Simpson Thacher & Bartlett



Pro Bono Rank Firm
(Am Law 200 Rank)
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Simpson Thacher (25)


Marilyn Reid was an active member of the Nueva Vista Adult Residential Facility (ARF) in Morgan Hill, California, a state-licensed home for adults with mental disabilities. The spry 75-year-old suffered from schizophrenia, but still participated in the home's social outings and daily exercises. The Am Law Pro Bono 100She'd been under the care of the facility's provider and in-house doctor for nine years. But in early 2006, California's Department of Social Services evicted Reid from her home.

Mentally handicapped adults living in ARFs have access to 24-hour care but still lead relatively autonomous lives. California state regulations, however, required any mentally disabled individual over 59 in state care to live in a home for the elderly, because the state deemed ARFs inadequate to serve the needs of seniors. So adults over 59 who could still care for themselves were being forced into residential care facilities for the elderly, which offered more restrictive—sometimes locked—living accommodations.

"[Reid] was a very vibrant older woman," says Alexis Coll-Very, a partner at Simpson Thacher & Bartlett's Palo Alto office, "Moving her to an elderly care facility would be detrimental to her physical and mental well being." (Coll-Very headed the firm's pro bono representation of Reid after The Law Foundation of Silicon Valley came to Simpson Thacher with the case.) The firm's initial negotiations with the state on Reid's behalf "were not taken seriously," Coll-Very says. After the firm, in partnership with the Law Foundation, finally sued the state social services department in April 2006 for age and disability discrimination, the agency allowed Reid to stay in Nueva Vista. But Simpson Thacher pursued the issue further with a class action suit on behalf of seniors with mental disabilities who, like Reid, were being barred from housing that best suited their needs.

Reid's case was "indicative of much broader, systemic problems" throughout California, says Patrick King, a partner at Simpson Thacher's Palo Alto office who led the class action. King says that a statewide investigation and a dozen depositions showed that state regulations were keeping capable individuals across the state from living independent lives.

In November 2008 more than two years of litigation ended on the eve of trial when the state agreed to settle by revising the statutory provisions in question. The amendments will remove the hard-and-fast rule that excluded 60-year-olds from ARFs, and allow doctors, facility operators, and the state to work together to place senior residents in the most appropriate accommodations. King says the two sides reached a settlement because their interests were truly aligned. "What we both wanted was the best possible service for the people of the state," he says.

—Claire Zillman | July 1, 2009

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