Law School Case Brief
Olmstead v. L. C. by Zimring - 527 U.S. 581, 119 S. Ct. 2176 (1999)
Nothing in the Americans with Disabilities Act or its implementing regulations condones termination of institutional settings for persons unable to handle or benefit from community settings. Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, 42 U.S.C.S. § 12131 - 12134, provides only that "qualified individuals with a disability" may not be subjected to discrimination. 42 U.S.C.S. § 12132. "Qualified individuals," are persons with disabilities who, with or without reasonable modifications to rules, policies, or practices meet the essential eligibility requirements for the receipt of services or the participation in programs or activities provided by a public entity. 42 U.S.C.S. § 12131(2).
Respondents L.C. and E.W. suffered from intellectual and developmental disorders; L.C. was also diagnosed with schizophrenia, and E.W., with a personality disorder. Both women were voluntarily admitted to Georgia Regional Hospital at Atlanta (GRH), where they were confined for treatment in a psychiatric unit. Although their treatment professionals eventually concluded that each of the women could be cared for appropriately in a community-based program, the women remained institutionalized at GRH. Seeking placement in community care, L.C. filed a lawsuit in federal district court against petitioner state officials (collectively, "State") under 42 U.S.C.S. § 1983 and Title II. She alleged that the State violated Title II in failing to place her in a community-based program once her treating professionals determined that such placement was appropriate. E.W. intervened, stating an identical claim. The district court granted partial summary judgment for L.C. and E.W., ordering their placement in an appropriate community-based treatment program. The court rejected the State's argument that inadequate funding, not discrimination against L.C. and E.W. "by reason of [their] disabilities," accounted for their retention at GRH. Under Title II, the court concluded, unnecessary institutional segregation constituted discrimination per se, which could not be justified by a lack of funding. The court also rejected the State's defense that requiring immediate transfers in such cases would "fundamentally alter" the State's programs. On the State's appeal, the he court of appeals affirmed the district court's judgment, but remanded for reassessment of the State's cost-based defense. The district court had left virtually no room for such a defense. The appeals court read the statute and regulations to allow the defense, but only in tightly limited circumstances. Accordingly, the appeals court instructed the district court to consider, as a key factor, whether the additional cost for treatment of L.C. and E.W. in community-based care would be unreasonable given the demands of the State's mental health budget. The State was granted a writ of certiorari.
Was the appellate court's construction of the reasonable modifications regulation proper?
The Supreme Court of the United States affirmed the appellate court's judgment in substantial part. The Court held that the court of appeals' remand instruction was unduly restrictive. In evaluating the State's fundamental-alteration defense, the district court was required to consider, in view of the resources available to the State, not only the cost of providing community-based care to L.C. and E.W., but also the range of services the State provides others with mental disabilities, and the State's obligation to mete out those services equitably.
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