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Colbert v. Blagojevich

September 29, 2008

LENIL COLBERT, CONSTANCE GRAY, ERNEST REEVES, KENYA LYLES, AND DWIGHT SCOTT, FOR THEMSELVES AND ALL OTHERS SIMILARLY SITUATED, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
ROD R. BLAGOJEVICH, IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY AS GOVERNOR OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS; CAROL L. ADAMS, IN HER OFFICIAL CAPACITY AS SECRETARY OF THE ILLINOIS DEPARTMENT OF HUMAN SERVICES; BARRY S. MARAM, IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY AS DIRECTOR OF THE ILLINOIS DEPARTMENT OF HEALTHCARE AND FAMILY SERVICES; AND ERIC E. WHITAKER, M.D., IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY AS DIRECTOR OF THE ILLINOIS DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC HEALTH, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Joan H. Lefkow

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

This putative class action was brought by five Medicaid-eligible individuals who allege that Illinois officials have violated portions of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, the Social Security Act, and the Nursing Home Reform Act by failing to adequately provide them with long-term care services in an integrated, community setting. Before the court is plaintiffs' motion for class certification pursuant to Rules 23(b)(2) and 23(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. For the reasons set forth below, the motion [#9] is granted.

BACKGROUND

Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), 42 U.S.C. §12111 et seq., and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, 29 U.S.C. § 794, prohibit public entities from discriminating against individuals with disabilities in providing public services, programs, or activities. The ADA instructs the Attorney General to issue regulations implementing Title II's discrimination prohibitions. 42 U.S.C. § 12134(a). One such regulation mandates that a public entity "administer . . . programs . . . in the most integrated setting appropriate to the needs of qualified individuals with disabilities." 28 C.F.R. § 35.130(d). Additionally, in construing the anti-discrimination provisions of the ADA, the Supreme Court has held that disabled individuals should be placed in community settings, rather than state institutions, provided the following conditions are met: the state's treatment professionals have determined that community placement is appropriate; the transfer out of institutional care is not opposed by the affected individual; and the placement can be reasonably accommodated, taking into account the available state resources and the needs of others with disabilities. Olmstead v. L.C., 527 U.S. 581, 587, 119 S.Ct. 2176, 144 L.Ed. 2d 540 (1999).

The five named plaintiffs in this case are Medicaid-eligible Cook County, Illinois residents with disabilities. All plaintiffs are, or were at the time of filing, housed in private nursing facilities that receive state and federal funding. If given the appropriate services, plaintiffs allege that they, and others similarly situated, are capable of living in their own homes or apartments. They assert, however, that despite their ability and desire to live in the community, defendants have failed to adequately provide them with an opportunity to live outside of an institutionalized setting, in violation of the ADA, 42 U.S.C. § 12132, the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, 29 U.S.C. 794(a), the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1396--1396v, and the Nursing Reform Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1396a(a)(28)(A).

The four defendants, all sued in their official capacities, are the Governor of the State of Illinois, the Secretary of the Illinois Department of Human Services, the Director of the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services, and the Director of the Illinois Department of Public Health. Plaintiffs seek injunctive relief that would require defendants to (1) inform individuals with disabilities that they may be eligible for community-based services and have the choice of such services, (2) regularly provide assessments to determine eligibility for community-based services, and (3) promptly provide appropriate services and support to qualifying individuals in the community, creating a viable alternative to treatment in institutional settings. Pls.' Compl. at 26.

Plaintiffs have moved pursuant to Rules 23(b)(2) and 23(c) for an order certifying this case as a class action. They seek to certify the following class: all Medicaid-eligible adults with disabilities in Cook County, Illinois, who are being, or may in the future be, unnecessarily confined to nursing facilities and who, with appropriate supports and services, may be able to live in a community setting. Pls.' Compl. ¶ 71.

CLASS CERTIFICATION STANDARD

A party seeking to certify a class action must meet two conditions. First, the movant must show the putative class satisfies the four prerequisites of Rule 23(a): (1) numerosity, (2) commonality, (3) typicality, and (4) adequacy of representation. Fed. R. Civ. P. 23(a); Oshana v. Coca-Cola Co., 472 F.3d 506, 513 (7th Cir. 2006); Rosario v. Livaditis, 963 F.2d 1013, 1017 (7th Cir. 1992). Second, the action must qualify under at least one of the three subsections of Rule 23(b). Fed. R. Civ. P. 23(b); Rosario, 963 F.2d at 1017; Hardin v. Harshbarger, 814 F. Supp. 703, 706 (N.D. Ill. 1993). Here, plaintiffs seek certification under Rule 23(b)(2), which requires a finding that "the party opposing the class has acted or refused to act on grounds that apply generally to the class, so that final injunctive relief or corresponding declaratory relief is appropriate respecting the class as a whole." Fed. R. Civ. P. 23(b)(2).

Courts retain broad discretion in determining whether a proposed class meets the Rule 23 certification requirements. Keele v. Wexler, 149 F.3d 589, 592 (7th Cir. 1998). While the requirements of Rule 23 should be liberally construed to support the policy favoring the maintenance of class actions, King v. Kansas City S. Indus., 519 F.2d 20, 25--26 (7th Cir. 1975), the moving party bears the burden of showing that the requirements for class certification have been met. Hardin, 814 F. Supp. at 706.

DISCUSSION

A. Definiteness

Before turning to the explicit requirements of Rule 23, defendants argue that plaintiffs' motion should be denied because the proposed class is too indefinite to support class certification. A class is sufficiently definite if membership can be ascertained by reference to objective criteria. Wallace v. Chicago Housing Authority, 224 F.R.D. 420, 425 (N.D. Ill. 2004) (citing Gomez v. Ill. State Bd. of Educ., 117 F.R.D. 394, 397 (N.D. Ill.1987)). If the class definition would require the court to conduct individualized inquiries into each potential class member's claims, the definition is deficient. Lau v. Arrow Fin. Servs., LLC, 245 F.R.D. 620, 624 (N.D. Ill. 2007).

Defendants contend that the proposed class definition fails because (1) the term "Medicaid-eligible adults with disabilities" is too broad; (2) the services that plaintiffs are allegedly being denied are not explicitly identified; and (3) the relief sought by plaintiffs is too vague. To some extent, however, it seems that defendants misunderstand the definiteness requirement, the class definition proposed, and the relief sought by plaintiffs. Determining if an adult is Medicaid-eligible or disabled is objectively established by reference to the regulations promulgated pursuant to the ADA and the Social Security Act. The only definiteness issue that could be challenged, then, is ...


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