W.R. et al. v. Conn. Dept. Of Children and Families

Federal District Court, District of Connecticut

___ F. Supp. 3d ___, 2003 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 5128 (D. Conn. 2003)

March 24, 2003

 

In this important civil and disability rights class action filed on behalf of children in state care and custody, a federal district judge denied the bulk of the state’s motion to dismiss, primarily because the record did not support any significant findings in the case at this time. Filed on behalf of minors in state Department of Children and Families (“Department”) custody, this action challenges the Department’s failure to provide children community based residential placements. The plaintiffs, all of whom possess mental and emotional disabilities, allege that the Department’s failure to provide residential community placements violates the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (“Rehab Act”), Conn. Gen. Stat. §§ 17a-3 and 17a-6, and the Twenty First Amendment of the Connecticut Constitution. The complaint further alleges that the Department is mandated by law to place the children in programs with additional professional staffing if necessary to meet their needs.

The motion to dismiss raised four issues, all of which but one were rejected by the court. First, injunctive relief under the ADA and the Rehab Act is still an open question, given the dearth of factual information in the record. The Department contends it is not required to create new programs for disabled individuals, as indicated in Rodriguez v. City of New York, 197 F.3d 611 (2d Cir. 1999). Plaintiffs claim that such a responsibility is mandated by the disability acts, and contend that the Supreme Court’s decision in Olmstead, 527 U.S. 581 (1999) controls. Second, the court declined to apply the long-standing abstention doctrines outlined in Younger v. Harris, and Burford v. Sun Oil, both relied on by the Department. Whether the pending state proceedings involving the Department and the KidCare initiative carry the day is a question the court declined to address, given the paucity of information in the record at this time.

Third, the court explicitly rejected the Department’s claim that the plaintiffs failed to exhaust their administrative remedies, because “it is not clear that the plaintiffs have an administrative remedy available to them.” Finally, the Court dismissed the plaintiffs’ claim for money damages under the Rehab Act, finding that absent an express waiver of sovereign immunity, the state is not subject to damages liability. Under the ADA, however, the record is not clear whether the Department’s actions met the “discriminatory animus or ill will” standard necessary to recover money damages.

This case may be accessed at the U.S. District Court, District of Connecticut’s web site by going to http://www.ctd.uscourts.gov/Opinions/032403.RNC.WR.pdf

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