N.D.Fla.: Institutionalized plaintiffs have divergent interests from community plaintiffs, defeating class certification

In a further development in litigation challenging a lengthy waiting list for Medicaid funding for Florida’s Home and Community Based Services Waiver program, the district court for the Northern District of Florida denied a motion for class certification from a group of plaintiffs with developmental disabilities. The court found that the plaintiffs living in the community had interests in conflict with the plaintiffs presently living in nursing facilities, which made class certification inappropriate.  The court had previously denied the state’s motion to dismiss.  See our posting hereDykes v. Dudek, No. 4:11cv116/RS-WCS, 2011 WL 4904407 (N.D.Fla. Oct. 14, 2011). Judge Smoak, nominated by President George W. Bush, wrote the court’s opinion.

The suit was brought by a group of individuals with developmental disabilities who are eligible to receive Medicaid either in intermediate care facilities for the developmentally disabled or in the community through the waiver program.  The plaintiffs alleged that the waiting list for community services exceeds five years in some cases and that the state had limited funding for the program, resulting in a portion of institutionalized persons never being enrolled.

The defendants challenged the standing of the subclass of plaintiffs who currently are not institutionalized, on the grounds that they were not at risk of suffering harm from institutionalization.  The court held that the lack of services due to years of languishing on a waiting list was sufficient injury to satisfy the standing requirement.  However, the court dismissed the plaintiffs’ contention that the threat of institutionalization conferred standing.  The court characterized the risk of institutionalization as “speculative and not relevant.”  The court further rejected the defendants’ attempt to challenge the validity of a statutory cause of action by contesting standing.  The court noted that the existence of a cause of action is distinct from the standing analysis.

The court turned to whether the plaintiff class had legal issues that were common to all members. The court identified three problems with the plaintiffs’ class. First, federal law treated the two subclasses of plaintiffs differently. Those who were institutionalized could make discrimination claims under the ADA. But those not institutionalized would have to confront the legal question of whether the same protection extended to them. Second, Florida law also treated the two subclasses differently, and thus members of each subclass were unable to get placements in community facilities for different reasons. Third, the injuries each class suffered diverged. For the institutionalized plaintiffs, their injury derived from their inability to leave their institutions. For the non-institutionalized plaintiffs, their injury derived from their inability to receive services in the community.

The court also identified a conflict of interest between the two subclasses. Under Florida law, the institutionalized plaintiffs had a higher priority claim to placements in community care facilities than non-institutionalized plaintiffs. They had an interest in not changing that part of the legal system for allocating placements. However, the non-institutionalized plaintiffs would have an interest in changing the priority system of state law. The different and conflicting interests of the two classes of plaintiffs led the court to deny the plaintiffs’ motion for class certification.

Nate Vogel, University of Pennsylvania Law School, class of 2011


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