information, and says people who want to leave institutionalized settings now have an opportunity to do so.