JACKSON, Miss. — Mississippi officials are asking a federal judge to throw out a lawsuit challenging how the state runs its mental health system, but the U.S. Department of Justice, in papers filed last week, urges the judge to reject both of the state’s arguments.
Lawyers for the state in December told U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves the federal government doesn’t have authority to sue the state under part of the Americans with Disabilities Act federal officials are citing. Lawyers for Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood also claim the federal government hasn’t done enough to lay out what changes it wants to Mississippi’s mental health system.
The federal government says it does have authority to sue and says its experts have done plenty to show Mississippi should spend more on community-based care and less on keeping patients in mental hospitals.
The arguments come more than two years into the lawsuit that attacking Mississippi for relying too much on sending people to psychiatric hospitals and other institutions for treatment. Under federal law and court decisions, states are supposed to provide care in the least restrictive setting possible, helping people live at home and not in state mental hospitals or private institutions. The federal government has filed 10 expert reports in the case which all say the state is hospitalizing people who could be housed in the community, and that Mississippi is an outlier in its reliance on mental hospitals.
The state, though, says those experts have offered no opinions on how many state hospital beds Mississippi should have and the federal government doesn’t explain clearly what it believes the state should change or how much that should cost.
“Plaintiff has not identified the reasonable modifications Mississippi must allegedly make to its mental health system, or the quantity … of community-based services Mississippi should allegedly add to its system, or the cost of the modifications plaintiff is seeking,” the state wrote .
Federal officials reject the state’s argument, saying it’s not the role of the plaintiff in a lawsuit like this to lay out a plan and a budget for the state.
“The state’s insistence that the United States also put forth evidence of the quantity of community-based services Mississippi needs to add and the total cost of the modifications has no legal basis,” Justice Department lawyers wrote .
Mississippi is also claiming that the federal government doesn’t have standing to sue under the portion of the Americans with Disabilities Act the lawsuit cites, even though the federal government has filed a number of similar lawsuits. Mississippi points to a case from Florida where a trial court judge ruled against the Justice Department. That case is currently on appeal to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta, and the state suggests Reeves delay the case until the appeal court rules.
The Justice Department, though, derides the state’s argument, saying lawyers admitted in the state’s initial reply that the federal government had the power to sue.
“Mississippi has waived that argument and its motion should be denied,” federal lawyers wrote .
And even if the federal government can’t sue under the Americans with Disabilities Act, lawyers said Mississippi is ignoring the attorney general’s authority under a separate federal law, the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act.