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Sabree v Richman Press Release



TO: Interested Persons

FROM: Pennsylvania Protection and Advocacy, Inc.
Disabilities Law Project
Vision for Equality

DATE: May 11, 2004

RE: Court of Appeals Issues Significant Decision for Waiting List Families

Today, the Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit issued a significant decision, Sabree v. Richman, that will enable persons with mental retardation who are awaiting community-based services and their families to pursue their claims to secure those services.

Three persons with mental retardation who live at home with their families filed this class action lawsuit in May 2002 against the Secretary of the Department of Public Welfare (DPW) for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. These individuals desperately needed -- and still need -- community-based mental retardation residential services because their families can no longer provide them with the level of care they need at home. These individuals are representative of thousands of persons with mental retardation who are on waiting lists for community services due to consistent underfunding of those services by the Commonwealth. In this lawsuit, the plaintiffs alleged that they have a right under the federal Medical Assistance statute, Title XIX of the Social Security Act, to receive residential services through intermediate care facilities for persons with retardation (ICFs/MR) and that DPW violated that federal law by failing to provide them and similarly situated persons with community-based ICF/MR services.

In January 2003, the district court dismissed the plaintiffs' lawsuit. The court -- in a far-reaching decision -- concluded that Medical Assistance recipients cannot bring private lawsuits to enforce their rights under the federal Medical Assistance statute. Plaintiffs promptly appealed.

In its decision today, the Court of Appeals emphatically reversed the district court's decision. The appellate court ruled that the Medical Assistance statute conferred explicit rights on the plaintiffs, as Medical Assistance beneficiaries, to receive specific services and to receive those services with reasonable promptness. Having conferred these explicit rights through the Medical Assistance statute, the Court concluded that Congress intended to allow Medical Assistance beneficiaries to enforce those rights through private lawsuits. The Court of Appeals concluded:

Plaintiffs have advanced specific claims rooted in statutory text that identify them as the intended recipients of medical assistance from the Commonwealthof Pennsylvania. ... Congress clearly and unambiguously conferred the rights of which plaintiffs have allegedly been deprived by Pennsylvania, and has not precluded individual enforcement of those rights.

Dee Coccia, Co-Executive Director of Vision for Equality, an advocacy group for persons with mental retardation and their families, welcomed the decision. Ms.Coccia stated: "Families have been working for years to persuade Pennsylvania to do the right thing and provide the funding needed to end the waiting list that jeopardizes the lives of so many people with mental retardation. Promises have been made and broken by the politicians. It is unfortunate that families were so desperate that they felt they had no option but to resort to the courts for justice and then we had the profound disappointment of being told that we could not even have our claims heard. We are extremely pleased that the decision today from the Third Circuit will allow us to have our day in court."

For more information contact any of the following persons:

Ilene W Shane
Pennsylvania Projection and Advocacy
1-800-692-7443 x 102

Audrey Coccia
Vision for Equality

Mark Murphy
Disabilities Law Project