Supreme Court Hears Arguments Whether Protection and Advocacy Agency May Sue State Officials to Access Peer Review Records

Virginia Office for Protection and Advocacy v. Stewart, 568 F.3d 110 (4th Cir. 2009) pet. for cert. granted (U.S. No. 09-529, June 21, 2010)

The United States Supreme Court heard oral argument on December 1, 2010 in Virginia Office for Protection and Advocacy v. Stewart, 568 F.3d 110 (4th Cir. 2009) pet. for cert. granted (U.S. No. 09-529, June 21, 2010), as to whether one independent state agency, the Virginia Office for Protection and Advocacy, may sue other state officials, namely the Commissioner of the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services and the directors of two state facilities, to enforce the requirements of the Protection and Advocacy for Individuals with Mental Illness Act or 1986 (“PAIMI”), 42 U.S.C §§ 10801-10851 and the Developmental Disabilities Assistance and Bill of Rights Act (“DD Act”), 42 U.S.C. §§ 15001-15115. The 4th Circuit had reversed the decision of the federal district court, refusing to allow VOPA to sue the Commissioner and directors of Central State Hospital and Central Virginia Training Center to obtain peer review records related to the deaths of two individuals and the severe injury of a third. The 4th Circuit refused to apply the Ex parte Young doctrine which permits law suits by private parties to enforce federal law and obtain injunctive relief, but not monetary damages, from individual state officials in federal court. The court found that the lawsuit could otherwise be brought in state court.

Indiana is also seeking Supreme Court review in a similar case in which the 7th Circuit en banc held that the Indiana Protection and Advocacy agency could sue. Indiana Family and Social Services Administration v. Indiana Protection and Advocacy Services, 603 F.3d 365 (7th Cir. 2010) en banc, pet. for cert. filed, (No. 10-131, July 21, 2010). In addition to the Ex parte Young arguments heard in the Virginia case, Indiana is also arguing that PAIMI does not create a private right of action and peer review documents are protected against disclosure under state law.

Should the Supreme Court rule in the DBHDS Commissioner’s favor in VOPA v. Stewart, VOPA would need to file a new lawsuit in state court to seek access to peer review records. If the Supreme Court rules in VOPA’s favor, the case will be remanded back to the United States District Court in Richmond for a determination of the case on the merits. Four other federal circuits have already ruled that the state’s protection and advocacy agency has access to peer review records. Pennsylvania Protection and Advocacy, Inc. v. Houstoun, 228 F.3d 423 (3rd Cir. 2000); Center for Legal Advocacy v. Hammons, 323 F.3d 1262 (10th Cir. 2003); Missouri Protection & Advocacy Services v. Missouri Department of Mental Health, 447 F.3d 1021 (8th Cir. 2006). Protection and Advocacy for Persons with Disabilities v. Mental Health and Addiction Services, 448 F.3d 119 (2nd Cir. 2006).

Found in DMHL Volume 30 Issue 1