By: Duke Truong
J.D. Candidate, 2017
Valparaiso University School of Law
Over 23,000 mentally disabled people were on the waiting list to receive housing and medical care from any of the eight state-operated developmental centers (SODC) in Illinois. Another 600 were in emergency situations awaiting services. The State of Illinois could not provide essential services to those on the waitlist because it already cared for nearly 25,000 people. In 2012, Illinois planned to close roughly a third of its SODCs to save costs. The state chose to close the Warren G. Murray Development Center, an SODC. Residents of Murray faced relocation due to the planned closure. The state tried to shift the residents of the SODCs to community-based facilities because it is cost effective.
Before the residents are moved, the state must assess their fitness. The assessment determines what kind of facility the disabled person will be placed in. Standing in the state’s way were the guardians of the Murray residents; the guardians wanted to prohibit the state from carrying out the assessment without their consent. The Illinois League of Advocates for the Developmentally Disabled represented the plaintiffs. They sued the Illinois Department of Human Services under 42 U.S.C. § 12132 of Title II of the American with Disabilities Act. Plaintiffs alleged discrimination by a public entity.
The guardians claimed treatment of residents at community-based facilities are worse than at SODCs. In addition, the guardians claimed the state left them with no other choice but to accept the relocation of the wards. Plaintiffs filed for a preliminary injunction against the assessment and transfer of the wards. The case went before the district court of Northern Illinois. The district court denied the plaintiff’s request. Plaintiffs appealed to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals.
Judge Posner, Manion, and Hamilton presided over Illinois League of Advocates for the Developmentally Disabled, et al. v. Illinois Department of Human Services, et al. and affirmed the district court’s holding. Plaintiffs failed to prove mistreatment of their wards at community-based facilities. The judges relied on factors such as emotional benefits of community-based facilities, the likelihood of residents having his or her own room, and the lack of irreparable harm on the plaintiffs in affirming the decision.
First, the judges reasoned that community-based facilities are emotionally beneficial for the residents. Being near stores, parks, restaurants, or movie theaters bring emotional benefits that allows them to feel free. Second, the chances of residents having his or her own room is better than at SODCs where less than 29 percent have their own room. Community-based facilities are less crowded than SODCs. Finally, the judges thought that granting the preliminary injunction would impose irreparable harm on the state because of the financial distress.
SODCs are isolated medical centers cut off from society. Although the mentally disabled are severely hindered in life, it does not mean that they cannot experience the joy of being a part of the community. Academic studies show that severely disabled persons feel less isolated at community-based facilities. Yes, parents or guardians should have the ultimate say in the care of their wards, but at times the state is in a better position to know what’s best in weighing the options of care.