Amicus Briefs

Education

Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding, Inc. v. Rell

In January 2017, The Arc filed an amicus brief in Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding, Inc. v. Rell before the Supreme Court of Connecticut. The brief argues that the trial court’s requirement that the state adopt standards that focus its special education efforts on students “who can profit from some form of elementary and secondary education,” rather than “spend fruitlessly on some at the expense of others,” violates the IDEA, which mandates that all students with disabilities be provided a free appropriate public education in the least restrictive environment. The brief focuses on research demonstrating that even students with the most severe disabilities can learn and often exceed expectations, the legislative history of the IDEA making clear that all students with disabilities are guaranteed the right to an education, and the fact that failure to educate these students violates the ADA’s “integration mandate” which has been vital in ensuring that people with disabilities have access to opportunities that allow them to live in the community, learn in general education settings, obtain post-secondary education, and work in integrated jobs at competitive wages. The full brief can be found here.

 

Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District RE-1

In November 2016, The Arc submitted an amicus brief with a large coalition of other disability and civil rights advocacy organizations, in support of the petitioner in Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District RE-1 before the U.S. Supreme Court. This case addressed the following question: what is the level of educational benefit that school districts must confer on children with disabilities to provide them with the free appropriate public education guaranteed by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act? The brief argues that Congress’s move to standards based education, combined with the specific language of the amendments to the IDEA, make the Tenth Circuit’s merely-more-than-de-minimis standard untenable. These amendments make clear that a school district’s educational interventions must provide a child with a disability an equal opportunity to meet the standards the district applies to all children. Any deviation from that universal standard must be tied to the unique needs of the child. The full brief can be found here.

In March 2017, the Court issued a unanimous decision clarifying the test for determining whether school districts have met their obligation to provide a free appropriate public education (FAPE) to students with disabilities and definitively rejecting the incredibly low standard utilized by the Tenth Circuit in this case.

Voting Rights

National Federation of the Blind v. Lamone

In April 2015, The Arc signed on to an amicus brief filed in the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in support of the plaintiff in the case National Federation of the Blind v. Lamone, in which the Maryland Board of Elections appealed the district court’s ruling requiring it to make its online ballot-marking tool accessible to voters with disabilities by allowing these voters to mark absentee ballots online for printout and mailing to the Board of Elections. The amicus brief requested that the Fourth Circuit affirm the district court’s decision that the Board’s refusal to use the accessible online ballot marking tool violated the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. Counsel for amici were the Civil Rights Education and Enforcement Center and the Maryland Disability Law Center. The full brief can be found here.

In February 2016, the Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court ruling, stating that “We have little trouble concluding from the record before us that Maryland's absentee voting program does not provide disabled individuals an ‘opportunity to participate equal to that afforded others,’…Ensuring that disabled individuals are afforded an opportunity to participate in voting that is equal to that afforded others helps ensure that those individuals are never relegated to a position of political powerlessness.” The full opinion is available here

Criminal Justice

Moore v. Texas

In August 2016, The Arc submitted an amicus brief before the U.S. Supreme Court in support of petitioner Bobby James Moore, an individual with intellectual disability on death row in Texas. The brief argues that the state of Texas has distorted the clinical definition of intellectual disability utilized by the U.S. Supreme Court by devising a formula of exclusionary factors that rests heavily on stereotypes about people with intellectual disability. This approach is wholly inconsistent with accepted scientific standards and leads to inaccurate and unreliable results. The brief argues that the deliberate decision to reject clinical standards in the adjudication of death penalty cases is inconsistent with prior U.S. Supreme Court holdings in Atkins v. Virginia and Hall v. Florida and incompatible with the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment. Counsel of record for amici was James W. Ellis of the University of New Mexico School of Law. The full brief can be found here.

In March 2017, the Court issued a decision rejecting Texas’ use of stereotypical and outdated factors—rather than well-established clinical standards—to determine intellectual disability in death penalty cases on the grounds that they “create an unacceptable risk that persons with intellectual disability will be executed.”

