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

MMLA logo Small.jpg

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.

2019 Legislative "Session Summaries" Available Online

Minnesota_State_Capitol.jpg

Each year, the Legal Services Advocacy Project (LSAP) compiles a comprehensive review (with citations) of the new laws that affect low‐income and financially‐fragile Minnesotans and the attorneys and advocates who serve and represent them.

These summaries address specific changes to Minnesota law made by the 2019 Legislature across all areas of poverty law practice. LSAP is pleased to announce that the 2019 Legislative "Session Summaries" are now available at http://mylegalaid.org/publications/.

SMRLS Attorney Named "Up & Coming" by Minnesota Lawyer

Headshot 1 (3).JPG

Every year Minnesota Lawyer magazine recognizes a group of attorneys within their first 10 years of practice who have already distinguished themselves by their achievements. Among them is Colin Laffey, staff attorney with the Agricultural Worker Program of Southern Minnesota Regional Legal Services (SMRLS).

“Being able to provide clients with the legal awareness of their legal rights, and then ideally seeing those cases through to an appropriate settlement or adjudication so they recover the wages, damages and penalties that they are entitled to — that is always a great feeling,” said Laffey.

Laffey and the 2019 class of Up & Coming Attorneys were honored at a Sept. 11th luncheon at the Hyatt Regency in Minneapolis. Read more about Laffey in Minnesota Lawyer.

Pro Bono Attorney Got Her Start at Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid

MMLA logo Small.jpg

Now an employment law associate at Best & Flanagan, LLP, Ashleigh Leitch credits her early experiences with Legal Aid in Willmar and the Minnesota Disability Law Center (MDLC) as crucial to her awareness of disparity and her commitment to justice.

Her inspiring story and subsequent work are featured in this month’s Attorney at Law Magazine Minnesota. In Getting It Done For Legal Aid, by Leykn Schmatz, Leitch recalls the guidance she received from deputy director Ann Cofell and how her work with clients changed her mind and heart. “Working at Legal Aid in my hometown helped me to recognize my privilege,” says Leitch.

Today Leitch is more committed than ever in supporting the mission of Legal Aid. After several years as a firm captain in The Fund for Legal Aid’s Associates’ Campaign, she joined the co-chair team last year. “The private bar needs to pick up as much funding and pro bono work as we can. We all took the same oath, we’re in it together, and we need to do our part to support Legal Aid. It’s our obligation.” Read the full article.