A Precedent-Setting Win for People with Disabilities in Michigan

Michiganders with disabilities achieved a major victory in the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in NCLEJ’s Waskul v. Washtenaw County Community Mental Health case. Plaintiffs, individuals with developmental disabilities, and the Washtenaw Association for Community Advocacy, a non-profit organization that advocates for people with developmental disabilities, challenged changes to the Medicaid budgeting methodology that provides funding for people with disabilities who receive home and community based services (HCBS) under the Medicaid Act, Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Rehabilitation Act, and Michigan State laws. The budgeting changes hindered Plaintiffs’ ability to hire and retain workers equipped to provide them with the necessary treatment and services, placing them at risk of having to be institutionalized. As a result, many of the plaintiffs were forced to rely on aging family members to step in and provide significant services, even while those family members navigated significant challenges to their own health and wellbeing.

In addition to reversing the district court’s dismissal and allowing the case to proceed, the Sixth Circuit ruling extended an important legal precedent under the ADA. More than 20 years ago in Olmstead v. L.C. by Zimring, 527 U.S. 581, 597 (1999), the Supreme Court enshrined the ADA’s “integration mandate” that people with disabilities be provided with services in the most integrated setting appropriate to their needs by holding that unjustified isolation constitutes discrimination based on disability.

Plaintiffs argued that their isolation at home, due to the loss of their service hours in community, also violated the integration mandate. The Sixth Circuit agreed with Plaintiffs that the ADA’s prohibition of unnecessary institutionalization includes more than just confinement in a physical institution. In true recognition of the spirit of Olmstead that we hope will benefit people with disabilities nationwide, the Court extended the Seventh Circuit’s ruling in Steimel v. Wernert, 823 F.3d 902 (7th Cir. 2016) that isolation at home constitutes a violation of the integration mandate.

We celebrate this victory along with our partners at Legal Services of South Central Michigan. Read the opinion here.