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Sciarrillo v. Christie

United States District Court, Third Circuit

December 13, 2013

ROSEMARY SCIARRILLO, by and through her guardians, Joanne St. Amand and Anthony Sciarrillo, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
CHRISTOPHER CHRISTIE, Governor of the State of New Jersey, et al., Defendants.

OPINION

STANLEY R. CHESLER, District Judge.

This putative class action, filed by thirty-five developmentally disabled individuals ("Plaintiffs") who currently receive services at two state-run developmental centers, seeks to prevent the State from closing those centers and moving Plaintiffs to other treatment facilities. The Complaint asserts causes of action under three federal statutes - the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), the Rehabilitation Act ("RA"), and the Social Security Act - as well as a § 1983 constitutional due process claim. Defendants[1] have filed a motion to dismiss these claims, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). [Docket Entry 4.] Plaintiffs oppose. [Docket Entry 13.] In addition, the United States of America has filed a Statement of Interest, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 517, which argues that Plaintiffs have failed to state ADA and RA causes of action. [Docket Entry 7.] The Court has considered these submissions, and will rule on the motion without oral argument, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 78. For the reasons that follow, Defendants' motion will be granted, and the Complaint will be dismissed with prejudice.

I. Background

This lawsuit arises out of the State of New Jersey's decision to close two state-run residential care facilities for the developmentally disabled, Woodbridge Developmental Center ("WDC") in Middlesex County and North Jersey Developmental Center ("NJDC") in Passaic County. (See Compl. at ¶¶ 121-22.) In broad terms, the Complaint alleges that Defendants are "downsize[ing] or depopulate[ing]" the NJDC and the WDC "without regard to the needs of the individual Plaintiffs, " who are all profoundly disabled adults residing at one of the two Centers. (See id. at ¶ 119.) According to the Complaint, Defendants plan to move Plaintiffs out of WDC and NJDC; to this end, Defendants have offered Plaintiffs the choice between a "community placement" - i.e., "small group homes, nursing homes, and other settings with smaller populations" - and a move to a different Developmental Center located "over one hundred miles away." ( Id. at ¶¶ 110, 118(d).) Being moved out of the NJDC and WDC will result in the denial to Plaintiffs of "access to their current high level of treatment and services, " (id. at ¶ 130), and the decision to close the two Centers has exposed or will expose Plaintiffs to a "significant risk of harm." ( Id. at ¶ 90.)

By this lawsuit, Plaintiffs' ask the Court to prevent their relocation, as well as the relocation of a class of similarly situated individuals who have been residents of NJDC or WDC since August 1, 2012. Applying language from the Supreme Court's decision in Olmstead v. L.C. ex rel. Zimring , 527 U.S. 581 (1999), Plaintiffs argue that an involuntary transfer out of NJDC or WDC constitutes discrimination in violation of Title II of the ADA, 42 U.S.C. § 12131, as well as § 504 of the RA, 29 U.S.C. § 794(a). According to Plaintiffs, Olmstead provides them a right to oppose the State of New Jersey's decision to move them from institutional care to a more integrated community setting. (See Compl. ¶ 132-35 ("there is no federal requirement that community-based treatment be imposed on patients who do not desire it'" (quoting Olmstead , 527 U.S. at 602).)

Plaintiffs also seek relief pursuant to (1) the Medicaid portions of the Social Security Act and related regulations, and (2) the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. As to the former, the Complaint alleges that Medicaid provides Plaintiffs with a host of rights - including the right to oppose a "discharge or transfer" from NJDC or WDC - and also prevents Defendants from moving Plaintiffs to facilities that are "significantly distant" from family members or guardians. (See id. at 47-50.) As to the latter, the Complaint alleges what amounts to two separate theories of liability. First, Defendants will violate Plaintiffs' substantive due process rights by moving Plaintiffs to non-institutionalized residences that will "substantially increase [Plaintiffs'] likelihood of injury and death from abuse, neglect, error, lack of appropriate services, and other causes." (See id. ¶¶ 168-71.) Second, Defendants have violated Plaintiffs' substantive due process rights by providing inferior care for Plaintiffs' safety and well-being during the downsizing of NJDC and WDC. (See id. ¶¶ 172-74.)

II. Discussion

A. Legal Standard

A complaint will survive a motion under Rule 12(b)(6) only if it states "sufficient factual allegations, accepted as true, to state a claim for relief that is plausible on its face.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal , 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atlantic v. Twombly , 550 U.S. 554, 570 (2007)). "A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Id . (citing Twombly , 550 U.S. at 556). Following Iqbal and Twombly, the Third Circuit has held that, to prevent dismissal of a claim, the complaint must show, through the facts alleged, that the plaintiff is entitled to relief. Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside , 578 F.3d 203, 211 (3d Cir. 2009). While the Court must construe the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, it need not accept a "legal conclusion couched as factual allegation." Baraka v. McGreevey , 481 F.3d 187, 195 (3d Cir. 2007); Fowler , 578 F.3d at 210-11; see also Iqbal , 556 U.S. at 679 ("While legal conclusions can provide the framework of a complaint, they must be supported by factual allegations."). "Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, will not suffice." Iqbal , 556 U.S. at 678.

B. The ADA and Rehabilitation Act Claims[2]

The ADA was enacted in 1990 "to provide a clear and comprehensive national mandate for the elimination of discrimination against individuals with disabilities." 42 U.S.C. § 12101(b). The ADA recognizes that "historically, society has tended to isolate and segregate individuals with disabilities, and despite some improvements, such forms of discrimination against individuals with disabilities continue to be a serious and pervasive social problem." Id . § 12101(a)(2). Consistent with this statement of purpose, Title II of the ADA prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities by public entities: "no qualified individual with a disability shall, by reasons of such disability, be excluded from participation in or be denied the benefits of the services, programs, or activities of a public entity, or be subjected to discrimination by any such entity." Id . § 12132. Title II's integration regulation, promulgated by the Attorney General, requires public entities to "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). The "most integrated setting" is defined as one that "enables individuals with disabilities to interact with nondisabled persons to the fullest extent possible...." 28 C.F.R. Pt. 35, App. B at 673.

In Olmstead v. L.C. ex rel. Zimring , the Supreme Court addressed the question of whether the ADA's "proscription of discrimination may require placement of persons with mental disabilities in community settings rather than institutions." 527 U.S. at 587. The Court held that the answer to that question was a qualified yes: under Title II "[u]njustified isolation" in an institution can, in certain circumstances, be "properly regarded as discrimination based on disability." 527 U.S. at 597. The Court provided a three factor analysis to determine when a State must place a mentally disabled individual in a community setting, as opposed to an institution:

[1] when the State's treatment professionals have determined that community placement is appropriate, [2] the transfer from institutional care to a less restrictive setting is not opposed by the affected individual, and [3] the placement can be reasonably accommodated, taking into account the ...

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