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Systemic Litigation

Disability Rights New Jersey represents clients in many different types of cases.  Here you will find a sampling of the most significant results from our courtroom advocacy sorted by issue area. 

Pending Litigation

Disability Rights New Jersey v. Adelman, Baston, 3:24-cv-00949

Disability Rights New Jersey filed a lawsuit on February 20, 2024 in the United States District Court of New Jersey against the Commissioners of the New Jersey Department of Health and Department of Human Services, together with their agencies and the State. This lawsuit addresses the significant harm faced by individuals confined to New Jersey’s State psychiatric hospitals who are subjected to abusive conditions, inappropriately prolonged confinement, and lack of community resources rising to the level of violating their rights under the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.

Approximately 1,150 people are confined to New Jersey’s State psychiatric hospitals: Ancora Psychiatric Hospital, Greystone Park Psychiatric Hospital, Trenton Psychiatric Hospital, and Ann Klein Forensic Center. Disability Rights New Jersey’s investigations reveal that people confined to the hospitals are subject to widespread abuse and violent conditions. Individuals have been sexually, physically, and emotionally assaulted, sometimes resulting in permanent injuries or death. In addition to living in an atmosphere of violence, many patients who no longer meet the standards for involuntary commitment cannot leave for months, even years, while they wait for appropriate community mental health services and supports. The State holds these people against their will on a status called Conditional Extension Pending Placement, or CEPP. Given these unlawful practices, Disability Rights New Jersey filed suit to protect the rights of these 1,150 people.

Click here to access a copy of the filed complaint.

Past Litigation

Access to Community-Based Services 

DRNJ, Harmon, Thompson, and Stevens v. Velez, 3:08-cv-01858 
and DRNJ v. Velez 3:05-cv-04723 

Disability Rights New Jersey filed two lawsuits against the state of New Jersey in 2005 and in 2008.  The complaints alleged that New Jersey illegally segregated people with developmental disabilities into large state-run institutions and failed to provide sufficient community-based supports.  The twin lawsuits alleged that the shortage of community services created both a backlog of residents stuck in institutions who wanted to live in the community, and people living in family homes who needed residential services stuck on a wait list almost indefinitely.  In March 2013, Disability Rights New Jersey finalized a settlement agreement covering both lawsuits that dramatically expanded the availability of community residential placements, diverted unnecessary institutional placements, and required the state to find community placements for all 600 eligible Developmental Center residents over a five-year settlement monitoring period.  The state met and exceeded its obligations under the settlement agreement by the end of the monitoring period in 2018. 

Click here to access a copy of the settlement agreement. 

SIDEBAR – Olmstead v. L.C. ex rel. Zimring, 527 U.S. 581 (1999).  Many people in the disability world have heard “Olmstead” or “The Olmstead Act” (a misnomer), but few really understand its meaning.  Olmstead refers to the 1999 U.S. Supreme Court decision authored by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg interpreting the anti-discrimination provisions of the 1990 Americans With Disabilities Act (“ADA”): “institutional placement of persons who can handle and benefit from community settings perpetuates unwarranted assumptions that persons so isolated are incapable or unworthy of participating in community life.”  Several of Disability Rights New Jersey’s litigation efforts reduced this type of systemic discrimination in New Jersey. 

NJP&A v. Davy, 3:05-cv-01784 

On April 5, 2005, Disability Rights New Jersey (then called “New Jersey Protection and Advocacy”) filed a lawsuit in federal district court against James Davy, Commissioner of the Department of Human Services for the State of New Jersey demanding the release of hundreds of New Jersey residents from unnecessary confinement in state psychiatric institutions.  DRNJ, along with attorneys from the Bazelon Center and Pepper Hamilton, LLP asked the court to order New Jersey to provide individuals on CEPP status with services in the most integrated settings appropriate to their needs, to limit CEPP status to 60 days, and to provide monthly reports to DRNJ detailing the progress of individuals on CEPP status towards return to the community. 

SIDEBAR – The Conditional Extension Pending Placement (CEPP) status was created by the State Supreme Court in the 1983 S.L. case [In re S.L., 94 N.J. 128 (1983)] to give the State time to develop community placements before discharging individuals who do not meet criteria for involuntary commitment to a hospital. When NJP&A v. Davy was filed, however, approximately half of psychiatric hospital patients were on CEPP status, and many had been waiting for a discharge placement for years. 

