Minnesotans With Disabilities Obtain Significant Legal Victory in Federal Class Action Lawsuit

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Minnesotans with disabilities obtained a significant legal victory on September 27, 2019, when a U.S. Federal District Court declared that the policies and practices of the Minnesota Department of Human Services (DHS) are violating their constitutionally protected due process rights. The ruling from the Court came in the lawsuit of Murphy v. Harpstead, which was filed by a group of individuals with disabilities who live in group homes, called corporate foster care, and who seek changes to Minnesota’s Medicaid service system so that they may live more independent and integrated lives in the community. In granting Plaintiffs’ Motion for Summary Judgment, U.S. Senior District Court Judge Donovan Frank determined that DHS is violating the due process guarantees of the Fourteenth Amendment and the Medicaid Act by failing to inform persons with disabilities that they are being denied a service to help them move to and live in the community. As the Court noted, DHS’s current policies and practices unlawfully force individuals to “wait indefinitely for requested services, never receiving an explanation on the status of the request, and without an opportunity to appeal” those service denials.

Judge Frank also denied DHS’s attempt to have the rest of the case dismissed, determining that Plaintiffs’ legal claims under the Americans with Disabilities Act and Medicaid Act will be allowed to proceed to trial. In denying DHS’ Motion for Summary Judgment, Judge Frank determined that “a systemwide remedy is the only way to provide relief” to improve the lives of people who seek to move out of group homes but are unable to do so under Minnesota’s current system. MMLA’s Litigation Director Justin Perl, lead counsel for the Plaintiffs, stated, “Actions speak louder than words. For decades, DHS has made promises to our clients to provide services in the most integrated setting, and yet it has failed to honor that legal obligation, even though it is responsible for running the very program at issue in the suit. The current system is chock full of problems, and we are prepared to take the case to trial to protect the rights of the class members who have waited too long for DHS to do its job. We believe this case will improve the lives of all individuals living in group homes, by informing them of their housing options and supporting people with disabilities in an integrated setting in the community, just like people without disabilities. We need a consistent statewide system, as Judge Frank recognized, not one that is often dependent on the county in which one lives. It is time for DHS to stop shirking its responsibility to some of the most vulnerable members of our society. If it chooses not to do so, we are prepared to take the matter to trial in order to protect the rights of our clients.”

Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid’s Disability Law Center is representing the Plaintiffs in the lawsuit with co-counsel Anthony Ostlund Baer & Louwagie P.A and Nichols Kaster PLLP.

Pamela Hoopes Honored with 2019 HCBA Excellence Award

Pamela Hoopes (Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid/Minnesota Disability Law Center)

Pamela Hoopes (Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid/Minnesota Disability Law Center)

Pamela Hoopes, legal director of the Minnesota Disability Law Center, will be recognized by the Hennepin County Bar Association (HCBA) with its 2019 Excellence Award. The awards honor bar members for their service to the local legal profession, the community, and the association. Hoopes will receive the Career Contributions to the Profession Award for nearly three decades of service through her leadership at Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid’s Minnesota Disability Law Center. She will retire at the end of May.

Hoopes and nine other honorees in various categories will be featured in Hennepin Lawyer magazine and will receive their awards at the HCBA Annual Meeting and Awards Luncheon on Thursday, May 30. Read more about the awardees and their contributions.

Minnesota Disability Law Center Produces Voting Rights Video

The Minnesota Disability Law Center (MDLC) of Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid has produced a 15-minute video about voting rights for people with disabilities in Minnesota. The video features members of the disability community, MMLA volunteers and staff, disability rights advocates, and Minnesota Secretary of State Steven Simon.  Viewers will learn about barriers to voting for people with disabilities, what changed with 2002’s Help America Vote Act, and the responsibilities of state and federal officials to provide accessibility. MDLC Attorney Justin Page explains what to do if something goes wrong during the voting process, and the video concludes with comments on the importance of voting if you are a disabled Minnesotan. 

Watch and share "Disability Rights: Voting in Minnesota." 

Disability Law Center Wins Class Certification Motion in Federal Court

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This fall, the Minnesota Disability Law Center of Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid (MMLA) was successful in obtaining class certification on behalf of individuals with disabilities who are unnecessarily segregated in corporate foster care facilities. A decision was issued by the United States District Court in Murphy et. al. v. Piper et. al, which certified a class action for individuals with disabilities who want to live near family and friends. With this ruling, the federal court is allowing a challenge to the statewide practice of overreliance on corporate foster care settings as housing for those with disabilities and its failure to provide persons with disabilities information and access to reasonable and individualized alternatives. Moreover, the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals refused to consider the Department of Human Services’ request to reverse the certification order, so the case will now proceed through discovery and trial, if necessary. In failing to provide citizens with disabilities the opportunity to live in individualized settings, Minnesota has not been consistent with federal law. One of the lawyers for the Plaintiffs, Sean Burke, stated "We simply want a system in place that allows individuals with disabilities to live where they want, like everyone else, and in the most integrated setting appropriate to their needs."

Legal Aid staff who were instrumental in the achievement of this action include staff attorneys Sean Burke and Christen Champman, litigation director Justin Perl, Steven Pincus, Peter McGelliot, and Joe Anthony of the Anthony Ostlund law firm (co-counsel), and supervising attorney Bud Rosenfield. The decision can be found here.