DOE v. ROWENo. 00-CV-206-B-S.
156 F.Supp.2d 35 (2001)
Jane DOE, Jill Doe and June Doe, by and through their guardian, Maine Department of Human Services, and the Disability Rights Center of Maine, Inc., Plaintiffs
G. Steven ROWE, Attorney General for the State of Maine, et al., Defendants
G. Steven ROWE, Attorney General for the State of Maine, et al., Defendants
United States District Court, D. Maine.
August 9, 2001.
Kristin L. Aiello, Disability Rights Center, Augusta, ME, for Jane Doe, Jill Doe, June Doe, plaintiffs.
William R. Stokes, Paul Stern, Susan P. Herman, Assistant Attorney General, Augusta, ME, for Attorney General, Secretary of State, defendants.
ORDER ON CROSS MOTIONS FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT
SINGAL, District Judge.
Before the Court are both State Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment (Docket # 41) and Plaintiffs' Motion for Summary Judgment (Docket # 44). Through these cross motions, the parties ask the Court to resolve the following significant question: By prohibiting voting by persons under guardianship for mental illness, does the Maine Constitution violate the Fourteenth Amendment and the Americans with Disabilities Act?
For the reasons described below, the Court answers this question in the affirmative. Thus, the Court GRANTS Plaintiffs' Motion and DENIES State Defendants' Motion.
I. STANDARD FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT
Generally, a federal court grants summary judgment "if ... there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and ... the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). "An issue is genuine `if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.'" Ayer v. United States,
The Court has previously addressed the facts underlying this case in its Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law on Plaintiffs' Motion for Preliminary Injunction (Docket # 16). While the Court lays out all of the relevant facts below in accordance with the summary judgment standards,
Maine's Constitutional Restrictions on Voting
Pursuant to Maine's Constitution and relevant implementing statute, persons who are "under guardianship for reasons of mental illness" are prohibited from registering to vote or voting in any election.
This restriction on voting by persons under guardianship due to mental illness was added to the Maine Constitution in 1965. Prior to the approval of the 1965
Plaintiffs Jane Doe, Jill Doe, and June Doe, are all women under guardianship by reason of mental illness. Through their public guardian, the Maine Department of Human Services ("DHS"), Plaintiffs brought this case claiming that the State of Maine has denied them the right to vote in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment as well as federal statute. The Disability Rights Center of Maine, Inc. not only represents the three named Plaintiffs but also is separately named as a Plaintiff in order to challenge Maine's voting restriction on behalf of other mentally ill persons under guardianship.
A. Jane Doe
Jane Doe is a thirty-three year old resident of Limestone, Maine, who has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder.
Jane Doe wished to vote in the November 2000 election. Although she understood the nature and effect of voting such that she could make an individual decision regarding the candidates and questions on the ballot, the Maine Constitution prohibited Jane Doe from voting because she was under guardianship by reason of mental illness. Seeking to protect her right to vote, Jane Doe sought a preliminary injunction from this Court in October of 2000 (See Pls. Mot. for Prelim. Injunction (Docket # 2).) As a result of this litigation, Jane Doe learned that it was the position of the State of Maine that a person under full guardianship by reason of mental illness could vote if the Probate Court specifically reserved the individual's right to vote.
On October 31, 2000, Jane Doe filed an unopposed motion with the Aroostook County Probate Court requesting that her guardianship order be modified to allow her to vote. On November 3, 2000, Probate Judge Dunleavy granted the motion thereby reserving Jane Doe's right to vote although she was under full guardianship by reason of mental illness. According to the State of Maine, this modification made Jane Doe eligible to vote in the November 2000 election, although she remained under guardianship by reason of mental illness.
