Waiting List Does Not Violate Rights, Judge
By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
March 6, 2006
SALT LAKE CITY, UTAH--A federal judge has ruled that Utah's long waiting list for people with developmental disabilities does not violate the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.
The Disability Law Center, Utah's federally mandated protection and advocacy system, had filed a class action suit in December 2002, claiming that the state was putting the nearly 1,800 Utahns on the waiting list at risk for institutionalization by failing to develop a plan to provide community-based services for them.
According to the DLC's website, the agency had cited the 1999 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Olmstead v LC & EW, which found that unnecessarily segregating people with disabilities inside institutions violates the ADA's requirement that services be provided in the "least restrictive setting".
The DLC asked the court to order Utah's Division of Services for People with Disabilities to develop a written plan to address the waiting list through the use of Medicaid home and community-based waivers.
Last Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Dale Kimball issued his decision based on a four-day trial held in late January.
In his ruling, Kimball wrote that those on the waiting list are not "at imminent risk of institutionalization", and that the DLC's request to serve everyone on the list amounts to "an impermissible request for accommodation that would interfere with a comprehensive, effectively working process".
Kimball wrote that "while the court is sympathetic to the hardships and frustrations experienced by plaintiffs and their families," the DLC did not demonstrate that those on the list meet the "essential eligibility requirements" for waiver services.
Kimball said that the state already has a plan in place to deal with those on the waiting list, and that no proof was given to convince him that the state intentionally discriminated against them as a class. He added that the expense of accommodating those on the list -- approximately $8 million a year -- would cause the state to cut services to others served by DSPD.
The Deseret News reported that the state served about 4,250 Utahns with developmental disabilities last year with an annual budget of approximately $167 million.
"This opens an opportunity to have more dialogue with the advocate community," said Carol Sisco, public information officer for the Utah Department of Human Services. "We can sit down and talk to each other now -- we're not in litigation."
Fraser Nelson of the Disability Law Center said: "We certainly look forward to working with them to develop a plan to meet the needs of these citizens."
"We both share a common goal, which is to get efficient and effective services to people with disabilities."
The day Kimball's decision was announced, the legislature wrapped up its final session with a budget providing $2.6 million to move about 200 people off the waiting list.
"Long wait for state aid to disabled ruled legal" (Salt Lake Tribune)
"Disability Law Center files class action lawsuit against state for failing to provide critical services" (Disability Law Center)
"Fact sheet about M.A.C. v. Sundwall" (Disability Law Center)