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Training center closures go forward

Rebecca M. Lightle//February 19, 2018

Training center closures go forward

Rebecca M. Lightle//February 19, 2018

This case began with a complaint by the U.S. Department of Justice alleging that the Commonwealth violated the Americans with Disabilities Act. That complaint was resolved via consent decree, which required the Commonwealth to change the way it provides services to its intellectually and developmentally disabled populations. The court closed the case after approving the consent decree, but continues to monitor the parties’ progress.

The Commonwealth has since decided to close four of five training centers that it developed decades ago to provide safe living environments for disabled citizens. Certain residents of these training centers are Intervenors in this action. Over time, experts in the field developed new modalities of care and preferred to allow disabled citizens to live in the broader community, rather than in restricted facilities. Moreover, the ADA explicitly identifies unjustified segregation of persons with disabilities as a form of discrimination.

After investigating the training centers beginning in 2008, the DOJ found that they violated the ADA by preventing disabled citizens from being part of the community. The Commonwealth, which had independently been decreasing the populations of the training centers, essentially concurred with the DOJ’s goal of community-based services. The resulting consent decree calls for the Commonwealth to increase the number of Medicaid waivers and provides for the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services will share responsibility for community services with local community-service boards. The Intervenors have opposed the decree because they regard the training centers as their homes and believe the decree requires their removal.

The four training centers where the Commonwealth plans to cease residential operations include the Central Virginia Training Center. In August 2016, DBHDS notified CVTV residents that its nursing facility would close. If the residents or their representatives did not select alternative placement within the time allotted, DBHDS transferred them to Hiram David Medical Center.

The Intervenors argue, citing two deaths at the facility, that Hiram Davis is inferior to CVTV. Thus, they seek various forms of injunctive relief based on (1) Code § 37.2-837(A)(3), which prohibits individuals from being discharged from training centers against their will, and (2) chapter 639 of the 2014 Acts of Assembly, which requires DBHDS to certify, before transferring training center residents, that the receiving facility provides a comparable quality of care, and that DBHDS has disclosed all legal placement options.


Contrary to the Commonwealth’s position, the Intervenors have standing to seek their requested relief. Although certain out-of-circuit cases have deemed a consent decree insufficient to establish an ongoing case or controversy to establish Article III standing, the present case is distinct. Because the court actively monitors implementation of the decree, rather than simply retaining jurisdiction in case the parties requested enforcement, the Intervenors as previous challengers to the consent decree remain parties to the suit and have standing to bring their motion for relief.

Subject-matter jurisdiction

Nevertheless, the Commonwealth is correct that the court lacks subject-matter jurisdiction to decide the Intervenors’ motion. While the motion might relate to the facts underlying the DOJ’s case against the Commonwealth, the claims are not “so related” under 28 U.S.C. 1367(a) that they form part of the same case or controversy.

The Intervenors’ motion does not pertain to the Commonwealth’s ADA violations. Nor does the motion seek to enforce the terms of the consent decree, which aims to improve ADA compliance. Moreover, one would not ordinarily expect a party to try claims regarding the training centers’ non-compliance with the ADA in the same proceeding as a claim under Code § 37.2-837(A)(3).

Even if the Intervenors’ claims bore sufficient relation to the underlying claims in this case, the court still would not have jurisdiction. Eleventh Amendment sovereign immunity insulates states from suits by its own citizens and prevents federal courts from enjoining states based on state law claims. These doctrines bar the court from exercising supplemental jurisdiction over them, as it does not have jurisdiction to enjoin the Commonwealth for violations of Virginia law.

Injunctive relief

The Intervenors cite serious bodily injury and death that certainly constitute irreparable harm, but this case involves further complexities. The Commonwealth planned to close CVTC due to staffing inadequacies, which would expose residents to serious harm if left unaddressed. In accordance with Virginia law, DBHDS subsequently transferred residents who did not select alternative placement. It isn’t clear that the Commonwealth’s lawful acts led to the particular irreparable harm that the Intervenors allege, especially in light of the CVTV staffing crisis. Thus, with sympathy to the tragic circumstances presented at the hearing on this motion, the court finds the Intervenors have not carried their burden with regard to this element.

As to the balance of the equities, the court struggles to reconcile the competing interests in this case. But granting injunctive relief would require the Commonwealth to return the Intervenors to training centers that have closed or soon will close. And Virginia law permitted the Commonwealth to transfer residents, an especially salient principle for those who do not select alternative placement as the centers close. Thus, pursuant to the ADA and Virginia law, the Commonwealth acted on its compelling interests to protect CVTC residents from harmful conditions at an understaffed facility and move toward community-based care. For these reasons, the balance of equities tips in the Commonwealth’s favor.

While the court understands the Intervenors’ concerns, the Commonwealth and DOJ have determined that closing the training centers serves the public interest. When the court approved the consent decree, it recognized that working toward the goal of community-based care could entail a difficult transition period, but that ultimately the decree served the public interest. Granting the Intervenors’ injunction would undo the progress the parties have made toward goals in the best interest of the public.

The court recognizes the tragic situation at the heart of this case. The Commonwealth is seeking to embrace a treatment philosophy focused on community-based centers, and the transition from its prior facilities is naturally difficult for those who are accustomed to that way of life. Perhaps the law is ill-suited to accommodate the complex issues in this case. Nevertheless, the court must adhere to the law. Accordingly, Intervenors’ motion for injunctive relief is denied.

United States v. Commonwealth, Case No. 3:12cv59, Feb. 2, 2018; EDVA at Richmond (Gibney). VLW No. 018-3-031, 12 pp.

VLW 018-3-031

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