B. Jill Doe
Jill Doe, a seventy-five year old resident of Bangor, Maine, has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder. In 1996, Jill Doe was placed under full guardianship because she was found to be incapacitated by her mental illness. During the guardianship proceedings, Jill Doe, through her representatives, argued that she was not incapacitated. Alternatively, Jill Doe argued
Similar to Jane Doe, Jill Doe sought to amend the conditions of her guardianship after learning that Maine would allow her to vote despite being under guardianship by reason of mental illness if the right to vote was specifically reserved by the Probate Judge. On November 1, 2000, Jill Doe filed an unopposed motion to revise her guardianship order with the Penobscot County Probate Court. In a sworn affidavit accompanying her motion, Jill Doe explained that she had voted in the past by absentee ballot not realizing that she was not allowed to vote. The substance of this affidavit strongly suggested that Jill Doe understood the nature and effect of voting such that she could make an individual choice about the candidates and questions on the ballot. That same day, Probate Judge Woodcock endorsed the motion, "Motion Denied under the provisions of Article II, Section I of the Constitution of the State of Maine." (Defs. SMF Sealed Attach. 2.) As a result, Jane Doe reasonably believed she was prohibited from voting in the November 2000 Election.
Dr. William Anderson, Jill Doe's attending psychiatrist since 1995, believes that Jill Doe has the mental capacity to understand the nature and effect of voting despite his belief that she does not have the capacity to make responsible decisions regarding her psychiatric treatment. Based on his detailed conversations with Jill Doe, Dr. Anderson reports that Jill Doe knows Maine law restricts her from voting although she genuinely wants to vote. Moreover, Dr. Anderson is of the opinion that Jill Doe is capable of making an individual choice when casting a ballot based on her own strongly held opinions.
C. June Doe
June Doe, a sixty-eight year old resident of Bangor, Maine, has been diagnosed with intermittent explosive disorder, antisocial personality
The Probate Court did not notify June Doe that as a result of being under full guardianship for a mental illness she would lose her right to vote, nor did it specifically consider her capacity to vote. In fact, prior to learning that Maine law prohibited persons under guardianship for mental illness from voting, June Doe had voted in elections while she was under guardianship.
Unlike Jane Doe and Jill Doe, June Doe was unable to seek a modification of her guardianship order prior to the November 2000 election because she was hospitalized. Because she resides in Bangor, any motion to modify her guardianship would be considered by the same Penobscot County
Dr. Roger Wilson, who has been June Doe's treating psychiatrist for more than twenty years, recently conducted a specific examination of June Doe to assess her capacity to understand voting. During the examination, June Doe was able to distinguish the various issues on the ballot and expressed a specific desire not to cast a vote as to some issues because "she did not want to vote on issues she did not know." (Dr. Roger M. Wilson Aff. ¶ 4 (Pls.Ex. 5).) As a result of that examination and his long history of treating June Doe, Dr. Wilson concluded that June Doe had the mental capacity to understand the nature and effect of voting such that she could make an individual decision with regard to candidates and questions on the ballot.
D. Disability Rights Center of Maine
Disability Rights Center ("DRC") is a non-profit corporation organized pursuant to Maine law that protects and advocates for the legal and civil rights of Maine residents with mental disabilities.
The State Defendants, who have filed the pending motion for summary judgment, include: Maine's State Attorney General G. Steven Rowe, in his official capacity, and Maine's Secretary of State Dan Gwadowsky, in his official capacity. Both the Maine Attorney General's Office and the Maine Secretary of State's Office receive federal funds.
Additionally, Donna Bernier, Registrar for the Town of Limestone, and Gail Campbell, Registrar for the City of Bangor, are named as Defendants in their respective official capacities (hereinafter "Municipal Defendants"). As the registrars for these municipalities, Municipal Defendants are responsible for determining whether an individual is eligible to vote in a Maine Election. Defendant Bernier has joined in State Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment on the grounds that the claims against the Registrar for Limestone are now moot because Jane Doe has been reserved the right to vote. (See Docket # 49.) Defendant Campbell has taken no position on the pending cross
In addition to a description of the parties, the Court must provide some factual background regarding how Maine's voting restriction has worked in practice and would work according to State Defendants' proffered narrowing constructions. Thus, the Court below briefly explains Maine guardianship proceedings, which are conducted pursuant to Maine's Probate Code, 18-A M.R.S.A. § 1-101 et seq. Then, the Court briefly lays out how Maine has previously applied its voting restriction to those wards who are under guardianship by reason of mental illness and contrasts that application with the State's newly proffered interpretation of the same voting restriction. This background will lay the foundation for the Court's discussion of legal issues in dispute.
