Court: NYC Violated Rights of Mentally Ill under the ADA

By Joel Zand on September 08, 2009 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

New York City violated the Americans with Disabilities Act's integration mandate that requires the city to help people with mental illness "receive services in the most integrated setting appropriate to their needs,"

After an 18-day trial and six years of litigation, the court issued a 210-page opinion, finding that the State's for-profit licensed homes for mentally ill patients:

"have a motive to be unhelpful to residents seeking to move: the Adult Homes are for-profit enterprises that lose revenue with each resident who secures alternative housing."

What does the ADA's 'Integration mandate' say, and how are people with mental illness helped, in this case, by the ADA's provisions?

In an opinion written by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg a decade ago, the U.S. Supreme Court held that placing people "who can handle and benefit from community settings" into institutions rather than integrating them into the community "perpetuates unwarranted assumptions" against people with disabilities.

The Americans with Disabilities Act has an "integration mandate" requiring that if a federal or state government assists people with disabilities with special services, it has to do this "in the most integrated setting appropriate to their needs."

Congress said that this requirement means that the disabled receive government assistance in a "setting that enables individuals with disabilities to interact with non-disabled persons to the fullest extent possible."

The crux of U.S. District Judge Nicholas Garaufis' opinion was that New York cannot assist people with mental illness by placing them in an isolated setting separate and apartment from the rest of society, a scenario that New York City once practiced on Roosevelt Island (previously known as 'Blackwell's Island). 

More than a century ago, the New York Lunatic Asylum was built on the island to house the mentally ill.  It was later exposed as a cruel and inhumane institution by journalist Nellie Bly in her book, Ten Days in a Mad-House, an undercover account of what it was like to live in the "Women's Lunatic Asylum" on Blackwell's Island.

You can read the new federal court opinion here:

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