Second Circuit Rules P&A Contractor Lacks Standing to Sue New York on behalf of Its Constituents

Disability Advocates, Inc. et al. v. New York Coalition for Quality Assisted Living, Inc. et al., 675 F.3d 149 (2012)

The Second Circuit Court of Appeals has held that Disability Associates, Inc., a contractor for New York’s designated protection and advocacy agency, the Commission on Quality of Care and Advocacy for Persons with Disabilities, lacks standing to sue the State of New York and its officials in this long-running challenge to require New York to provide individuals with mental illness residing in adult homes with more integrated services in the community. In addition, the Court held that intervention by the United States at the remedial phase of the litigation was insufficient to convey jurisdiction upon the federal court when it lacked jurisdiction in the first instance.

Disability Associates, Inc. originally filed suit against the Governor of New York and the New York Commissioners of Health and Mental Health on July 1, 2003 on behalf of its constituents, individuals with mental illness residing in, or who might one day reside in, adult homes in New York City. The suit alleged that the mental health system violated the “integration mandate” under Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act by failing to provide mental health services in the most integrated setting appropriate to the needs of the individuals. After discovery, the State filed a Motion for Summary Judgment arguing, among other things, that Disability Associates, Inc. lacked standing to sue on behalf of its constituents. The district court found that the plaintiff did have standing and, after a five-week bench trial, that New York had violated the ADA. Disability Associates, Inc. v. Paterson, 653 F.Supp. 2d 184 (E.D.N.Y. 2009).

More than six years after suit was filed, the United States moved to intervene in the remedy phase of the proceeding. The Court rejected New York’s proposed remedial plan, but entered one with a few modifications submitted by Disability Advocates, Inc. The Court required, among other things, that New York afford all current and future residents desiring placement in supportive housing with such services within four years of entry of the order.

New York appealed the order on the grounds, among others, that Disability Associates, Inc. lacked standing. The appeal was argued on December 8, 2010, but it was not until April 6, 2012 that the Second Circuit dismissed the entire case for lack of jurisdiction because no Article III Case or Controversy existed. Before a party may bring a case in federal court, it must first demonstrate that it has standing, that is, it has suffered an injury-in-fact, which is a concrete and particularized harm to a legally protected interest. If the party lacks standing, no case or controversy over which a court may have jurisdiction exists. When an association seeks to bring suit solely as the representative of its members, it must allege that its members are suffering immediate or threatened injury had the members themselves sued. Hunt v. Wash. State Apple Adver. Comm’n, 432 U.S. 333 (1977). In Hunt, the Supreme Court ruled that although the Washington State Apple Advertising Commission was a state agency without actual members, its constituency possessed an “indicia of membership” and functioned as a membership organization. The record reflected that the apple growers and dealers alone elected the members of the Commission, served on the Commission, and financed its activities.

Here, the Second Circuit noted that whether P & A systems afford similar protections to their constituents, as in Hunt, including requirements that advisory councils be composed of at least 60% of individuals with disabilities and grievance procedures be established, has been decided differently in circuits throughout the country. The Ninth and Eleventh Circuits have found the indicia of membership to be sufficient to convey associational standing on P& A agencies. Dr. Advocacy Ctr. v. Mink, 322 F.3d 1101, 1110 (9th Cir. 2010); Doe v. Stincer, 175 F.3d 879, 886 (11th Cir. 1999). By contrast, the Fifth and Eighth Circuits have dismissed cases finding no associational standing. Citizens of Dall. v. Dall. Cnty. Mental Health & Mental Retardation Ctr. Bd. of Trs., 19 F.3d 241, 244 (5th Cir. 1994); Mo. Prot. & Advocacy Servs. Inc. v. Carnahan, 499 F.3d 803, 810 (8th Cir. 2007).

In this case, the Second Circuit determined that it need not decide whether the P & A Agency could assert associational standing because it found Disability Advocates, Inc. was a mere contractor for the designated P & A system. Although as a contractor, Disability Advocates, Inc. was required to comply with all the requirements of the Protection and Advocacy for Individuals with Mental Illness Act, the record was devoid of any indication as to whether its constituents had any ability to elect its directors, make budget decisions, influence its activities or direct its litigation strategies. The Court found no evidence that Disability Advocates had even notified its constituents of this litigation. Without these protections, the Court held, Disability Advocates’ constituents have nothing approaching the indicia of membership required to support associational standing, as found in Hunt.

In addition, the Second Circuit found that the United States did not intervene in the case until six years after suit was filed and after the trial phase had concluded. The Court held that a court must first have jurisdiction over a case before it can grant a motion to intervene. Because the district court lacked the requisite Article III Case or Controversy jurisdiction in the first instance, the mere fact that the United States itself might have standing could not convey jurisdiction originally upon the court. The Court therefore dismissed the entire case, relieving New York of the burden to implement the district court’s order.

Found in DMHL Volume 31 Issue 6