Olmstead v. L. C.
527 U.S. 581 (1999)

Annotate this Case

OCTOBER TERM, 1998

Syllabus

OLMSTEAD, COMMISSIONER, GEORGIA DEPARTMENT OF HUMAN RESOURCES, ET AL. V. L. C., BY ZIMRING, GUARDIAN AD LITEM AND NEXT FRIEND, ET AL.

CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE ELEVENTH CIRCUIT

No. 98-536. Argued April 21, 1999-Decided June 22, 1999

In the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA), Congress described the isolation and segregation of individuals with disabilities as a serious and pervasive form of discrimination. 42 U. S. C. §§ 12101(a)(2), (5). Title II of the ADA, which proscribes discrimination in the provision of public services, specifies, inter alia, that no qualified individual with a disability shall, "by reason of such disability," be excluded from participation in, or be denied the benefits of, a public entity's services, programs, or activities. § 12132. Congress instructed the Attorney General to issue regulations implementing Title II's discrimination proscription. See § 12134(a). One such regulation, known as the "integration regulation," requires a "public entity [to] administer ... programs ... in the most integrated setting appropriate to the needs of qualified individuals with disabilities." 28 CFR § 35.130(d). A further prescription, here called the "reasonable-modifications regulation," requires public entities to "make reasonable modifications" to avoid "discrimination on the basis of disability," but does not require measures that would "fundamentally alter" the nature of the entity's programs. § 35.130(b)(7).

Respondents L. C. and E. W. are mentally retarded women; L. C. has also been diagnosed with schizophrenia, and E. W., with a personality disorder. Both women were voluntarily admitted to Georgia Regional Hospital at Atlanta (GRH), where they were confined for treatment in a psychiatric unit. Although their treatment professionals eventually concluded that each of the women could be cared for appropriately in a community-based program, the women remained institutionalized at GRH. Seeking placement in community care, L. C. filed this suit against petitioner state officials (collectively, the State) under 42 U. S. C. § 1983 and Title II. She alleged that the State violated Title II in failing to place her in a community-based program once her treating professionals determined that such placement was appropriate. E. W. intervened, stating an identical claim. The District Court granted partial summary judgment for the women, ordering their


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placement in an appropriate community-based treatment program. The court rejected the State's argument that inadequate funding, not discrimination against L. C. and E. W. "by reason of [their] disabilit[ies]," accounted for their retention at GRH. Under Title II, the court concluded, unnecessary institutional segregation constitutes discrimination per se, which cannot be justified by a lack of funding. The court also rejected the State's defense that requiring immediate transfers in such cases would "fundamentally alter" the State's programs. The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the District Court's judgment, but remanded for reassessment of the State's cost-based defense. The District Court had left virtually no room for such a defense. The appeals court read the statute and regulations to allow the defense, but only in tightly limited circumstances. Accordingly, the Eleventh Circuit instructed the District Court to consider, as a key factor, whether the additional cost for treatment of L. C. and E. W. in community-based care would be unreasonable given the demands of the State's mental health budget.

Held: The judgment is affirmed in part and vacated in part, and the case is remanded.

138 F.3d 893, affirmed in part, vacated in part, and remanded.

JUSTICE GINSBURG delivered the opinion of the Court with respect to Parts I, II, and III-A, concluding that, under Title II of the ADA, States are required to place persons with mental disabilities in community settings rather than in institutions when the State's treatment professionals have determined that community placement is appropriate, the transfer from institutional care to a less restrictive setting is not opposed by the affected individual, and the placement can be reasonably accommodated, taking into account the resources available to the State and the needs of others with mental disabilities. Pp. 596-603.

(a) The integration and reasonable-modifications regulations issued by the Attorney General rest on two key determinations: (1) Unjustified placement or retention of persons in institutions severely limits their exposure to the outside community, and therefore constitutes a form of discrimination based on disability prohibited by Title II, and (2) qualifying their obligation to avoid unjustified isolation of individuals with disabilities, States can resist modifications that would fundamentally alter the nature of their services and programs. The Eleventh Circuit essentially upheld the Attorney General's construction of the ADA. This Court affirms the Court of Appeals decision in substantial part. Pp. 596-597.

(b) Undue institutionalization qualifies as discrimination "by reason of ... disability." The Department of Justice has consistently advocated that it does. Because the Department is the agency directed


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Full Text of Opinion

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