Judge rejects Minnesota Olmstead plan

Young Man getting his Mail, seated in his wheelchair
Minnesota to improve Olmstead plan

U.S. District Judge Frank Donovan, in a ruling issued May 6, ordered the state of Minnesota to continue improving its plan for integrating thousands of previously institutionalized people with disabilities.

In 2011, the Minnesota Department of Health of Human Services reached a settlement in a class-action lawsuit, requiring it to pay $2 million to 200 people unnecessarily subjected to physical restraints in the state’s institutions, and to create an “Olmstead Plan” within 18 months. Olmstead refers to the Supreme Court’s 1999 Olmstead v. L.C. decision, when it ruled that the unnecessary institutionalization of people with disabilities violates the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The latest order is the third time that the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota has rejected the state’s plan.

“The Court urges the State to apply the same passion, care and concern for individuals with disabilities that the State proclaimed at the time of the agreement,” Judge Donovan wrote in the order. “Nearly three years have passed since the Court approved the Settlement Agreement, and yet the record before the Court indicates that many of the improvements heralded by the State have yet to be realized …”

“The time has come to truly serve the best interest of individuals with disabilities within the State of Minnesota.”

The Court first rejected the state’s Olmstead Plan in November 2013, which was issued five months after the state’s original deadline. In September 2014, the court again rejected the plan and extended the court’s jurisdiction for two additional two years beyond the original three-year timetable.

With the Court’s invitation, the latest plan, which is 158 pages long, was reviewed by multiple outside disability rights groups, including Advocating Change Together and the Minnesota Disability Law Center.

ACT argued that the plan fails to include adequate integration plans to help individuals transferring out of the state’s institutions. The MDLC criticized the plan for failing to provide sufficient measures to track the state’s progress.

“The plan … still does not contain sufficient sound baseline data, measurable goals or outcomes,” the MDLC  wrote in an April 6 letter sent to the state officials and the court, according to the Minnesota Star Tribune.

Judge Donovan’s nine-page order does not contain many specific recommendations, instead reiterating that the plan must contain “concrete, reliable and realistic commitments,” and that “vague assurances” will not suffice.

“The State must demonstrate its commitment to fulfilling the promise of Olmstead and ensure that the Settlement Agreement and Olmstead Plan will improve the lives of people with disabilities across the State,” Judge Donovan wrote. “Justice requires no less.”

The Minnesota Disability Law Center and and Disability Rights Washington, publisher of Rooted in Rights, are part of the federally funded protection and advocacy system and members of the National Disability Rights Network.