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Thursday, June 16, 2011

Landmark Agreement Expanding Community Living for People with Developmental Disabilities in Illinois: Press Release & Fact Sheet : June 15 2011

Court Approves Landmark Agreement Expanding Community Living Opportunities for People with Developmental Disabilities in Illinois
Media Contact:
Elyse Blazey +1 212 398 7643, elyse.blazey@snrdenton.com

CHICAGO, June 15, 2011—A groundbreaking Consent Decree in Ligas v. Hamos, finalized today in the federal district court in Chicago, will dramatically expand community living options for people with developmental disabilities, while assuring that those who choose to live in larger facilities may continue to do so.

The Consent Decree gives individuals with developmental disabilities who currently live in large private, but state supported, facilities known as Intermediate Care Facilities for the Developmentally Disabled (ICF-DDs) the choice to move into small community-based settings with the necessary supports. The Consent Decree also requires that an additional 3,000 people with developmental disabilities currently living at home be provided with community-based services.

“Final approval of the Consent Decree represents a milestone for the treatment of individuals with developmental disabilities in Illinois,” commented lead trial counsel John Grossbart, a litigation partner and managing partner of the Chicago office of SNR Denton, which represented plaintiffs on a pro bono basis. “For far too long, Illinois’ citizens with developmental disabilities have not been given the ability to choose. The Consent Decree rectifies this wrong. It will allow residents and their families to make their own judgments about which living arrangements are best for them, and it meets the needs of both our clients and those who prefer ICF-DDs. We are very proud to have played a part in this important expansion of disability rights.”

Twenty years ago, Congress passed the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and more than 10 years ago, the Supreme Court ruled that undue segregation is discrimination under the ADA. Notwithstanding the Supreme Court’s ruling, most people with developmental disabilities in Illinois seeking residential services are only offered placements in large facilities. Illinois currently ranks at 50th among all states and the District of Columbia in serving people with developmental disabilities in small integrated settings.

“This case is about choice, and now thousands of people with developmental disabilities will have the option to choose community living,” said Barry Taylor, Legal Advocacy Director at Equip for Equality, which served as lead counsel for the plaintiffs. “Under the Consent Decree, the State of Illinois will move closer to fulfilling the promise of the ADA to integrate people with disabilities into our society.”

“Experience around the country shows that when given meaningful supports, people with disabilities thrive in community settings,” explained Benjamin Wolf, Associate Legal Director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois and co-counsel for the plaintiffs. “We are pleased that everyone involved has come together to offer real choices to these citizens of Illinois.”

“This agreement is just one more step in the historic process to assure persons with disabilities in Illinois have the choice to live in small, community-based settings, where they can make decisions about who they live with, what time they eat, what time they go to sleep and what they do during the day,” explained Patti Werner, Managing Attorney for Community Integration at Access Living and co-counsel for the plaintiffs.

“I want to live with friends in the community and have my own room,” said David Cicarelli, a named plaintiff in the case. David’s father, Jim Cicarelli agreed, “We’re so happy that our son, and many others with developmental disabilities, will be fully integrated into the community. For over 10 years, David has waited to fulfill his dream to live in the community. We are thrilled that finally his dream will be realized.”

A copy of the Consent Decree and other documents relevant to the case are available at www.equipforequality.org.

About SNR Denton

SNR Denton is a client-focused international legal practice delivering quality and value. We serve clients in key business and financial centers from 60 locations in 43 countries, through offices, associate firms and special alliances across the US, the UK, Europe, the Middle East, Russia and the CIS, Asia Pacific and Africa, making us a top 25 legal services provider by lawyers and professionals worldwide. Joining the complementary top tier practices of its founding firms -- Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal LLP and Denton Wilde Sapte LLP -- SNR Denton offers business, government and institutional clients premier service and a disciplined focus to meet evolving needs in eight key industry sectors: Energy, Transport and Infrastructure; Financial Institutions and Funds; Government; Health and Life Sciences; Insurance; Manufacturing; Real Estate, Retail and Hotels; and Technology, Media and Telecommunications. Please see snrdenton.com for more information and Legal Notices.

About Equip for Equality
Designated in 1985 as the federally funded Protection and Advocacy System for people with disabilities in Illinois, Equip for Equality’s mission is to advance the human and civil rights of people with all types of disabilities in Illinois. Equip for Equality provides self-advocacy assistance, legal services, and disability rights education while also engaging in public policy and legislative advocacy and conducting abuse investigations and other oversight activities. For more information, www.equipforequality.org.

About Access Living
Access Living is a cross-disability, not-for-profit organization whose mission is to work toward the full equality, inclusion and empowerment of all people with disabilities. It is governed and staffed by a majority of people with disabilities. For more information, www.accessliving.org.

About the ACLU of Illinois
The American Civil Liberties Union is a non-partisan, non-profit membership organization dedicated to protecting and extending freedom, liberty and equality to all in the United States. The work of the ACLU is based upon, but not limited to, protecting the liberties and freedoms guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution, especially the Bill of Rights. With a membership of more than 500,000 nationwide - more than 23,000 in Illinois - the ACLU accomplishes its goals through litigating, lobbying and educating the public on a broad array of issues affecting our liberties. For more information, www.aclu-il.org.

[Photo: David Cicarelli(L) & Stanley Ligas(R)]

Background on the lawsuit
Ligas v. Hamos (formerly Ligas v. Maram) is a lawsuit filed in 2005 by nine people with developmental disabilities (Plaintiffs) who reside in large private State-funded facilities (ICF-DDs) or who are likely to be placed in such facilities. Plaintiffs want to receive community services, but their requests have been denied by the State of Illinois. In 2006, a Judge certified the case as a class action. Prior to trial, the parties reached an agreement, but at a Fairness Hearing in July 2009, the Judge found that the class definition was too broad as it included people who did not desire to live in the community. Accordingly, the Judge did not approve the agreement and de-certified the class. In January 2010, the parties reached a new agreement to provide community services to people living in ICF-DDs who have a current record of wanting community services, and provide community services to an additional 3,000 people with developmental disabilities living at home without services. Previous objectors again raised concerns and the Judge allowed them to join the case as Intervenors. After extensive negotiations, in January 2011, the Plaintiffs, the State, and the Intervenors reached a new agreement that all could support. The Judge held a Fairness Hearing on June 15, 2011 and approved the proposed Consent Decree. This historic agreement reflects momentous change in state policy for serving people with developmental disabilities.

What will the Consent Decree achieve?
• ICF-DDs residents who desire community placement will receive an individualized, independent evaluation and the opportunity to live in the community with appropriate services.
• Over a six year period, any of the approximately 6,000 ICF-DD residents who desire placement in the community will transition to the most integrated community-based setting appropriate for their individual needs.
• All ICF-DD residents who are happy with their current placement are not be part of the class and will not be required to move. The proposed Consent Decree ensures that resources necessary to meet the needs of those who choose to continue to reside in ICF-DDs will be made available.
• Over a six year period, 3,000 people with developmental disabilities currently living at home without services will be given community services.
• The Judge will appoint an Independent Monitor with expertise in developmental disabilities to oversee implementation and compliance with the Consent Decree.
• People with developmental disabilities who want to be part of the new proposed class need to make a record with the State confirming their desire for community services. A form that people with disabilities and/or their guardians can use to make a record of their desire for community services can be found at www.equipforequality.org

If you have questions about the Consent Decree or how to become a member of the class, please contact Barry Taylor at 312-895-7317 or barryt@equipforequality.org

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