LITTLE ROCK — A federal judge dismissed a Justice Department lawsuit Tuesday that accused the state of violating the Americans with Disabilities Act at its human development centers throughout the state, finding that the agency didn't follow its own administrative procedures before filing suit.
U.S. District Judge Leon Holmes dismissed the suit on procedural grounds, agreeing with state attorneys who argued that the Justice Department filed the lawsuit without allowing the state to first remedy the alleged problems.
"Because the Department of Justice has not made allegations in the complaint sufficient to indicate that it has complied with the statutory prerequisites to suit, the complaint therefore should be dismissed," Holmes wrote in the 13-page order.
A DOJ spokeswoman said the department was reviewing the decision and did not have an immediate comment.
The Justice Department filed the lawsuit last May, alleging that Arkansas was violating the ADA because it needlessly institutionalized disabled adults and did not offer an alternative for treatment in a more integrated setting. The case had been set to go to trial in 2012.
"The state segregates hundreds of individuals with developmental disabilities in institutions that are not the most integrated setting appropriate to their needs, and fails to provide adequate community supports and services to individuals who are discharged from the institutions or who are at risk of institutionalization," the lawsuit alleged. "Indeed, the state gives individuals with developmental disabilities the draconian choice of receiving services in segregated institutions or receiving no services at all."
Arkansas operates state-run centers for the disabled in Arkadelphia, Booneville, Jonesboro, Warren and Conway. Gov. Mike Beebe decided last May to shut down a sixth center in Alexander after officials concluded that its problems were too substantial to overcome.
The Justice Department also has filed a civil rights lawsuit over conditions at the Conway Human Development Center. Holmes has not yet ruled on that case, which wrapped up last fall after weeks of testimony.