Class action disability rights suit settled

Disabled residents of group homes sued state agency in order to get more autonomy

People with disabilities who live in group homes have reached a settlement almost six years after they filed a lawsuit alleging that Minnesota disability programs rely too much on group homes and don’t provide support for people to live more independently. 

As part of the settlement, the state Department of Human Services (DHS) agrees to provide assistance to all people with disabilities living in four-person group homes who wish to transition to different housing. The agency is also agreeing to track the people interested in more individual living to ensure they’re getting the support they need from case managers.  

About 13,000 people live in these small group homes in the state. The settlement could affect more than 1,000 residents who wish to move, said Justin Perl, head of litigation for the Minnesota Disability Law Center, which is part of Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid. 

Perl said some plaintiffs who lived in group homes when the lawsuit was filed in 2016 have now moved into their own spaces. 

“They are so much happier, and they are able to do much more, in terms of, one is running her own art business and one is just out in the community and able to do much more,” Perl said. “So, it’s clearly a quality of life issue.” 

A spokesperson from DHS pointed to a new service it launched in 2020 called Housing Stabilization Services that helps people find and keep housing. 

“Every person with a disability should have the opportunity to live where they choose,” the agency’s statement read. “DHS recognizes that finding housing is challenging and we continue to work to improve access for those we serve.”

As part of the settlement, the state also agrees to pay more than $1.1 million dollars to cover attorneys fees, although Perl said a monetary settlement wasn’t the point of the lawsuit.  

“That money will be used to help more people with disabilities and more vulnerable folks in our communities,” Perl said, “so we’re pleased with that result as well.” 

Final court approval for the settlement is scheduled for Jan. 4, 2023.

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