"Under Guardianship" Pursuant to Maine's Probate Code
Under Maine's Probate Code, the Probate Court is directed to make appointments or other orders only "to the extent necessitated by the incapacitated person's actual mental and adaptive limitations ...." 18-A M.R.S.A. § 5-304(a). To fulfill this directive, there are provisions for both full and limited guardianship for "incapacitated persons."
When an interested person files a petition to place an allegedly incapacitated person under guardianship, the person nominated to serve as guardian must file a guardianship plan detailing how the ward's personal housing, medical, financial and social needs will be met. See 18-A M.R.S.A. § 5-303(a). Upon receiving a petition for guardianship, a probate court appoints the allegedly incapacitated person a visitor or guardian ad litem. See id. § 5-303(b). The appointed visitor or guardian ad litem then meets with the allegedly incapacitated person to explain the potential consequences of guardianship, including the aspects of the guardianship plan. In addition to this in-person meeting, the allegedly incapacitated person is served a written notice of the hearing on the pending petition. See id. § 5-309(b).
After conducting an investigation that includes meeting with the allegedly incapacitated person and the proposed guardian, the appointed visitor or guardian ad litem must determine whether the person wishes to attend the hearing and/or contest any aspect of the guardianship. See id. § 5-303(c). If the proposed ward does wish to contest any aspect of the petition for guardianship, the Probate Court may appoint an attorney to represent the individual. See id. § 5-303(b). Ultimately, the appointed visitor or guardian ad litem files a written report with the probate court.
At the hearing, the burden is on the party filing the petition to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the proposed ward is, in fact, incapacitated and that the appointment of a guardian "is a
Since the beginning of this case, the State of Maine has taken the position that a probate judge has the power to specifically reserve or deny the right to vote to any ward.
Currently, individuals with mental illnesses who are the subject of guardianship proceedings are not specifically advised that they could be disenfranchised if they are placed under full guardianship. Moreover, while the State says that the capacity to vote could be specifically addressed during guardianship proceedings, there is no suggestion that the current procedure requires probate judges to consider the capacity to vote when a person is facing the prospect of being disenfranchised as a result of the proceedings. Rather, under the current system, it appears that the probability of a mentally ill person under guardianship having the right to vote reserved depends more on the individual probate judge hearing the case than on the ward's actual capacity to understand the nature and effect of voting.
"By Reason of Mental Illness"
One of the major points of dispute between the parties in this case is the appropriate
In implementing Maine's voting restriction over the past twenty years, the Secretary of State apparently has adopted a rather narrow definition of mental illness. In a March 31, 1980 letter from then-Deputy Secretary of State James Henderson, to municipal clerks and registrars, the Deputy Secretary explained that
(Pls. Ex. 2 (Attach. to Dep. of Sec'y of State Dan Gwadosky (Pls.Ex. 14)).) The Office of the Maine Secretary of State adopted a similar position in its "Guide to Voter Registration Laws and Procedures" provided to municipalities in 1999. The Guide states, in relevant part,
(Pls. Ex. 7 at 8 (Attach. to Dep. of Secretary of State Dan Gwadosky (Pls.Ex. 14)).)
As a result of this guidance from the Secretary of State's Office, the registrars for both Bangor and Limestone agreed that they would only restrict a person from voting if the court order placing them under guardianship says they are under guardianship for "mental illness." Pursuant to this interpretation of Maine's voting restriction, it is apparently left to the discretion of the probate judge to put a person under guardianship for "mental illness" rather than list another basis for guardianship. See 18-A M.R.S.A. § 5-101(1) (listing the various reasons for impairment that justify placing a person under guardianship).
Although this rather narrow view of "mental illness" has guided the application of Maine's voting restriction for at least the last twenty years, State Defendants now realize that this interpretation disenfranchises an arbitrarily defined group of citizens, thereby raising problems of a constitutional dimension. Thus, State Defendants now advocate for a broad definition of "mental illness" that disenfranchises anyone under full guardianship by reason of not only a psychiatric mental illness, but also mental retardation or other unsoundness of mind. Although they now advocate for that position in this case and have advised the Secretary of State to change its advice regarding the application of the voting restriction, there is no evidence that State Defendants have taken any steps to advise or educate municipal officials as to
Another Change in Position
Having done their legal research, State Defendants apparently are now aware of the various constitutional infirmities that afflict Maine's voting restriction. In a last-ditch effort to save the provision, State Defendants have offered multiple radical changes in interpretation. Thus, in addition to a newly adopted broad definition of "mental illness," State Defendants also suggest dramatic changes in probate procedure with regard to a ward's voting rights.
