A federal appeals court, ruling on procedural grounds, struck down on Friday a judge’s order that New York State transfer thousands of mentally ill adults in New York City from institutional group homes into their own homes and apartments. In doing so, the court brought a nine-year legal battle to an abrupt end without resolving the underlying issues of how the state cares for such patients.
Though the lower court judge had ruled the current system violated federal law by warehousing people with mental illness in far more restrictive conditions than necessary, the appellate panel said the nonprofit organization that began the litigation, Disability Advocates, did not have legal standing to sue.
The panel, comprising three judges of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, acknowledged that its decision essentially reset the long-running battle to its starting point.
“We are not unsympathetic to the concern that our disposition will delay the resolution of this controversy and impose substantial burdens and transaction costs on the parties, their counsel and the courts,” the opinion said.
Cliff Zucker, the executive director of Disability Advocates, who less than two years ago was celebrating the lower court’s order for immediate changes to the system, said he would now seek to reach a settlement with state officials. “We are hopeful that this administration has recognized that this is a problem that needs to be solved and we’ll be able to solve it without recommencing litigation,” he said.
Barring such a deal, it is also possible that the Justice Department, which intervened late in the case on behalf of the plaintiffs, could file a new lawsuit, Mr. Zucker said.
Disability Advocates brought the lawsuit in 2003 after a series of articles in The New York Times described a system in which residents were poorly monitored and barely cared for, left to swelter in the summer and sometimes subjected to needless medical treatment and operations for Medicaid reimbursement.
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Court Upends 9-Year Fight on Housing Mentally Ill