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IL state officials tossed from discrimination lawsuit vs Eden Supportive Living over mental health policies

By Dan Churney | Sep 9, 2015

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A Chicago federal judge has tossed several state officials, including former Gov. Patrick Quinn, from a suit brought by two women and a fair housing group, which alleged officials wrongly barred the mentally ill from a Medicaid-supported housing program.

Kimberly O’Connor, Tammy Mormino and West Chicago-based H.O.P.E., Inc., filed a complaint Oct. 15, 2013 – amended in September 2014 – in U.S. District Court for Northern Illinois against Eden Management LLC and several Illinois officials. Those officials included Quinn and Department of Healthcare and Family Services Director Julie Hamos. O’Connor and Mormino’s suit is a class action. Plaintiffs alleged the Illinois officials violated the Fair Housing Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act, all federal acts.

HOPE is a nonprofit group that works against discrimination and segregation in housing. Eden Management provides supported-living apartments and health services to people with physical disabilities over the age of 22 years old or anyone over 65. Medicaid then pays the bills.

Eden facilities, which include those under the Eden Supportive Living name in Chicago, Batavia and Champaign, are regulated by the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services through Illinois’ Supported Living Program. The program does not admit applicants with a “primary or secondary diagnosis of developmental disability or serious and persistent mental illness.”

O’Connor and Mormino both said they suffered from a number of physical ailments and mental issues. They applied to live at Eden facilities, but O’Connor said Eden representatives told her they would not accept anyone with any mental health diagnosis.

Mormino lived in an Eden apartment based on her physical needs, but transferred to a nursing facility after a mental health screening indicated she needed a higher level of care. Five years later, her mental condition had improved enough that she sought to return to an Eden home. However, when Eden told her she need an updated mental screening, Mormino refused, saying the state did not require another screening.

O’Connor and Mormino contacted HOPE, which investigated by having people pose as applicants for Eden homes, saying they had physical disabilities and mental illness. In each instance, Eden told the impostors no applicants with mental illness would be accepted, according to HOPE.

The suit by O’Connor, Mormino and HOPE includes three counts against Eden and three against state officials. The state officials filed a motion to dismiss the counts against them for lack of standing and failure to state a claim. U.S. District Judge Joan B. Gottschall addressed the motion Sept. 3.

Gottschall agreed the plaintiffs had no standing, because their allegations “plainly” show Eden, not the state, caused their harms.

State law requires a supported-living facility to defer to an Illinois Department of Human Services “screening agent” to determine if an applicant has a “serious or persistent mental illness.” Gottschall found Eden allegedly violated this law, not state officials. If anything, the plaintiffs’ allegations show the state had requirements in place to prevent the very injuries plaintiffs blame on the state.

O’Connor, Mormino and HOPE tried an end run around this point by arguing screenings by the state would have been “futile,” because such screenings would have inevitably disqualified them. Attorneys for the state countered – and Gottschall agreed – a history of mental illness, as applied to O’Connor and Mormino, is not the same as a “serious and persistent” mental illness, as outlined in the state law. Gottschall said O’Connor and Mormino might have passed a state screening, but they never submitted to one.

Plaintiffs also claimed the state is responsible for their harm at the hands of Eden, because the state did not properly oversee Eden. Gottschall cast this argument to the winds, describing it as a “vague, blanket accusation.”

To blame the state, plaintiffs needed to allege the state coerced or encouraged Eden, so Eden’s policy was the state's policy, according to Gottschall. But there is no indication the state even knew of Eden’s policy, much less was a party to it, Gottschall observed.

As far as HOPE’s inclusion in the case, that group contended it spent resources in response to the state’s conduct, which amounted to a harm. However, Gottschall pointed out HOPE did not allege what that conduct was. Further, HOPE investigated Eden after receiving complaints from O’Connor and Mormino about Eden, not about the state.

“Neither HOPE nor the Individual Plaintiffs ever engaged with the State Defendants,” Gottschall noted.

In sum, Gottschall said that despite the “relatively low bar” for HOPE, the organization did not allege an injury “traceable” to the state.

Gottschall decided plaintiffs did not have standing against the state, so she dropped the state officials from the suit, adding that, without standing, the question was moot as to whether plaintiffs stated a claim. Gottschall set a status hearing for Sept. 30.

Plaintiffs are represented by Soule, Bradtke & Lambert, of Elmhurst, and AARP Foundation Litigation, of Washington, D.C.

Eden is represented by Polsinelli P.C., of Chicago, and the state officials were represented by the Illinois Attorney General’s Office.

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Organizations in this Story

Polsinelli PCIllinois Department of Human ServicesEden Supportive LivingIllinois Department of Healthcare and Family ServicesHOPE Fair Housing CenterSoule Bradtke & LambertAARP Foundation LitigationIllinois Attorney General