Initially, when the individual Plaintiffs appeared before this Court seeking a preliminary injunction allowing them to vote in the November 2000 election, the State Attorney General took the position that
(Findings of Fact & Conclusions of Law at 5 (Docket # 16).)
In accordance with this interpretation, two individual Plaintiffs, Jane Doe and Jill Doe sought unopposed modifications of their guardianship orders reserving their right to vote. They received contradicting decisions. In the case of Jane Doe, the order was modified allowing her the right to vote in the November 2000 election. In the case of Jill Doe, the modification was denied thereby denying Jill Doe the right to vote in the same election.
Now, State Defendants have adopted a new interpretation. As explained in the most recent round of motion filings,
(State Defs. Resp. to Pls. Mot. for Summ. J. at 17 (Docket # 53).)
Plaintiffs claim that under all of the State Defendants' proffered and applied interpretations, Maine's disenfranchisement of those under guardianship by reason of mental illness fails to provide adequate procedural due process and violates the Equal Protection Clause. Additionally, Plaintiffs claim that Maine's voting prohibition discriminates against individuals with mental disabilities in violation of Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. § 12131 et seq., and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, Pub.L. No. 93-112, 87 Stat. 355 (1973) (codified as amended in scattered sections of Title 29 of the U.S.C.). The Court addresses each of these claims below. However, it is appropriate to begin this discussion by outlining some principles of statutory construction that will guide the Court's analysis.
A. Interpreting Maine's Voting Restriction
Defendants' radical changes in interpretation, both as to the definition of mental illness and as to the increased due process protections built into guardianship proceedings, seek to avoid the constitutional infirmities that lie at the heart of Plaintiffs' equal protection and due process claims. Pursuant to both federal and state law, this Court should narrowly interpret any state enactment to avoid constitutional problems whenever such a narrowing construction can be fairly and readily adopted. See Erznoznik v. Jacksonville,
With this guiding principle in mind, the Court construes Article II, Section I of the Maine Constitution in conjunction with its implementing state statute. See ME. CONST. art. 2 § 1; 21-A M.R.S.A. § 115(1). Recent decisions from the Maine Law Court provide guidance on construing the language of Maine statutes. Generally, the Law Court has explained,
Brent Leasing Co., Inc. v. State Tax Assessor,
By its plain language, Maine's Constitution seeks to disenfranchise those "under guardianship by reason of mental illness." Thus, the restriction targets a subset of incapacitated persons under guardianship—those with mental illnesses. It similarly targets a subset of mentally ill persons—only those under guardianship.
Recently, Maine voters have twice reaffirmed this amendment to the Maine Constitution based solely on this plain language and any knowledge that they might have had regarding the State's narrow application of the provision. In examining Plaintiffs' constitutional claims below, the Court similarly relies solely on the plain language and past application of Maine's disenfranchising provision to decide the "as applied" portion of Plaintiffs' claims. The Court then considers the viability of Maine's newest proffered interpretations when considering Plaintiffs' facial challenges to the voting restriction in light of the principles of statutory construction laid out above. See Village of Hoffman Estates v. Flipside, Hoffman Estates, Inc.,
B. Procedural Due Process (Count IV)
Plaintiffs' procedural due process claim alleges that during guardianship proceedings (1) the State does not give notice or an opportunity to be heard on the issue of voting and (2) the State does not apply an appropriate burden of proof in guardianship proceedings, which can result in an individual losing his or her fundamental right to vote.
