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Sulima v. Rhode Island Department of Behavioral Health, Developmental Disabilities And Hospitals

Superior Court of Rhode Island

October 11, 2017

CHRISTOPHER SULIMA
v.
RHODE ISLAND DEPARTMENT OF BEHAVIORAL HEALTH, DEVELOPMENTAL DISABILITIES AND HOSPITALS

         Providence County Superior Court

          For Plaintiff: Catherine Sansonetti, Esq. Alexander N. Spigelman, Esq.

          For Defendant: Thomas J. Corrigan, Jr., Esq.

          DECISION

          K. RODGERS, J.

         Before the Court is an appeal from a decision of an Administration Hearing Officer (AHO) of the Rhode Island Executive Office of Health and Human Services upholding the denial of Christopher Sulima's (Appellant) application for developmental disability services through the R.I. