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United States v. State

United States District Court, S.D. Mississippi, Northern Division

May 13, 2019




         In 2016, the United States filed this lawsuit alleging that the State “unnecessarily requires thousands of adults with mental illness to receive services in State-run psychiatric hospitals” instead of community-based services, in violation of Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”). Docket No. 153 at 1.

         In December 2018, the State of Mississippi filed two motions for summary judgment, one alleging that the United States lacks standing to bring such a suit, and one alleging that it has not properly articulated a necessary element of the claim. Both motions are denied for the reasons below.

         I. Background

         In 1990, Congress passed the ADA “to provide a clear and comprehensive national mandate for the elimination of discrimination against individuals with disabilities.” 42 U.S.C. § 12101(b)(1). Congress instructed the Attorney General to issue regulations on the implementation of the ADA. Those regulations require that the government “administer services, programs, and activities in the most integrated setting appropriate to the needs of qualified individuals with disabilities.” 28 C.F.R. § 35.130(d).

         In 1999, the Supreme Court upheld the Attorney General's regulations and held that “under Title II of the ADA, States are required to provide community-based treatment for persons with mental disabilities when the State's treatment professionals determine that such placement is appropriate, the affected persons do not oppose such treatment, and the placement can be reasonably accommodated, taking into account the resources available to the State and the needs of others with mental disabilities.” Olmstead v. L.C. ex rel. Zimring, 527 U.S. 581, 607 (1999). Olmstead continues to serve as the seminal case on this matter.

         Against this backdrop, the Department of Justice (“DOJ”) has investigated, litigated, and worked with states around the country to ensure that their systems for mental health treatment uphold the purpose of the ADA, as articulated in Olmstead. In 2011 DOJ issued a findings letter regarding what it deemed to be the State's over-institutionalization of adults with mental illness and the lack of alternative community-based services. Then, the United States filed this lawsuit in August of 2016.

         In the complaint, the United States alleges that Mississippi over-relies on four state psychiatric hospitals that are “segregated, institutional settings that do no enable individuals living there to interact with non-disable persons to the fullest extent possible.” Docket No. 1 at 9. There are thousands of Mississippians who cycle in and out of the state hospitals each year, and many return for repeated, lengthy stays. According to the United States, on a randomly chosen day in 2014, 55% of the 206 patients housed on the short-term care unit at the Mississippi State Hospital had previously been admitted to the hospital two or more times. See Id. at 11. In a similar sampling of the long-term care unit, where the average length of stay is seven years, there was a man who had been housed at the State Hospital for over fifty years. See Id. at 12.

         The complaint also alleges that the over-institutionalization is compounded by a lack of appropriate discharge plans for individuals and the overall structure of the state mental health system. The United States ultimately claims that “Mississippi is aware that it unnecessarily relies on institutional settings and has not taken the action needed to remedy the violations of law[.]” Docket No. 1 at 21.

         During this litigation, the State has denied these allegations and asserted the “fundamental alteration defense” under Olmstead. See Docket No. 3. In December, the State filed two motions for summary judgment challenging the United States' standing and ability to prove a key element of its claim, as well as a Daubert motion challenging the reliability of its expert reports.

         Since the filing of the complaint, the parties completed discovery, where depositions were taken, and expert reports were produced. Both sides have invested significant time in litigating this case. A bench trial is set to begin on June 1, 2019.

         II. Legal Standard

         Summary judgment is appropriate when “the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). “Once a summary judgment motion is made and properly supported, the nonmovant must go beyond the pleadings and designate specific facts in the record showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. Neither conclusory allegations nor unsubstantiated assertions will satisfy the nonmovant's burden.” Wallace v. Tex. Tech Univ., 80 F.3d 1042, 1047 (5th Cir. 1996) (quotation marks and citations omitted). The Court views the “evidence and draw[s] reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the non-movant.” Maddox v. Townsend and Sons, Inc., 639 F.3d 214, 216 (5th Cir. 2011).

         “Even if the standards of Rule 56 are met, a court has discretion to deny a motion for summary judgment if it believes that ‘the better course would be to proceed to a full trial.'” Harris v. Bruister, No. 4:10-CV-77-DPJ-FKB, 2013 WL 6805155, at *2 (S.D.Miss. Dec. ...

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