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Seventh Circuit Holds Disabled State Residents Had Standing To Bring Action Against State Officials


HLD, v. 31, n. 7 (July 2003)

Seventh Circuit Holds Disabled State Residents Had Standing To Bring Action Against State Officials

Several Illinois residents (plaintiffs) who are developmentally disabled sued state officials, in their official capacity, for alleged violations of the federal Medicaid statute, the Rehabilitation Act, and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The district court dismissed the Medicaid claim and the Rehabilitation Act claim on the ground the plaintiffs lacked standing. The district court also dismissed the ADA claim based on the holding in Walker v. Snyder, 213 F.3d 344 (7th Cir. 2000), that only a state and not its officials can be sued for a violation of the ADA, and a state is immune from suit under the Eleventh Amendment. Plaintiffs appealed.

The Seventh Circuit affirmed in part, and vacated and remanded in part, the district court's judgment. Plaintiffs first argued that the state officials refused to write letters authorizing the addition of Intermediate Care Facilities for the Developmentally Disabled (ICF/DDs) in the northern part of the state, and the refusal violated the Medicaid statute, which directs that medical assistance be provided to eligible individuals. Plaintiffs live at home with their parents in the Chicago area, and the parents would prefer plaintiffs live in ICF/DDs. However, most ICF/DDs are in the southern part of the state far from Chicago, and plaintiffs wanted more ICF/DDs in the northern part of the state. The appeals court explained that the district court's ruling that none of the provisions of the Medicaid statute entitled plaintiffs to what they were seeking and therefore they did not have standing because they were not injured was a ruling on the merits and not on jurisdiction. The appeals court determined that plaintiffs only sought a plan, which might create vacancies in ICF/DDs near their homes, and the potential benefit to them from the relief they sought was speculative, but was not so speculative as to negate standing.

Finding that plaintiffs had standing, the appeals court turned to the merits of the Medicaid claim. Plaintiffs' claim fails, said the appeals court, because the Medicaid statute is a payment scheme and does not require the state to provide assistance through state hospitals. The Medicaid statute merely requires a determination of eligibility and prompt payment of funds for covered medical expenses. Plaintiffs had no right to require the state to provide services within certain distances of their parents' homes. The appeals court held that plaintiffs' Medicaid claim failed on the merits.

On the district court's determination that plaintiffs lacked standing to sue under the Rehabilitation Act, the appeals court found that plaintiffs clearly stated a claim under the Rehabilitation Act, but because the district court failed to explain why it concluded the plaintiffs had no standing, that part of the judgment had to be vacated and remanded.

On the issue of plaintiffs' claims against the state officials, the appeals court explained that such a suit is against the state and, unless the state consents to be sued, the suit is barred by the Eleventh Amendment. However, there is an exception to state immunity in the Civil Rights Act of 1964 for suits based on violations of the Rehabilitation Act. The appeals court also determined that there was no immunity for the ADA claim, and therefore, the dismissal of the plaintiffs' claims on those issues had to be set aside. Accordingly, the appeals court affirmed in part, vacated in part, and remanded in part the district court's judgment.

Bruggeman v. Blagojevich, No. 02-1730, 2003 WL 1793049 (7th Cir. Apr. 7, 2003) (6 pages). h21

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