Both parties agree that Plaintiffs' arguments must be examined through the balancing test articulated in Mathews v. Eldridge,
Thus, the Court bases its due process analysis on a finding that the denial of the right to vote is a denial of a fundamental liberty. An examination of procedural due process is particularly appropriate in this case because the State has chosen to categorically define as ineligible to vote a subset of persons subject to guardianship proceedings. When the State chooses to use such proceedings as the basis for the denial of a fundamental liberty, an individual is entitled to basic procedural protections that will ensure "fundamental fairness." Lassiter v. Dep't of Social Servs.,
Pursuant to the balancing test articulated in Mathews v. Eldridge, the Court examines the sufficiency of the procedures used to disenfranchise Maine voters by weighing: (1) Plaintiffs' interest in participating in the democratic process through voting; (2) the risk of erroneous deprivation of the right to vote under the procedures used by the State; and (3) the State's interest, including any extra administrative or financial burden on the State from requiring additional procedures. See id. at 335, 96 S.Ct. 893. In conducting this inquiry, the Court must focus on striking a balance that will minimize the risk of the State erroneously disenfranchising persons who have the capacity to vote. See Heller v. Doe,
1. As Applied
Weighing all of the Mathews factors, it is clear that the procedures utilized by Maine's probate courts in the past have failed to give Plaintiffs adequate due process. Specifically, Plaintiffs were not given notice that as a result of the guardianship proceeding they would be disenfranchised. See Armstrong v. Manzo,
The lack of notice, in turn, led to an inadequate opportunity to be heard. As a result, mentally ill persons subject to guardianship proceedings faced a high risk of being disenfranchised regardless of their capacity to understand the nature and effect of voting. Thus, pursuant to the second Mathews factor, the Court finds that the State's procedures or lack thereof resulted in a high risk of erroneous deprivation of the fundamental right to vote.
By comparison, specific notice regarding the right to vote would give proposed
The Court's consideration of the burden on the State, the third Mathews factor, finds that providing specific notice as to the potential disenfranchising effect of guardianship proceedings along with an opportunity to contest this specific aspect of guardianship would not be overly burdensome on the State. In light of the procedures already in place to protect persons subject to guardianship proceedings, it would be fairly simple to incorporate a specific notice regarding the right to vote.
It is true that as a result of this notice probate courts may be faced with an increased administrative burden as a result of people contesting this aspect of full guardianship. However, any increased burden at the initial guardianship proceeding may actually result in fewer people returning to probate court for modifications of their guardianship orders. Thus, the end result may well be simply a shifting of the administrative burden on the probate courts. Additionally, the Court notes that by providing clear notice and a meaningful opportunity to be heard on the issue of voting at this early stage, the State can lessen the administrative burden on municipal registrars who currently are burdened with the difficult task of determining when a guardianship order makes a person ineligible to vote. In the end, the Court believes that specific notice has the potential to decrease the overall administrative burden on the State while ensuring affected wards a meaningful opportunity to be heard.
Thus, balancing all of the Mathews factors, the Court finds that, as applied, Maine's current guardianship procedures have failed to provide adequate due process before denying Plaintiffs the right to vote.
2. Facial Validity
As the Court has previously explained, Defendants have proffered a new procedure for the consideration of capacity to vote during guardianship proceedings that they believe would comply with due process. During this litigation, the Court previously has adopted many of Maine's
Under this new proposed procedure, if a petitioner does not specifically seek to disenfranchise a proposed ward, the ward retains the right to vote. However, once the petitioner raises the issue of voting, the probate judge would be required to specifically consider the proposed ward's capacity to vote before restricting the ward's right to vote. In light of the Court's consideration of the Mathews factors above, it is fairly clear that this "narrowing construction" substantially broadens the procedural protections and provides more than adequate due process.
Nonetheless, the State has taken no steps to actually adopt this innovative procedure and it appears that at least some Maine probate judges harbor doubts about their authority to specifically consider and reserve the right to vote absent some legislative amendment.
Thus, the Court finds that no fair and reasonable reading of Maine's current guardianship provisions ensures uniformly adequate notice regarding the potential disenfranchising effect of being placed under guardianship for a mental illness. As a result of this procedural deficiency, State Defendants have failed to provide Plaintiffs sufficient due process prior to depriving them of the right to vote. The Court further concludes that, under all circumstances,
C. Equal Protection (Count I)
According to the Supreme Court, "once the franchise is granted to the electorate, lines may not be drawn which are inconsistent with the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment." Harper v. Virginia State Bd. of Elections,
For purposes of summary judgment, both parties agree that Maine's restriction on voting is subject to strict scrutiny because it restricts a fundamental right. See Dunn v. Blumstein,
To fully comply with the Equal Protection Clause, Maine's provision must be both valid "as applied" and "facially valid." In both respects, the Court must examine whether the ends—excluding persons who lack the capacity to understand the nature and effect of voting such that they cannot make an individual choice—justify the means—excluding persons under guardianship by reason of mental illness. Strict
1. As Applied
It is clear from the evidence before the Court that Defendants have applied Maine's constitutional provision to disenfranchise only those under guardianship for psychiatric diagnoses. Since 1980, municipal officials routinely have been advised that a person under guardianship because of mental retardation should be allowed to vote regardless of whether the individual's mental condition adversely impacts his or her ability to understand the nature and effect of the act of voting such that the person cannot make an individual choice about the matters on the ballot.