Ortiz v. United States

In January 2015, The Arc filed an amicus brief (with sign-on from The Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law) with the Supreme Court of the United States in support of the petitioner in Ortiz v. United States, an appeal from the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals regarding a death penalty case involving an individual with intellectual disability. The Arc also participated in an amicus brief at the appellate level in 2010. The current brief argues that the execution of individuals with intellectual disability is unconstitutional and that the Court must consider the consensus of the scientific community that only Mr. Ortiz’s adaptive deficits, not his adaptive strengths, are relevant to a determination of intellectual disability. The full brief can be found here.

In December 2016, The Arc submitted a clemency letter to President Obama requesting the commutation of Mr. Ortiz’s sentence. In January 2017, President Obama commuted Mr. Ortiz’s sentence from death to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Lizcano v. Texas

In August 2015, The Arc signed on to an amicus brief filed with the Supreme Court of the United States in support of the petitioner in Lizcano v. Texas, an appeal from the Court of Criminal Appeals of Texas regarding a death penalty case involving an individual with intellectual disability. The brief argues that in implementing the Court’s decision in Atkins v. Virginia, Texas has essentially replaced the clinical definition’s carefully crafted requirement with a formula of its own devising (the “Briseno factors”) that rests heavily on stereotypes about people with ID and is inconsistent with accepted clinical standards. Counsel for amici was James W. Ellis of the University of New Mexico. The full brief can be found here. In December 2015, the Court denied the petition

City and County of San Francisco v. Sheehan

In February 2015, The Arc signed on to an amicus brief filed in the Supreme Court of the United States in support of the plaintiff in the case City and County of San Francisco v. Sheehan, in which the City appealed the ruling of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals that plaintiff—a woman with mental illness who was shot five times by police at her group home while experiencing a mental health crisis—could bring a claim against the City under Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act at trial for the City’s failure to provide her with a reasonable accommodation during arrest since she was known to have a disability. The City appealed to the Supreme Court on the grounds that the ADA does not apply to police encounters. Once the Supreme Court accepted the case, the City narrowed its question to whether the ADA requires law enforcement officers to provide accommodations to an armed, violent, and mentally ill suspect when attempting to take that suspect into custody. The amicus brief requested that the Supreme Court affirm the Ninth Circuit’s decision. Counsel for amici was the American Civil Liberties Union. In its opinion issued in May, the Court reversed in part and remanded in part the Ninth Circuit holding and held that the police officers are entitled to qualified immunity because there was no clearly established law requiring them to accommodate Sheehan’s mental illness. The Court chose not to address the ADA question. The full brief can be found here.

Parental Rights

In Re Elijah C.

In October 2016, The Arc filed an amicus brief before the Supreme Court of Connecticut in support of a mother with intellectual disability and schizophrenia whose parental rights were terminated by the Department of Children and Families (DCF) despite DCF failing to provide necessary accommodations to the mother throughout the process, as required by the Americans with Disabilities Act. The brief argued that termination of parental rights and neglect proceedings are “programs, services, and activities” that must comply with Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The brief was joined by the national ACLU and the ACLU of Connecticut. The full brief can be found here.

In Re Hicks/Brown

In September 2016, The Arc submitted an amicus brief before the Supreme Court of Michigan in support of the appellee, a mother with intellectual disability, requesting that the court deny leave to appeal where the Court of Appeals correctly found that the state failed in its statutory duty to make reasonable efforts to reunify the family unit because the case service plan never included reasonable accommodations to provide her with a meaningful opportunity to benefit as required by the Americans with Disabilities Act. 

In May 2017, the Michigan Supreme Court affirmed the lower court’s decision that the termination of the mother’s parental rights was improper without a finding of reasonable efforts. The Court therefore remanded the case to determine whether the Department reasonably accommodated Ms. Hicks’ disability as part of its required reunification efforts “in light of the fact that respondent never received the court-ordered services.” In its analysis, the Court found that the Department was required under the ADA to provide reasonable accommodations when the Department had knowledge that an individual has a disability (as it did here). The full opinion can be read here.

