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ADA Class Action Defense Cases-Ligas v. Maram: Seventh Circuit Affirms Denial Of Request To Intervene In Class Action Under Federal Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA)

Proposed Intervenors in Class Action Under ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) Failed to Establish Error in Denial of Leave to Intervene Seventh Circuit Holds

Plaintiffs filed a class action against the State of Illinois under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) concerning “the proper way to provide care for the developmentally disabled”; specifically, whether the developmentally disabled are better served by institutionalized care or by integration into the community. Ligas v. Maram, 478 F.3d 771, 772-73 (7th Cir. 2007). Plaintiffs believed the latter, and filed suit designed “to hasten the state of Illinois down the road to community-based care,” id., at 773. Certain members of the proposed class, however, feared that they would be forced into community-based programs even if they preferred institutionalized care, so they petitioned the federal court for leave to intervene, either as of right or permissively. Id., at 773. Defense attorneys and plaintiffs in the class action opposed intervention; the district court denied leave to intervene and the proposed intervenors appealed. Id. The Court of Appeals affirmed, rejecting the effort to intervene in the class action.

With respect to the issue of intervention as of right, the Seventh Circuit defined the issues on appeal as “whether the action threatens to impair that interest and whether the parties fail to represent those interests adequately.” Ligas, at 774. The only possible impairment of proposed intervenors’ interests would be if they were no longer able to choose whether to receive institutionalized care, id. The district court found, however, that the class action complaint was “replete with language on choice,” id. The appellate court agreed, holding that nothing in the class action complaint would force community-based care upon those who desired institutionalized care. Id. With respect to adequate representation of their interests, the district court found proposed intervenors’ arguments to be “at best speculative, and at worst conclusory,” id. Again the Circuit Court agreed.

Additionally, the district court addressed proposed intervenors’ concerns by denying the initial motion to certify a class action and instructing plaintiffs to narrow the definition of the class. Plaintiffs complied, redefining the class so as to consist of those “who would not oppose community placement.” Ligas, at 775. As this language came directly from United States Supreme Court precedent, see Olmstead v. L.C. ex rel. Zimring, 527 U.S. 581 (1999), the appellate court approved of this new definition. Ligas, at 775.

With respect to permissive intervention, the Seventh Circuit observed that such relief is left to the sound discretion of the district court and concluded that the lower court had not abused that discretion in denying leave to intervene. Ligas, at 775-76. While the district court’s reasoning was not segmented into the various issues it was required to consider, the Circuit Court found that “the decision shows a thorough consideration of the interests of all the parties and concludes by denying the intervenors’ motions in toto.” Id., at 776. Accordingly, it affirmed the district court’s order denying proposed intervenors leave to amend in the class action.

NOTE: On appeal, proposed intervenors alternatively requested that they be given “conditional intervention subject to a future showing that the state defendants are not adequately representing their interests,” Ligas, at 776; however, because this issue was not raised in the district court, it was deemed waived on appeal, id.

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