Nicholas Garaufis, U.S. District Judge, approved a comprehensive settlement agreement that will provide approximately 4,000 residents of 23 large “adult homes” in New York City the opportunity to live in their own homes. “Adult homes” are large board and care homes serving primarily people with serious mental illnesses.
Attorneys for the residents and the U.S. Department of Justice reached the landmark agreement with New York State, ensuring that residents with serious mental illnesses will receive the financial assistance and services they need to live in their own homes and to integrate into their communities.
The settlement will allow these residents “to blaze their own trails, pursue their hopes and dreams,” as one resident told Judge Garaufis at the January 9, 2014, hearing on the settlement agreement.
“I miss cooking,” another adult home resident told Judge Garaufis at the January hearing. “I miss hot chocolate in my microwave, and cut flowers that I could afford to buy every now and then, and when I feel stuck, and with support, I think I could go back to being where I was. I’d like the opportunity to do that.”
Another resident testified that the adult homes have denied “basic rights that other people so freely enjoy.”
“Thanks to this settlement, the plaintiffs, and other class members, can look forward to the life they deserve in their own community-which is what federal law requires,” said Andrew Gordon, a litigation partner at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP, which represented the adult home residents in this matter.
“We applaud Judge Garaufis for approving this model settlement agreement today, and the Cuomo administration for its leadership in ending the needless isolation and segregation of thousands of New Yorkers with mental illnesses in adult homes,” stated Cliff Zucker, general counsel of Disability Rights New York (formerly Disability Advocates Inc.). “As Judge Garaufis noted, relief for adult home residents is long overdue.”
“Virtually all adult home residents with mental illnesses can live in their own homes and thrive as full members of their communities,” stated Ira Burnim, legal director of the Judge David L. Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law. “Many of these residents have waited years, some decades, to leave these institutions and lead lives like the rest of society.”
“This is a great day for the civil rights and human dignity of people warehoused in adult homes,” said Jota Borgmann, senior staff attorney at MFY Legal Services, Inc. “At the fairness hearing, one resident compared living in an adult home to being a ‘farm animal,’ and told the court that in an adult home you ‘lose an edge of your humanity.’”
“Judge Garaufis’ approval of this settlement agreement means New York City’s adult home residents can finally take their lives back,” stated Veronica S. Jung, senior staff attorney at New York Lawyers for the Public Interest. “This victory has been a decade in the making. The real test of our victory is in the state’s implementation of the agreement, to quickly assess and move adult home residents into housing in the community. These residents are ordinary people who look forward to returning to jobs, families, and living independently in the community.”
“We are pleased to see that this settlement has the approval of the court,” said Mara Kuns, staff attorney at the Urban Justice Center. “The agreement seeks to realize the civil rights of adult home residents.”
Led by Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton, and Garrison LLP, plaintiffs’ legal team sought to resolve claims that New York State is violating the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Supreme Court’s Olmstead decision by failing to afford adult home residents an opportunity to live in the “most integrated setting” appropriate to their needs. The U.S. Department of Justice sought to resolve similar claims. After extensive negotiations, the residents, the U.S. Department of Justice, and the state reached this landmark agreement which will end the unnecessary segregation of thousands of people with mental illnesses.
Under the agreement, the state will provide as many scattered-site, supported housing units as necessary to afford all adult home residents with serious mental illnesses the opportunity to live in the most integrated setting appropriate to their needs, and will provide and maintain community services and supports including but not limited to: Care coordination; Psychiatric rehabilitation services; Employment services; Assistance with taking medication; Home health care; Personal assistance services; Assertive community treatment; and Crisis services.
The court appointed Clarence J. Sundram to serve as the independent reviewer to assess the state’s compliance with the settlement. Sundram has a long history of working on behalf of people with disabilities. He founded and chaired for over 20 years the New York State Commission on Quality of Care and Advocacy for Persons with Disabilities. More recently, he has served as the Governor’s Special Advisor on vulnerable persons.
The plaintiffs are represented by Disability Rights New York, the Judge David L. Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law, MFY Legal Services, Inc., New York Lawyers for the Public Interest, Urban Justice Center and Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, LLP.
Disability Rights New York is the state’s designated Protection and Advocacy System for people with disabilities. Its mission is to protect and advance the rights of adults and children with disabilities so that they can freely exercise their own life choices, enforce their rights, and fully participate in their community life.
The Judge David L. Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law (www.bazelon.org) is a national legal-advocacy organization representing people with mental disabilities. It promotes laws and policies that enable people with psychiatric or intellectual disabilities to exercise their life choices and access the resources they need to participate fully in their communities.
MFY Legal Services envisions a society in which no one is denied justice because he or she cannot afford an attorney. To make this vision a reality, MFY provides free legal assistance to residents of New York City on a wide range of civil legal issues, prioritizing services to vulnerable and under-served populations, while simultaneously working to end the root causes of inequities through impact litigation, law reform and policy advocacy.
The Urban Justice Center serves New York City’s most vulnerable residents through a combination of direct legal service, systemic advocacy, community education and political organizing.
New York Lawyers for the Public Interest (NYLPI) advances equality and civil rights, with a focus on health justice, disability rights and environmental justice, through the power of community lawyering and partnerships with the private bar. Through community lawyering, NYLPI puts its legal, policy and community organizing expertise at the service of New York City communities and individuals. NYLPI’s partnership with the private bar strengthens its advocacy and connects community groups and nonprofits with critical legal assistance. NYLPI is the recipient of the 2010 New York Times Awards for Nonprofit Excellence.
Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP is a firm of more than 800 lawyers who collaborate with clients to help them solve their most challenging legal problems and achieve their business goals. The firm has an unwavering dedication to representing those in need, and its pro bono efforts continue to benefit individuals and society.
This article was reprinted with permission from the Judge David L. Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law.