The state filed paperwork Wednesday with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit to appeal the decision of U.S. Judge Carlton Reeves in a case with ramifications for the state’s mental health system.
The state had a deadline of November 8 to file with the Fifth Circuit based in New Orleans. The case centers on the state’s policy of institutionalizing the seriously mentally ill rather than allowing them to utilize community-based services.
The state already has asked Reeves for a partial stay of his September 7 ruling. The state says if he doesn’t delay implementation of the remedial plan devised by special master Dr. Michael Hogan, the state will suffer irreparable injuries from undue interference with its mental health system and a fundamental alteration of that system in both costs and structure.
Under the plan, the state would’ve had 120 days to submit a remedial plan to the court.
The bar to clear for the state will be considerable, as attorneys will have to prove to a panel of judges that Reeves' decision was either factually flawed or had a clear error in his interpretation of the law, in this case, the 1999 U.S. Supreme Court case Olmstead v. L.C.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in that case that individuals with severe mental disorders have the right to live in the community rather than in an institutional setting under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The state has repeatedly argued that the state Department of Mental Health is already transitioning to a community-based standard of care that meets the standard in the Olmstead decision. The Department of Justice (DOJ) has argued that the state’s system, while making progress, needs more reforms and an independent monitor to ensure compliance. Both sides have agreed on the choice of Hogan as independent monitor.
The state has lost now in both a four-week bench trial conducted by Reeves on September 3, 2019 and with his final decision on September 7.
The bench trial had 33 witnesses, 2,500 pages of transcripts and 400 exhibits.
The DOJ commenced an investigation in 2011 and issued a findings letter to then-Gov. Haley Barbour. The state and the DOJ attempted to find a negotiated settlement, but the DOJ later filed a lawsuit against the state on August 11, 2016 in U.S. District Court when those talks collapsed.
Reeves ruled in favor of the federal government after the 2019 bench trial and designated a special master, Hogan, to help the court develop a remedial plan to help the state meet federal requirements.