Prominent Mineola-based law firm Bartlett, McDonough & Monaghan (BM&M), LLP recently won an important case of first impression involving a married developmentally disabled couple whose parents filed a Federal lawsuit on their behalf seeking to compel their group homes to permit them to cohabitate after marriage. U.S.D.C. Judge Leonard D. Wexler granted the defendant’s motion to dismiss. Plaintiffs have since filed an appeal. Forziano v. Ind. Group Home Living Program, Inc., CV 13-0370 (March 26, 2014). Maryhaven Center of Hope in Port Jefferson Station, NY, Independent Group Home Living Program, Inc. (IGHL) in Manorville, NY, and the New York State Office for People with Developmental Disabilities (OPWDD) were the Defendants in the case. The Plaintiffs alleged discrimination based on the couple’s disabilities. With their extensive experience and background in healthcare advocacy, the attorneys representing Maryhaven, BM&M Partner Robert F. Elliott and Associate Anna I. Hock, developed a successful argument that demonstrated how their client responsibly met the needs of the developmentally disabled all the while complying with Federal anti-discrimination statutes.
According to legal documents, Maryhaven, a member of Catholic Health Services of Long Island, operated the Group Home in which 35-year-old Hava Forziano had lived full-time prior to marriage, and Paul Forziano, 29, had been provided day services by Maryhaven. The couple expressed their desire to cohabitate in the Group Home after marriage. Maryhaven declined to provide this service as it was not clinically appropriate.
Litigation papers state that the couple’s parents argued in their lawsuit that the law mandated the Group Home to accommodate the special needs of Mr. and Mrs. Forziano to cohabitate as a married couple. They further argued that refusal of the request was discriminatory due to the couple’s disabilities.
According to legal papers filed in this matter, Defendants asserted that the request to cohabitate was driven solely by marital status and not disability. Underscoring Maryhaven’s long-standing dedication to their residents’ well being, Mr. Elliott and Ms. Hock argued that while the law requires adequate services for residents, it does not require accommodations for special cases such as this one.
In arguing the case, Mr. Elliott and Ms. Hock drew upon their expertise as former healthcare providers and prominent healthcare legal practitioners to bring special awareness and insight to the discussion. Understanding the medical treatment that is an integral part of living in a group home, they stressed the importance of the complex treatment plans, called Individualized Service Plans (ISPs), that are provided for each resident. A team of healthcare professionals, along with family members and the residents themselves, create these plans, which include needed levels of supervision. According to papers filed in court, this type of supervision would be unable to be implemented successfully for the Forzianos or any couple living together whose needs qualify them for placement in a group home due to limited capacity to live independently. The essential services provided by Maryhaven, as well as IGHL, are to be distinguished from accommodations, including co-habiting as a married couple, which are not services mandated to be provided to the disabled and not appropriate in this setting, maintained the Defendants.
“We are acutely sensitive to the issues and pressures our healthcare clients face every day,” said Mr. Elliott. “Despite their best efforts to provide caring and appropriate care to residents, patients and their families, they are second guessed at every turn. It is gratifying to us that we were able to vindicate our client’s rights in this lawsuit.”
In addition, in her brief, Ms. Hock clarified the critical point that the law protects the disabled from discrimination in situations in which able-bodied people are given preferential treatment, and thus the rights of disabled individuals are violated. According to legal documents, the law does not, however, establish an obligation to provide particular accommodations for one disabled person that are not provided for others within the same setting.
Court documents state that the Defendants were successful in refuting the Plaintiffs’ claims that they discriminated against the Forzianos due to their disabilities under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Rehabilitation Act and the Fair Housing Act. The Court also held that the services provided by the group homes are not accommodations that can be challenged or manipulated by anti-discrimination laws.
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