Thus, in practice, Maine has construed the phrase "mental illness" to exclude only those with traditional psychiatric disorders from voting, while permitting incapacitated persons diagnosed with mental retardation or senility to vote as they choose. State Defendants now admit that this narrow, but nonetheless common, definition of the term `mental illness' "produces a result that renders Article II, Section I arbitrary and irrational, in that it singles out, for no legitimate basis, people with psychiatrically based diagnos[e]s as opposed to all those who may be under guardianship for reasons of mental incapacity." (State Defs. Resp. to Pls. Mot. for Summ. J. at 10 (Docket # 53).) The Court agrees.
As displayed by the evidence, there is little to no correlation between the State's interest and the disenfranchisement of Jill Doe and June Doe, two women who suffer from mental illness but, according to their physicians, understand the nature and effect of the act of voting. Moreover, while Maine claims to have a compelling interest in ensuring that all those who cast a ballot understand the nature and effect of voting such that they can make an individual decision, it has allowed incapacitated persons afflicted with mental retardation and other mental deficiencies to vote regardless of whether or not they possess the ability to understand the nature and effect of voting. In short, the State has disenfranchised a subset of mentally ill citizens based on a stereotype rather than any actual relevant incapacity. Such state action cannot survive strict scrutiny because there is no factually valid correlation between the ends and the means. Thus, it is clear that, as applied, Article II, Section I of Maine's Constitution violates the Equal Protection Clause.
2. Facial Validity
In light of State Defendants' new interpretation of Maine's disenfranchising provision, the Court must determine whether Maine's voting restriction is facially valid. Plaintiffs argue that even under the State's proffered interpretation, Article II, Section I of the Maine Constitution cannot survive strict scrutiny.
In an effort to tailor Maine's voting restriction to meet the State's compelling interest, State Defendants now suggest that the term "mental illness" was intended to apply to all mental incapacities. To support this broad definition of mental illness, State Defendants rely on legislation passed by the Maine Legislature in 1959. In relevant part, the legislation stated that
Maine P.L.1959, c. 242, § VIII. Because the Maine Legislature had declared five years earlier that "`insane person' may include idiotic, non compos, lunatic or distracted person," State Defendants contend that in 1959 the Maine Legislature meant for the term "mentally ill" to apply to all idiotic,
In light of the Legislature's failure to provide a specific definition of "mental illness" in 1965 as well as the manner in which the recent referendum votes were conducted, the Court is skeptical that State Defendants can now freeze the definition of "mental illness" to one meaning apparently endorsed by the Maine Legislature in 1959. Moreover, adopting this definition creates illogical and inconsistent results.
First, the State's proffered definition of mental illness encompasses other bases for placing a person under guardianship, such as "mental deficiency." See 18-A M.R.S.A. § 5-101(1). Thus, the State's proffered definition encompasses and overlaps with other listed reasons for incapacity leaving other terms in the Probate Code meaningless.
Additionally, by defining mental illness through the use of archaic terms, the State somehow suggests that probate courts can properly place persons with modern day diagnoses within the stigmatizing confines of terms such as "idiotic," "lunatic," or "unsoundness of mind." Thus, while attempting to develop a narrowing construction that takes Maine one step forward, State Defendants actually take two steps back. In fact, State Defendants need not look back to 1959 to find a broad definition of mental illness. In 1999, the United States Department of Health and Human Services released the first Surgeon General's Report on Mental Health, which included the following definition of mental illness:
U.S. Dep't of Health and Human Services, Mental Health: A Report of the Surgeon General 5 (1999).
