Federal court rejects attempt by the state to dismiss lawsuit to end segregation of Ohioans with developmental disabilities

March 24, 2017 / developmental disabilities

Disability Rights Ohio (DRO) and its legal partners - the law firm of Sidley Austin, the Center for Public Representation (CPR), and attorney Sam Bagenstos - applaud the federal court decision in the case of Ball v. Kasich. Chief Judge Edmund A. Sargus, Jr., rejected arguments by Governor Kasich and other state officials to dismiss the class action lawsuit, which charges state officials with violating federal law by administering a service system that illegally segregates people with disabilities and denies them the right to live and work in the community. The decision means that the class action lawsuit challenging the institutionalization and segregation of individuals with disabilities will go forward.

The federal court's decision rejected a series of procedural arguments raised by the state defendants in an effort to challenge the court's authority to hear the case. Of particular note, the court did not agree that a one-time, time-limited settlement in a similar case that ended in 2009 could prevent these individuals from filing a new case for new wrongful conduct. The court noted that where "important human values" are at stake, even a small change in circumstances is enough to allow new legal claim.

"The court's decision is an important recognition of the significant legal rights at stake here for thousands of individuals with developmental disabilities in Ohio," said Michael Kirkman, executive director of Disability Rights Ohio. "Significantly, the Court recognizes that the provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act are broad enough to protect individuals who are on wait lists, and to address the isolation that they experience in their daily lives. This decision properly allows the case to be heard on behalf of people with disabilities in Ohio who are spending their lives in isolation because of the state's policies."

"Now that the Court has unequivocally rejected the State's efforts to use procedural ploys to avoid the issues in this case, we are hopeful that the State will recognize what is at stake for the thousands of class members and act to correct Ohio's illegal policies and practices," said Cathy Costanzo, executive director of the Center for Public Representation.

The class action lawsuit by Ohioans with intellectual and developmental disabilities was filed in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Ohio on March 31, 2016, against Governor John Kasich and the Directors of the Ohio Departments of Medicaid, Developmental Disabilities, and Opportunities for Ohioans with Disabilities. It asserts that Ohio is in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Supreme Court ruling in Olmstead v. L.C., which says that people with disabilities have the right to live, work and spend their days integrated into the community.

For years, Ohio has relied too greatly on institutions to provide services to individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Indeed, state officials acknowledge that Ohio's institutional "footprint is one of the largest in the United States." Nearly 6,000 individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities are institutionalized across the state in facilities with eight or more beds. Similarly, the state has channeled people with disabilities into segregated facilities, such as sheltered workshops and other equally segregated facilities, for day programming. This has resulted in a lack of opportunity for thousands of individuals who want to live, work or spend their days in integrated, community settings, but need home and community-based supports to do so. In addition, tens of thousands of individuals are waitlisted for home and community services - services the state has failed to provide. Families are struggling to keep their loved ones at home, but without needed supports the families are increasingly overwhelmed - and the person with disabilities is at risk of institutionalization.

In ruling that all the plaintiffs could go forward with their legal claims, the court relied in part on the Department of Justice's Statement of Interest and its position regarding the rights of individuals who are at risk of institutionalization to bring a lawsuit. The court also found that the Ability Center, as an organization that advocates for individuals with disabilities, could bring claims to challenge the state's illegal segregation of thousands of Ohioans.

"The Court's decision is a victory for the many people we serve in Northwest Ohio, who lack the support necessary to live independently in the community," said Tim Harrington, executive director of the Ability Center of Greater Toledo.

For more information about this case, visit our website.


Disability Rights Ohio is the federally and state designated Protection and Advocacy System and Client Assistance Program for the State of Ohio. The mission of Disability Rights Ohio is to advocate for the human, civil and legal rights of people with disabilities in Ohio. Disability Rights Ohio provides legal advocacy and rights protection to a wide range of people with disabilities. www.disabilityrightsohio.org

The Center for Public Representation is a non-profit, public interest law firm that seeks to improve the quality of life for individuals with disabilities - especially those who are institutionalized and discriminated against - and to enforce their legal rights to exercise choice and self-determination in all aspects of their lives. www.centerforpublicrep.org

The Ability Center of Greater Toledo is a non-profit Center for Independent Living (CIL) serving northwest Ohio. The Center is located in Sylvania, Ohio, and has two satellite offices in Bryan and Port Clinton, Ohio. The Ability Center believes in and supports equitable and inclusive communities for people living with disabilities. The mission of The Ability Center is to assist people with disabilities to live, work and socialize within a fully accessible community. www.abilitycenter.org

About Sidley Austin LLP: With 1,900 lawyers in 19 offices worldwide, Sidley has built a reputation as a premier legal adviser for global businesses and financial institutions. As global citizens, the firm also recognizes its profound responsibility to use its skills and experience to provide legal services to the underserved and disadvantaged individuals and organizations. Sidley's lawyers and staff devote more than 100,000 hours to pro bono projects annually and play a vital role in people's lives throughout the world, including through death penalty appeals, political asylum matters, civil rights litigation and veterans' benefits appeals. www.sidley.com

Make a Donation

Please give. To the best of your ability.