In July 2009, the parties negotiated a settlement agreement that required New Jersey to discharge over 1,000 patients held on CEPP status into community settings with the appropriate supports and increase community mental health capacity by 2014.  The settlement period was extended because of slow compliance, but the state met its obligations in 2018.   

Click here to access a copy of the settlement agreement. 


Oasis v. Wade, 239 N.J. 492 (2019) 

DRNJ submitted an amicus brief to the Supreme Court of New Jersey in Oasis v. Wade, a case about the application of the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination to neighbors interfering with the rights of disabled people to acquire and enjoy housing.  In this case, a non-profit agency purchased a home to provide vocational services and housing to young adults with autism.  The adjacent neighbors, driven by anti-disability animus, graffitied the property, dumped manure on the driveway, and released “aggressive” goats to intimidate autistic residents and drive them out of town.  Oasis, the operator of the home, sued the neighbors.  The intermediate appeals court ruled that the Law Against Discrimination outlawed that type of intimidation by neighbors.  The neighbors appealed and the NJ Supreme Court granted certiorari.  The Supreme Court accepted Disability Rights New Jersey’s amicus filing, which explained how allowing such discrimination would harm people with disabilities across the board.  Shortly thereafter, the Defendant withdrew its appeal, leaving a favorable published appellate decision in place that protects other disabled residents in New Jersey from facing vigilante discrimination by their neighbors.   

Click here to access a copy of the amicus brief. 

Institutional Rights 

DRNJ v. Velez, 2:10-cv-03950 

In 2010, DRNJ sued the state of New Jersey to stop forced medication for patients at state psychiatric hospitals. 

On September 27, 2013, the court ruled that the state could not medicate people against their will if they were on Continued Extension Pending Placement (CEPP) status without an improved process to protect their constitutional rights. CEPP status means that a patient no longer meets the criteria for involuntary commitment to the psychiatric hospital but has not left the hospital because the state has not found a suitable community placement for the individual.  This judgment did not apply to individuals involuntarily committed to the psychiatric hospital. 

Special Education 

E.E. & L.E. o/b/o K.M. v. Ridgefield Park Sch. Dist., Civil Action No. 2-19-cv-01221 (D.N.J. 2020).  In this appeal of the federal court’s decision that limited the school district’s responsibility to provide compensatory services to the date a parent knew or should have known that a free, appropriate public education was not being provided, Disability Rights New Jersey and other advocacy groups urged the federal appellate court to enforce the provision of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act that requires a school district to provide compensatory services back to any period of time in which a student did not receive an appropriate education.  We also asked the appellate court to make clear that a school district’s expert witness is not inherently more reliable than a student’s expert witness.  As of March 2021, we are still awaiting the decision. 

C.P., et al. v. N.J. Dep’t of Educ., et al., Civ. Action No. 2-19-cv-12807-NLH-KMW (D.N.J. 2019).  In collaboration with other advocacy groups, Disability Rights New Jersey urged the federal district court to enforce the provision of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act that requires the State of New Jersey to issue final decisions in due process hearings within 45 days.  As of March 2021, we are still awaiting the decision. 

J.M. & E.M. o/b/o C.M. v. Summit City Sch. Dist., Civ. Action No. 19-00159 (KM) (ESK) (D.N.J. 2020).  In collaboration with other advocacy groups, Disability Rights New Jersey filed a request with the federal appellate court to participate as Amici.  The brief  filed along with the request seeks to ensure that school districts evaluate students in all areas of suspected disability and that courts be permitted to consider post-hoc evidence when determining if a school district’s refusal to evaluate a student, or find a student eligible for special education, is appropriate.  As of March 2021, we are still awaiting the decision. 

DRNJ v. Department of Education 07-2978 

Disability Rights NJ, along with Lowenstein Sandler PC, the Education Law Center, and the Hackensack law firm Loughlin & Latimer filed a lawsuit on June 27, 2007 against the New Jersey Department of Education on behalf of children with disabilities across the state.  The suit alleged that the state’s education system segregates children with disabilities instead of providing an inclusive education in the least restrictive setting.   

After years of litigation, DRNJ settled this case in 2014. The settlement agreement, which calls for a remedial action plan, can be found here