Assuming for the moment that the Court would endorse the State's proffered 1959 definition of "mental illness," Maine's disenfranchisement of individuals under guardianship because they are idiotic, non compos, lunatic or distracted is not narrowly tailored to meet Maine's stated compelling interest. Under this definition, many more persons under guardianship would be subject to disenfranchisement, including those with mental retardation or late stage Alzheimer's Disease. However, even this broad definition could not logically be extended to include all persons under guardianship who may not have the capacity to understand the nature and effect of
To the extent State Defendants would attempt to include all such incapacitated persons under the guise of "mental illness," the Court finds that such stretching of the term "mental illness" is an absurd extension of the plain language of the statute.
Even if the Court were to adopt a modern day, expansive definition of mental illness, such as the definition used by the Surgeon General, the State would be left with a voting restriction far broader than the status quo, which could potentially disenfranchise many persons under guardianship who presently have the right to vote. For example, a person placed under guardianship for an eating disorder could be disenfranchised because they are, in fact, considered to be suffering from a form of mental illness.
By including many more diagnoses within the category of "mentally illness," there is an even greater chance of "mentally ill" people, who maintain the capacity to understand the nature and effect of voting, being erroneously deprived of the right to vote, just as Jill Doe and June Doe have experienced. The Court realizes that the State now believes that by providing extra procedures it could adequately protect this larger group of "Jill Does" and "June Does" and actually end up disenfranchising fewer persons under guardianship. However, for the reasons explained in the Court's due process discussion, the Court cannot fairly and readily adopt such a dramatic change in probate court procedure.
In short, under any reasonable definition, "mental illness" cannot serve as a proxy for mental incapacity with regards to voting. See St. George v. Biddeford, 76 Me. 593, 596 (1885) (recognizing that a person "may be of unsound mind in one
Because the Court cannot subject Maine's disenfranchising provision to any reasonable narrowing construction that would pass equal protection muster, it is forced to conclude that Maine's voting restriction has not only been applied in a manner that violates the Equal Protection Clause but is also facially invalid. On this basis, the Court concludes that Plaintiffs are entitled to judgment as a matter of law on Count I.
D. Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act & Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act (Counts II & III)
Finally, the Court turns to Plaintiffs' statutory claims asserted under Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA") and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. Before examining whether Plaintiffs meet all the elements of these claims, the Court first addresses State Defendants' assertion of sovereign immunity with regard to Title II of the ADA.
1. Title II of the ADA after Garrett
State Defendants mount a two-pronged legal challenge regarding Plaintiffs' ability to press their ADA claims against the named State Defendants. First, they argue that Plaintiffs have failed to name the proper defendants. Second, State Defendants assert that the appropriate defendants to Plaintiffs' ADA claims are protected by sovereign immunity. At the outset, the Court notes that if it were to accept both of these arguments, Plaintiffs would have no way to enforce Title II of the ADA against the State.
State Defendants suggest that neither the Attorney General nor the Secretary of State, who are both named as Defendants in their official capacity, are "public entities" subject to Title II of the ADA. Contrary to Defendants' arguments, naming these agency heads as defendants is not a fatal flaw. In their respective official capacities, both the Maine Attorney General and the Maine Secretary of State are agents of the public entities they lead. In these roles, they may be properly named as defendants to a claim under Title II of the ADA.
Realizing that Plaintiffs' ADA claims were likely to be construed as claims against the State, Defendants proceed to argue that Plaintiffs' ADA claims against State "public entities" are barred by the Eleventh Amendment according to the Supreme Court's recent decision in Board of Trustees of the University of Alabama v. Garrett,
Thus, the Court concludes that State Defendants may not invoke sovereign immunity to shield them from Plaintiffs' claims under Title II of the ADA.
