“Confirmed Judges, Confirmed Fears” is a blog series documenting the harmful impact of President Trump’s judges on Americans’ rights and liberties. Cases in the series can be found by issue and by judge at this link.
Trump Sixth Circuit judge Chad Readler tried in dissent to prevent disabled individuals living independently from suing because their reduced federal financial support has resulted in their not being able to receive services and their being put at risk for community segregation or institutionalization because of their deteriorated conditions. The October 2020 decision was Waskul v. Washtenaw County Community Mental Health
Washtenaw County Community Mental Health modified the method for allocating funding to individuals with disabilities who receive community living support services pursuant to a Medicaid waiver received by the State of Michigan. The State of Michigan offers funding and support to qualifying individuals with disabilities to assist them in living independently in their own home communities, rather than in institutionalized care facilities pursuant to a Medicaid waiver from the federal government.
Derek Waskul, a recipient of such services, is severely cognitively impaired, and requires 24/7 supervision. He, along with four individuals with developmental disabilities, impairments and disorders who are receiving living support services, together with the Washtenaw Association for Community Advocacy, challenged the new methodology because, they claimed, the funding they receive is not enough to cover their required services. They alleged that they cannot find “sufficient providers willing to work at the low rates they must pay under the new budgeting method and that, in order to pay providers more, they are now compelled to pay for support and services themselves and hire family members at below-market rates. As a result of the reduction in support, they have not been able to receive all of their services and their conditions have deteriorated.”
In 2016 they sued the county in district court for violating their constitutional rights, the Medicaid Act, and the Michigan Mental Health Code. They moved for a preliminary injunction and lost. They appealed, and while the appeal was pending they filed another case in district court adding two more plaintiffs. The district court allowed them to consolidate the case and on March 20, 2019, the district court issued an order to dismiss the plaintiffs’ claims in their entirety. They again appealed.
In a 2-1 decision, the majority reversed the district court’s decision, explaining that courts have widely accepted that plaintiffs can state a claim for violation of the federal law’s community integration mandate by showing that they have been placed at serious risk of institutionalization or segregation. The majority held that Waskul and the other plaintiffs have sufficiently alleged that the action or inaction of the defendants have denied them mental health services that meet the standard of care established in Michigan’s mental health code.
Judge Chad Readler dissented in part, asserting that the more customary practice is that a definitive harm, not just the “risk” of one, is needed before legal action is ripe. He went on to say that a statute creates individual rights only when Congress has expressed a clear intent to do so. However, the majority explained that in accordance with U.S. Supreme Court precedent, the “Department of Justice put forward guidance in 2011 clarifying that ‘[i]ndividuals need not wait until the harm of institutionalization or segregation occurs or is imminent’ in order to bring a claim for violation of the integration mandate.”