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D.C. Residents Fighting Institutionalization Win Another Round in Court

A federal court of appeals approves a class action lawsuit brought by D.C. nursing home residents who are represented by AARP attorneys.


AARP Foundation Litigation (AFL) attorneys, University Legal Services, and Arent Fox, LLP brought a civil rights class action lawsuit against the District of Columbia on behalf of residents of Washington D.C. nursing homes who want to live in their own homes.  The federal appellate court rejected the District’s argument that these residents could not bring suit as a group to bring the District . into compliance with Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).  

In 1999, the U.S. Supreme Court held that unnecessarily segregating a person with a disability in an institution constitutes disability discrimination in violation of r the ADA (Olmstead v. L.C. ex rel. Zimring). Thus, Title II of the ADA requires states and local governments to provide services to people, including long-term care services, in the most integrated setting appropriate to their needs; and requires states to reform policies and practices which cause unnecessary segregation or isolation in nursing homes and other institutions.  Unfortunately, the Court’s decision reaffirming the integration mandate is often not honored by state and local governments.  AFL attorneys have filed lawsuits around the country to ensure that states provide meaningful access to home and community based long-term care alternatives to institutionalization.

In December 2010, AFL attorneys and co-counsel filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of residents of Washington D.C. nursing homes. The lawsuit alleges that as many as 3,000 city residents with disabilities are institutionalized in nursing homes despite their ability to live independently if provided information about, and meaningful access to, home and community based services. The lawsuit seeks to order the city to provide these services and inform residents of their rights and choices and assist them in transitioning from nursing facilities into the community. The case has bounced between courts as elements of it – for instance, whether all the plaintiffs share a commonality of claims – are litigated. The most recent ruling upheld the certification of class members, allowing the merits of the dispute to move forward and allowing any relief that AFL attorneys are able to obtain to apply to all nursing facility residents in need of services, not just to the plaintiffs named in the suit.

What’s at Stake

The lawsuit alleges that between 500 and 3,000 D.C. residents with disabilities are unnecessarily institutionalized, not only depriving them of their civil rights, but also costing taxpayers more than it would cost if the city maximized its resources to serve people in the community rather than in institutions.

Case Status

Thorpe v. District of Columbia was decided by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit and returns to the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia for trial on the merits.