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United States v. Commonwealth

United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Richmond Division

February 2, 2018

COMMONWEALTH OF VIRGINIA, Defendant, and PEGGY WOOD et al., Intervenor-Defendants.



         This case began when the United States, through the Department of Justice ("DO J"), filed a complaint alleging that the Commonwealth of Virginia violated the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), 42 U.S.C. § 12101, et seq. The parties simultaneously submitted a consent decree for the Court's consideration, which would change the way the Commonwealth provides services to its intellectually and developmentally disabled populations. The Court permitted a group of certain disabled citizens to intervene (the "Interveners") and oppose the proposed decree. After careful consideration, the Court approved the consent decree. (Dk. No. 112.) The Court closed the case, but continues to monitor the parties' progress under the decree.

         The Commonwealth has since decided to close four of its five training centers, which housed large disabled populations. The Intervenors[1] filed a motion for injunctive relief to prevent discharges and transfers from the training centers as they close. The Commonwealth opposed the motion.[2] For the reasons stated below, the Court denies the Intervenors' motion.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The Court described the background of this case at length in the Order approving the consent decree (Dk. No. 112), but will reiterate pertinent facts here. The Commonwealth developed training centers decades ago to provide safe living environments for disabled citizens. The Intervenors resided in these training centers, and their families appreciated the treatment and safety that the training centers provided. Over time, experts in the field developed new modalities of care and preferred to allow disabled citizens to live in the broader community, rather than in restricted facilities. Moreover, Congress, through the ADA, "explicitly identified unjustified 'segregation' of persons with disabilities as a 'for[m] of discrimination.'" Olmstead v. L.C., 527 U.S. 581, 600 (1999). The ADA thus encouraged "opportunities for people with developmental disabilities to enjoy the benefits of community living." Id. at 599. As a result, the Commonwealth accepted fewer individuals into training centers, and discharged many residents to community facilities.

         In 2008, the DOJ began investigating Virginia's training centers and ultimately concluded that the centers violated the ADA by preventing disabled citizens from being part of the community. The DOJ demanded that Virginia change its system, and the Commonwealth essentially concurred with the DOJ's goal of community-based services.

         The DOJ and Commonwealth agreed to a consent decree. Their agreement calls for the Commonwealth to increase the number of Medicaid waivers in Virginia, which assist disabled citizens by subsidizing the care and services they need. The decree focuses the Commonwealth's efforts on keeping disabled individuals in the community, and outlines how the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services ("DBHDS"), and the local community service boards ("CSBs"), will share responsibility for community services. It further requires an independent reviewer to report to the Court regarding the decree's implementation.

         The Intervenors opposed the decree because they believed its terms would not benefit residents of the training centers. They argued that the decree would require their removal from the training centers, which would harm their well-being, as they regarded the training centers as their homes. The Court considered these arguments, reviewed letters and amicus briefs for and against the decree, and toured facilities. The Court also held a fairness hearing, during which it allowed the United States, the Commonwealth, and the Intervenors to share their positions. Following these proceedings and after careful consideration, the Court approved the consent decree in August 2012.

         Since that time, the Commonwealth has planned to cease residential operations at four of its five training centers, including the Central Virginia Training Center ("CVTC"). In August 2016, DBHDS notified authorized representatives of CVTC residents that its nursing facility would close. If the residents or their representatives did not select alternative placement within the time allotted, DBHDS transferred them to Hiram Davis Medical Center.

         Citing two deaths that occurred after the transfers from CVTC began, the Intervenors now argue that Hiram Davis is inferior to CVTC. The Intervenors ask the Court for various forms of injunctive relief, with the goal of undoing and preventing further allegedly forcible or illegal transfers to Hiram Davis or other facilities that do not provide care comparable to the care CVTC provided.


         The Interveners' motion asserts violations of (1) Virginia Code § 37.2-837(A)(3), which provides that individuals shall not be discharged from training centers against their will; and (2) Chapter 639 of the 2014 Acts of Assembly (the "Act"), which requires DBHDS to certify, before transferring training center residents, that the receiving facility provides a comparable quality of care, and that DBHDS has disclosed all legal placement options. The Commonwealth opposes the motion on the grounds that (1) the Intervenors lack standing; (2) the Court does not have subject matter jurisdiction over the motion; and (3) the Intervenors do not meet the standard for injunctive relief. The Court will consider each argument in turn.

         A. Standing

         Article III limits federal courts to hearing cases or controversies, which means that parties invoking a federal court's authority must establish standing. Ansley v. Warren, 861 F.3d 512, 517 (4th Cir. 2017) (citing Ariz. Christian Sch. Tuition Org. v. Winn, 563 U.S. 125, 133 (2011)). To do so, a party must prove a "concrete and particularized injury that is fairly traceable to the challenged conduct of the defendant and is likely to be redressed by a favorable judicial decision." Id. (internal quotations and citations omitted). Courts consider intervenors parties to lawsuits until the party on whose side intervention occurred no longer remains in the suit. Diamond v. Charles, 476 U.S. 54, 68 (1986). At that point, intervenors must demonstrate that they independently fulfill the standing requirements. Id. In other words, intervenors continue as parties as long as the suit is "alive." Shaw v. Hunt, 154 F.3d 161, 166 (4th Cir. 1998).

         This Court permitted the Intervenors to intervene before entering the consent decree, and added them as defendants to this suit. (Dk. No. 65.) Certain out-of-circuit cases have deemed a consent decree insufficient to establish an ongoing case or controversy, but this case is distinct. E.g., Dillard v. Chilton Cty. Comm 'n,495 F.3d 1324, 1336 (11th Cir. 2007). Here, the Court did not merely retain jurisdiction in case the parties asked the Court to enforce the decree; rather, the Court actively monitors implementation of the ...

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