Administrative Agencies

Hart v. Colvin

In June 2016, The Arc signed on to an amicus brief filed in the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in support of the plaintiffs-appellants in the case Hart v. Colvin, arguing for the reversal of the district court’s dismissal of the case. Plaintiffs-appellants challenge a series of failures in the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) notification and review process, including lack of adequate notice of overpayments, a practice of collecting overpayments from those other than the actual recipients of Social Security benefit payments, and failure to provide explanation or evidence supporting the alleged overpayments. The brief argues that SSA and other defendants in a similar position should not be permitted to moot representative plaintiffs’ individual or class claims by unilateral action, thus avoiding judicial inquiry into their ongoing policies and practices. The brief further emphasizes the economic vulnerability of those affected by SSA’s ongoing policies and practices, and the importance of preserving access to class actions as a way to address these issues in a systemic fashion. In particular, the brief states that “…the challenges of accessing SSA’s appeal procedures can be compounded for beneficiaries with disabilities…Beneficiaries with intellectual disability can have difficulty handling the complex administrative, legal, and financial issues involved in accessing SSA appeal and waiver procedures, which are challenging for people without disabilities.” Counsel for amici were the Civil Rights Education and Enforcement Center, Justice in Aging, The Impact Fund, and the Brown Goldstein Levy firm.

Armstrong v. Exceptional Child Care Center, Inc.

In December 2014, The Arc signed onto an amicus brief in support of the plaintiffs with the Supreme Court of the United States in the case Armstrong v. Exceptional Child Care Center, Inc. The original lawsuit was brought by a group of Idaho residential habilitation providers serving people with I/DD against Idaho’s state Medicaid agency for failing to implement new provider rates published by the agency and approved by the federal Center for Medicaid and Medicare that would adequately reimburse providers for their costs. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the federal district court’s decision that the providers have a private right of action and that Idaho’s failure to implement the new rates violated the Medicaid Act’s equal access provision. The amicus brief requested that the Supreme Court affirm the Ninth Circuit’s decision. Counsel for amici were Samuel Bagenstos (University of Michigan) and Baker & Hostetler, LLP. The full brief can be found here. In March 2015, the Court reversed the Ninth Circuit’s decision, holding that providers may not sue to enforce this provision and ensure they are adequately paid. The Court’s opinion can be found here.

State and Local Government Obligations

Ivy v. Morath

In August 2016, The Arc signed on to an amicus brief filed in the U.S. Supreme Court in support of the petitioners in Ivy v. MorathAmici argued that a governmental entity cannot avoid its obligations under Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by acting through a private entity.  In this case, Texans who are deaf were unable to obtain driver’s licenses because the state required people under age 25 to complete a state-approved driver education course and present a certificate of completion before obtaining a license. These driver education courses are operated under the administration of the Texas Education Agency (TEA) which took no steps to ensure that the network of private entities on which the state was relying made the courses accessible to young adult drivers who are deaf. Thus, Texans who are deaf and under 25 are entirely unable to obtain driver’s licenses. Petitioners sued the TEA under Title II of the ADA and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. The TEA contended that it had no responsibility for the driver education courses, which are private entities. The Fifth Circuit agreed, reasoning that the TEA only “provides the licensure and regulation of driving education schools, not driver education itself” and there was no “agency or contractual relationship” between the TEA and the private entities. In the amicus brief in support of petitioners before the U.S. Supreme Court, amici argued that Title II of the ADA prohibits disability-based discrimination in public “services, programs, or activities” and states and local governments may not evade Title II obligations by enlisting private entities to perform them. States and other public entities routinely rely on private entities to provide services, programs, or activities, such as operating schools, providing employment training, providing community and long-term housing and care services to people with disabilities, operating prisons, providing transportation, and more. Many of the areas in which states involve private entities to provide public services, programs, andactivities are critical to ensuring that people with disabilities are able to live independently within the community, receive educational and employment opportunities, and not be denied access to basic government services and benefits. The full brief can be found here. Counsel for amici were Samuel Bagenstos, Baker & Hostetler LLP, the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law, and the Center for Public Representation.

In December 2016, the Court vacated the judgment and remanded the case with instructions to dismiss the case as moot.