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States Are Required To Provide Community-Based Treatment For Persons With Mental Disabilities

In 1998, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit ruled that the State of Georgia had discriminated against L.C. and E.W., two women with disabilities, by confining them in a segregated institution rather than in an integrated community-based program.

The State of Georgia attempted to convince the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit that mandating that states provide the community based services needed to maintain the individuals in the community constitutes a fundamental alteration in the state's provision of services--and thus is not protected by the ADA. Under many current state laws, there is no obligation to provide such services.

The 11th Circuit Court Decision held that the ADA requires states to offer community services to residents of institutions when:

1. The residents could be appropriately served in the community, and

2. Placing the residents in a community setting would not fundamentally alter the state's service system or impose an undue financial burden.

The district court ordered the State to release E.W. to an appropriate community-based treatment program and to provide L.C. with all appropriate services necessary to maintain her current placement in a community-based treatment program. Georgia's Commissioner of Human Resources, appealed the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Supreme Court Ruling

By a vote of 6-3, the court said the Americans with Disabilities Act, requires such community placement whenever appropriate. The Supreme Court has concluded that, under Title II of the ADA, States are required to provide community-based treatment for persons with mental disabilities when:

  • The State's treatment professionals determine that such placement is appropriate,

  • The affected persons do not oppose such treatment,

  • The placement can be reasonably accommodated, and

  • Taking into account the resources available to the State and the needs of others with mental disabilities.

  • The State's treatment professionals determine that such placement is appropriate,

  • The affected persons do not oppose such treatment,

  • The placement can be reasonably accommodated, and

  • Taking into account the resources available to the State and the needs of others with mental disabilities.

Justice Ginsburg announced the judgment of the Court and delivered the opinion of the Court.

"Specifically, we confront the question whether the proscription of discrimination may require placement of persons with mental disabilities in community settings rather than in institutions. The answer, we hold, is a qualified yes. Such action is in order when the State's treatment professionals have determined that community placement is appropriate, the transfer from institutional care to a less restrictive setting is not opposed by the affected individual, and the placement can be reasonably accommodated, taking into account the resources available to the State and the needs of others with mental disabilities. In so ruling, we affirm the decision of the Eleventh Circuit in substantial part. We remand the case, however, for further consideration of the appropriate relief, given the range of facilities the State maintains for the care and treatment of persons with diverse mental disabilities, and its obligation to administer services with an even hand." { Justice Ginsburg , June 22, 1999}

For More Information Read: Text of Ruling for OLMSTEAD v. L. C. (98-536).