Monday, April 9, 2012

Disabilities-rights judgment dismissed for lack of standing

After a five-week trial, Disability Advocates -- a non-profit organization -- succeeded in challenging the State of New York's treatment of certain disabled persons, persuading the district court that, “[i]n carrying out their administration of New York’s mental health service system, [d]efendants have denied thousands of individuals with mental illness in New York City the opportunity to receive services in the most integrated setting appropriate to their needs.” The district court entered injunctive relief against the state, requiring that New York provide apartments and small group homes for thousands of adult disabled persons who were being "warehoused" in large adult homes. A glorious day for Disability Advocates.

The case is Disability Advocates, Inc. v. Cuomo, decided on April 6. The Second Circuit, after deliberating for more than a year, and with assistance from a ton of amicus briefs, says that Disability Advocates had no standing to bring this suit. This means the judgment is thrown out, as if the lawsuit never happened. A terrible day for Disability Advocates, and its constituency.

Organizations can sue on behalf of other people under the "associational standing" doctrine. The Supreme Court says that an association has standing to bring suit on behalf of its members when: "(a) its members would otherwise have standing to sue in their own right; (b) the interests it seeks to protect are germane to the organization’s purpose; and (c) neither the claim asserted nor the relief requested requires the participation of individual members in the lawsuit."

Disability Advocates is not a membership organization; it is an advocacy group, a "Protection and Advocacy Group" under federal law, to be exact. Under a contract, this organization exercises some of the authority of New York's protection and advocacy system for the disabled. But they have no standing to bring this action. The Second Circuit (Cabranes, Parker and Korman [D.J.]) reasons:

[T]here is scant evidence in the record that the individuals with mental illness whom DAI purports to represent have the power to elect its directors, make budget decisions, or influence DAI’s activities or litigation strategies. For instance, the record does not contain the contract between [the Commission of Quality Care and Advocacy for Persons with Disabilities] and DAI. Nor does it contain agendas, minutes, or other evidence regarding the quarterly meetings between DAI and [the Commission on Quality Care]; names and descriptions of the members of the Advisory Council; or ways that individuals with mental illness convey information, requests, or inquiries to the Advisory Council. Finally, the record does not establish that DAI ever notified its “constituents” or any of their legal guardians that it was filing this suit purportedly on their behalf. Accordingly, DAI has failed to satisfy its burden of establishing the elements of its purported associational standing.
Now, the United States did intervene in this case. It did so after the liability phase of the case. But since the federal court had no jurisdiction over the case in light of Disability Advocates' lack of standing, the U.S. cannot intervene in the case, because the case should not have been filed by Disability Advocates. The Second Circuit notes that the U.S. can initiate its own lawsuit and resubmit the same evidence that Disability Advocates introduced at trial. Seems unduly duplicative, but there is no other way, other than disabled individuals themselves bringing suit. The Court says, "We are not unsympathetic to the concern that our disposition will delay the resolution of this controversy and impose substantial burdens and transaction costs on the parties, their counsel, and the courts. Should that situation arise, we are confident that the experienced and able district judge, as a consequence of his familiarity with prior proceedings, can devise ways to lessen those burdens and facilitate an appropriate, efficient resolution."

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

A terrible shame, all those years spent going in one direction. I watched the argument at the circuit, together with many people with mental illness who could have been class members, and I could not help but think they should have been. From the questions they asked, I think the judges felt the same -- all of them.