2. The Elements of Plaintiffs' Claims
Turning to the merits, the Court notes that even if it were to accept State Defendants' sovereign immunity argument, State Defendants would still be subject to substantially the same standard of conduct pursuant to Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. As the First Circuit has explained, Title II of the ADA "essentially extends the reach of § 504 [of the Rehabilitation Act] to state and local governmental entities that do not receive federal financial assistance." Parker v. Universidad de Puerto Rico,
In Parker, the First Circuit explained that the decisional law on Title II of the ADA and Section 504 may be relied on "interchangeably." Parker, 225 F.3d at 4. With this similarity in mind, the Court finds it is appropriate to address the merits of Plaintiffs' Title II and Section 504
To succeed on both of these statutory claims Plaintiffs must establish: (1) that they are qualified individuals with disabilities; (2) that they were excluded from participation in a public entity's services, programs, or activities or otherwise discriminated against; and (3) that such exclusion or discrimination was by reason of their disability. See id. at 5.
The Court finds that both Jill Doe and June Doe satisfy these elements.
State Defendants argue that Plaintiffs Jill Doe and June Doe cannot meet all of the elements because they actually have not been excluded from participation in voting. The Court finds Defendants' ripeness challenge meritless. The remaining Plaintiffs exemplify or represent persons under guardianship by reason of a mental illness who have not had their right to vote reserved. The plain language of Maine's Constitution excludes them from participating in elections as eligible voters. As the Court explained in its background section, a person under guardianship for mental illness who votes knowing that they are, in fact, prohibited from doing so subjects themselves to criminal prosecution. Plaintiffs need not subject themselves to criminal liability in order to present a ripe ADA claim.
Moreover, the Court is satisfied that Plaintiffs may satisfy the second element because they have been subjected to discrimination by public entities—namely, because they have been diagnosed with mental illnesses, they are subject to discriminatory treatment with respect to voting in public elections. See 42 U.S.C. § 12132; see also 28 C.F.R. § 35.130(b)(3)(i) ("A public entity may not ... utilize criteria or methods of administration that have the effect of subjecting qualified individuals with disabilities to discrimination on the basis of disability.").
Although Plaintiffs have presented evidence that they are discriminated against with respect to voting "by reason of mental illness," State Defendants alternatively argue that they are entitled to judgment on these claims because of their newly proffered interpretation of the voting restriction, discussed at length above. According to State Defendants, this newly-crafted interpretation satisfies all the requirements of the ADA and simply makes capacity to understand the nature and effect of voting "an essential eligibility requirement for the
Regardless of what level of mental capacity may be considered an "essential eligibility criteria," the Court declines to review Plaintiffs' statutory claims in light of State Defendants' proffered "narrowing construction" of Maine's voting restriction. Unlike the constitutional claims discussed above, there is no such thing as a facial challenge to the State's compliance with a federal statute. A ripe claim for violation of a federal statute is based on either previous conduct or ongoing violations. Thus, in considering Plaintiffs' ADA and Rehabilitation Act claims, the Court may only consider the evidence regarding Maine's past application of its voting restriction along with any evidence relating to how the voting restriction continues to be applied today.
By all accounts, this restriction currently applies to mentally ill persons under guardianship—at least some of whom have the capacity to vote, thereby meeting the proposed essential eligibility criteria. See Theriault, 162 F.3d at 50 (explaining that the ADA prohibits "rejecting an applicant automatically as a result of his disease or its symptoms, without considering the individual's abilities"). Of course, if the State were to implement changes to Maine's voting restriction thereby limiting its application to only those who fail to meet the essential eligibility criteria, Plaintiffs' claims of ongoing ADA violations could become moot. However, State Defendants' mere suggestions for how it could bring its voting regulations into compliance with the ADA and Section 504 in the future are irrelevant.
In short, the Court is satisfied that the evidence proves State Defendants have violated the ADA as well as Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. None of State Defendants' legal arguments preclude this conclusion. On this basis, Plaintiffs are entitled to a judgment as a matter of law on both Counts II and III.
For the reasons stated herein, The Court finds that Article II, Section I of the Maine Constitution, along with its implementing statute found in 21-A M.R.S.A. § 115(1), violate both the Due Process Clause and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Thus, the State's disenfranchisement of those persons under guardianship by reason of mental illness is unconstitutional. Additionally, the Court finds that in implementing its voting restriction, State Defendants have violated Title II of the ADA and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.
Therefore, the Court GRANTS Plaintiffs' Motion for Summary Judgment and DENIES State Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment. To the extent Defendant Bernier joined in Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment, the Court finds that the claims asserted against Defendant Bernier are MOOT.
- No Cases Found