Housing is focus of class action lawsuit

A group of people with disabilities August 3 filed a class action lawsuit in federal district court in Minneapolis on behalf of people with disabilities who are being denied access to homes of their choice. The lawsuit states that Minnesota Department of Human Services (DHS) allows very few people to access individualized housing options and refuses to help hundreds of people currently forced to remain in corporately owned and operated group homes. The plaintiffs are asking for help to find and move into homes they choose with services they control, instead of experiencing the isolation, helplessness and lack of control over their lives they currently face.

“This suit is about the state telling our daughter where and how she has to live, instead of letting her choose,” said Marv Gordon, the parent and legal guardian of a 24-year-old woman with developmental disabilities. “After being placed in four different group homes in less than six years, we know her life, and those around her, would be so much better if she could just choose her own place.”

“I’m 43 years old and I want to have the freedom to make my own choices, basic stuff – like what time I go to bed,” said Dionne Swanson, a plaintiff in the lawsuit.

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

Advocacy groups applauded the lawsuit. “ARRM has long advocated for ensuring people with disabilities’ rights to live independently in the setting of their choice, including leading the push to pass and implement legislation protecting these rights,” said ARRM CEO Bruce Nelson. He recalled the 1970s when group homes were the best choice for community-based services for people with disabilities. But with changes in everything from technology to societal attitudes, Nelson said more needs to be done to help people make the best living choices possible.

“The system Minnesota has relied on has not evolved since the early 1980s. The state has promised people with disabilities the chance to be integrated into their communities, but for many it only offers housing in group homes. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires more than that,” said Legal Aid attorney Sean Burke.

The ADA and a landmark 1999 U.S. Supreme Court case, Olmstead v. LC, require states to ensure people with disabilities receive services in integrated settings, consistent with their needs and choices. This means they have the right to choose to live and work in places where they can interact with people who aren’t disabled.

“Our clients just want to live where they want and with whom they want, just like people without disabilities” said Justin Perl, Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid’s litigation director and lead counsel for the plaintiffs. “Unfortunately, the system Minnesota has created for them has needlessly segregated them from the rest of society. It is simply unacceptable, and a violation of the ADA, to foreclose our clients from access to housing options that exist in the community.”