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45 Years of Impact Spotlight

Enforcing Our Federal P&A Access Authority to Obtain Records

Disability Rights Pennsylvania and its predecessors have fought to establish and fully enforce the federal authority of protection and advocacy groups to access information crucial to the protection of and advocacy for Pennsylvanians with disabilities. Our dedicated advocates can and will, when needed, challenge resistance to or attempts to scale back the broad access authority DRP has and needs to carry out its mission. For example:

Pa. Protection & Advocacy, Inc. v. Houstoun: in 1998, PP&A filed a lawsuit to challenge a refusal by state hospital officials to provide reports of peer review analyses after a resident at the hospital attempted suicide and, five days later, died. PP&A invoked its statutory authority under the Protection and Advocacy for Mentally Ill Individuals (“PAIMI”) Act, which provides state protection and advocacy agencies with “access to all records of . . . any individual who is a client of” the agency. Both the lower court and court of appeals affirmed PP&A’s statutory right of access encompassed peer review reports concerning the resident’s death, even if state law tried to limit such authority.

Pa. Protection & Advocacy, Inc. v. Beard: In 2006, PP&A sued the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections, arguing that DOC effectively denied PP&A’s statutory right of access to inmate mental health records by charging excessive fees to produce copies of those records and refusing PP&A’s request to make its own copy of the records. The parties reached a settlement under which DOC acknowledged and agreed to PP&A’s statutory right of access to the requested records.

Disability Rights Network of Pa. v. Colonial Intermediate Unit #20: In 2015, DRNPA sued an Intermediate Unit and its Executive Director to challenge their refusal DRNPA’s request, under the DD Act, for school records to investigate allegations that an IU employee abused a student with developmental disabilities. The parties settled, and DRNPA asserted its statutory access to ensure the safety and wellbeing of students overseen by IU 20.

Disability Rights Pa. v. Philadelphia: DRP filed a lawsuit in 2017 to enforce its access authority under the PAIMI and DD Acts to youth dependency records for five youths with disabilities from the City of Philadelphia’s Department of Human Services, which administers the City’s child welfare programs. Shortly after DRP filed its complaint, the City produced all records related to the youth in question.

Disability Rights Pa. v. School District of Philadelphia: In 2017, DRP sued after being denied access, under the PAIMI Act and DD Acts, to contact information for parents or guardians of students with individualized educational programs and who might be on a waitlist for appropriate educational programs. The court affirmed DRP’s access authority in these circumstances, since DRP would not be able to get the requisite authorization to investigate unless the School District provided contact information of the people who needed to authorize access.

Disability Rights Pa. v. Erie County: In 2019, DRP filed a lawsuit to confirm that DRP’s access authority under the PAIMI and DD Acts entitles it to records of a 16-year-old whom DRP had reason to believe was abused and neglected within Erie County’s juvenile justice system. The parties entered a consent decree under which the County agreed to provide DRP with access as required under federal law.