ADA and “reasonable accommodations” requirement

State in Interest of K.C., 2015 UT 92, 2015 WL 7571828 (Utah Nov. 24, 2015) (not yet released for publication in permanent law reports and thus subject to revision or withdrawal)

Americans with Disabilities Act applies to services and programs offered to a parent who has mental illness and other disabilities and whose children are in foster care

Background: The state of Utah sought to terminate a mother’s parental rights to the minor child, K.C. After several previous hearings, mother argued at hearing on termination of her residual parental rights that social services agency had failed to comply with ADA in providing services to her. The Juvenile Court terminated the mother’s parental rights despite her invocation of the ADA, holding that it is not a defense in termination proceedings because the proceeding is not “a service, program, or activity.” Alternatively, the court held that the mother had not suffered harm because her disabilities had been accommodated through previous changes made by the Department of Child and Family Services. K.C.’s mother appealed.

Holdings: The Supreme Court of Utah first held that the Americans with Disabilities Act applied to situations in which the government was asked to provide reunification services to a parent in a dependency hearing. According to the Supreme Court of Utah, reunification services qualified as “services provided by a public entity” and a reunification plan qualified as “a program or activity, as the terms are used in the ADA.”

Despite reversing the trial court’s ruling that the ADA did not apply to the provision of reunification services, the Supreme Court of Utah upheld the trial court’s alternative determination that further modification of the submitted reunification would be unreasonable. That determination by the trial court was not an abuse of discretion where the trial court “found that the plan had already been tailored to the mother’s individual needs, including needs related to the mother’s mental illnesses and physical limitations.” Additionally, the Court noted that K.C.’s mother, N.D. had not “identified any specific modification that she requested that was denied by the court” and claimed only that “she should have been granted additional time to complete the objectives of the reunification plan.”

Found in Found in DMHL Volume 34, Issue 4