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Frederick L. v. Dep't of Public Welfare of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania

September 8, 2005

FREDERICK L.; NINA S.; KEVIN C.; STEVEN F., ON BEHALF OF THEMSELVES AND ALL PERSONS SIMILARLY SITUATED, APPELLANTS
v.
DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC WELFARE OF THE COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA;
*ESTELLE B. RICHMAN, IN HER OFFICIAL CAPACITY AS SECRETARY OF PUBLIC WELFARE FOR THE COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA
*(SUBSTITUTED PURSUANT TO RULE FRAP 43(C))



Appeal from the United States District Court For the Eastern District of Pennsylvania .D.C. No.: 00-cv-04510 District Judge: Honorable Berle M. Schiller.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Rosenn, Circuit Judge.

PRECEDENTIAL

Argued: July 12, 2005

Before: SLOVITER, McKEE, and ROSENN, Circuit Judges

OPINION OF THE COURT

This class action appeal is unique in that both parties have the same objective: the timely discharge of long-term mental health patients*fn1 from the Norristown State Hospital ("NSH"), a mental heath facility located in southeast Pennsylvania. The parties diverge, however, over the time frame for discharge, the number of patients to be discharged, and the perceived fiscal restraints hindering discharge.

Appellants ("Patients") are a class of mental health patients institutionalized at NSH who are statutorily eligible for deinstitutionalization and who therefore seek integration into community-based healthcare programs. Patients claim that because they are qualified and prepared for community-based services, their continued institutionalization violates the anti-discrimination and integration mandates of the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), 42 U.S.C. § 12131 et seq.*fn2 and 28 C.F.R. § 35.130(d) (1998),*fn3 and section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, 29 U.S.C. § 794*fn4 and 28 C.F.R. § 41.51(d) (1998).*fn5 Appellee is the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare ("DPW"),*fn6 the entity charged with the responsibility and duty to provide statewide mental health care. See 62 PA. STAT. ANN. § 1101.

In its first consideration of this case, the District Court ruled in favor of DPW, holding that under Olmstead v. L.C., 527 U.S. 581 (1999), the integration accommodation patients requested was unavailable at the time because it would require a "fundamental alteration" of Pennsylvania's mental health program in light of its limited economic resources and its obligations to other segments of the mentally disabled population. Frederick L. v. Dep't of Pub. Welfare, 217 F. Supp. 2d 581, 594 (E.D. Pa. 2002) ("Frederick L. I").*fn7

This court vacated and remanded for further evaluation of whether there was sufficient evidence to justify acceptance of Pennsylvania's "fundamental alteration" defense. Frederick L. v. Dep't of Pub. Welfare, 364 F.3d 487, 501 (3d Cir. 2004) ("Frederick L. II"). We based this determination largely upon DPW's failure to heed the Supreme Court's admonition in Olmstead that a state may avoid liability by providing "'a comprehensive, effectively working plan for placing qualified persons with mental disabilities'" in community-based programs with "'a waiting list that moved at a reasonable pace.'" Id. at 494 (quoting Olmstead, 527 U.S. at 605--606). Accordingly, we directed the District Court on remand to instruct DPW to devise a plan which would demonstrate a commitment to community placement "in a manner for which it can be held accountable by the courts." Id. at 500.

DPW offered post-remand submissions which the District Court credited as proof of the required commitment to deinstitutionalization. The Court, therefore, ruled in favor of DPW on remand. Patients have now appealed again. We vacate the Court's judgment in favor of DPW and remand for further proceedings not inconsistent with this opinion.

I.

The background of this case has been adequately set forth in the cases leading up to this appeal. See Frederick L. I, 217 F. Supp. 2d 581; Frederick L. II, 364 F.3d 487. Thus, we dispense with a factual recitation and proceed directly to the legal issues for discussion. We review the District Court's conclusions of law de novo and its factual conclusions for clear error. Goldstein v. Johnson & Johnson, 251 F.3d 433, 441 (3d Cir. 2001). In this appeal, Patients challenge DPW's compliance with this Court's mandate in Frederick II that it develop a plan for future deinstitutionalization of qualified disabled persons that commits it to action in a manner for which it can be held accountable by the courts. Frederick II, 364 F.3d at 500.

In their current brief to this Court, Patients argue that in our previous decision remanding to the District Court, we held that DPW could not meet its burden to prove its fundamental alteration defense with proof of its fiscal constraints because if every alteration requiring an outlay of funds were tantamount to a fundamental alteration, the ADA's integration mandate would indeed ring hollow. Patients also argue that in our previous decision we did not accept as sufficient proof DPW's past efforts toward deinstitutionalization and its good faith intention to further deinstitutionalize as quickly as possible given its fiscal constraints. Frederick L. II, 364 F.3d at 499. They similarly argue that we saw as insufficient to establish a fundamental alteration defense DPW's review of county and regional budget requests related to deinstitutionalization efforts and its individualized discharge planning for NSH residents.

Patients recognize that in delineating the balance between their interests in discharge to appropriate community placements and DPW's fiscal and programmatic constraints, this Court was informed by the Olmstead plurality's suggestion that the state could establish a fundamental alteration defense by demonstrating that it had a comprehensive, effectively working plan "to discharge persons who are unnecessarily institutionalized in more integrated settings" and "a waiting list that moved at a reasonable pace." Frederick II, 364 F.3d at 494, 498. Patients complain that against this backdrop, the plan submitted to the District Court by DPW fails to provide concrete, measurable benchmarks and a reasonable timeline for them to ...


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