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Jim White is the last of the 16 named plaintiffs of the Capitol People First case to move into the community. Filed by Disability Rights California and other advocacy groups to protect the civil rights of people with developmental disabilities, the case settled in 2009. The case settlement requires that Jim and nearly 7000 other Californians living in institutions and large facilities be informed about and helped to implement their right to choose where to live.
Jim White now lives in his own place in Lakeport, a resort town in Lake County. For a long time, he lived at the Sonoma Developmental Center, located a few miles away. Jim was first placed in an institution when he was 13 and in 2010, at age 69, he moved out.
Today, he lives in a small bungalow with staff. They provide support for his new life, so he can shop for food and arrive on time for his job. Jim works part time answering the phone at an office in Lakeport.
Jim likes his job and is very happy with his new home in the community. If asked, he is adamant that he is “never going back to that hospital.”
According to Barbara Dickey, senior attorney involved in monitoring progress in the settlement, “Jim was the last one of the 16 to move because no one thought he could make the transition; there just seemed to be too many challenges. But once the support team committed themselves to this goal, they made it happen. After Jim settled into his new home, he changed, dropping some behavior and habits. He’s loving his new life: he rode in the local 4th of July parade in Lakeport, attends local events and is learning to play golf. He sits on his own porch and enjoys being out in the world.”
The changes Jim made are not unique. A 2009 newsletter of the Sonoma Developmental Center quoted a staff member, Liz Stoddard, who had visited a former resident in his new place. “When he lived here, he was a hoarder and his room was a mess…now, he is very neat and even points at staff, telling them to clean up if they are messy in his apartment.” The June 2010 final report by the University of California at Davis, about how former residents of Agnews Developmental Center are now faring outside of the institution, confirms that some people can improve their health, functions and quality of life in community settings.
On April 24, Judge Robert Freedman granted final approval of the settlement agreement in Capitol People First et al v. DDS et al.
The lawsuit was filed in January 2002, seeking to ensure that Californians with developmental disabilities had access to the services they need to live in and participate as members of their communities, and avoid unnecessary institutionalization. The class includes the approximately 2,300 children and adults who live in state-run developmental centers and the 4,500 people who live in privately-owned institutions housing 16 or more, such as skilled nursing facilities and other large congregate facilities.
The lawsuit was brought in Alameda County Superior Court by sixteen individual plaintiffs who resided in, or were at risk of placement in, developmental centers or other institutions; three organizational plaintiffs (Capitol People First, California Alliance for Inclusive Communities, and Arc California); and two taxpayer plaintiffs who asserted that the State is spending tax dollars unlawfully by continuing to institutionalize individuals who could live successfully in community homes. The case was litigated by Disability Rights California, with Bingham McCutchen LLP and DLA Piper US LLP as pro bono counsel.