Deinstitutionalization Nationwide


Deinstitutionalization Nationwide — Federal Amicus Briefs

City of Cleburne v. Cleburne Living Center (1985)

On behalf of the Texas chapter of the Arc and the national organization, the Law Center filed an amicus brief, arguing that laws discriminating against people with disabilities should be subject to high levels of scrutiny.

In 1980, the Cleburne Living Center (CLC) applied to build a group home in the city of Cleburne, but the application was denied based on a local ordinance that prohibited homes for people with mental disabilities. CLC sued Cleburne, arguing that the ordinance violated the Equal Protection rights of CLC and their potential residents.

In our brief, we argued that a long, tragic history of discrimination against people with disabilities warranted treating mental disability as a suspect class, which would require a much greater degree of justification for any law treating people with disabilities differently than nondisabled people.

The Supreme Court invalidated the ordinance, but it declined to grant the status of suspect or quasi-suspect class. Instead, the Court held that the law was based exclusively on irrational prejudice. Writing separately, Justice Thurgood Marshall relied heavily on our brief, agreeing that the law should be overturned but also arguing that the Court should employ a higher standard of scrutiny.


Olmstead v. L.C. (1999)

The Law Center filed an influential amicus brief in the case Olmstead v. L.C., a Supreme Court case decided in 1999 that recognized the right of people with disabilities to live in the community rather than in segregated institutions.

The brief was filed on behalf of Self-Advocates Becoming Empowered, People First of Georgia, Autism National Committee, National Down Syndrome Congress, and Vision For Equality and the people with disabilities represented by those advocacy organizations. The brief argued that the Americans with Disabilities Act clearly prohibits unnecessarily institutionalization, and that the Act requires action to remedy its effects. The Supreme Court largely agreed, holding that people with mental disabilities have the right to live in the community rather than in institutions 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.”


Ricci v. Patrick (Massachusetts, 2008)

In 2007, the Law Center filed an amicus brief in a Massachusetts deinstitutionalization lawsuit that had been dragging on for over twenty years, helping to guide the contentious litigation to a successful close the following year.

In Ricci v. Patrick, parents of institution residents sued to stop Massachusetts’ 2003 decision to close its large institutions and move individuals with disabilities into small, community-based residences. In 2007, the federal court ruled that the institution must be kept open, despite clear legal preference for community living arrangements.

The state appealed the decision, and the Law Center, along with other advocates, submitted an amicus brief. Filed on behalf of the National Association of State Directors of Developmental Disabilities Services, the brief describes other states’ experiences closing large institutions and documents the trend toward deinstitutionalization following the Supreme Court’s Olmstead decision. The lower court’s decision was overturned in a unanimous decision, allowing Massachusetts to close four of its six institutions for people with developmental disabilities.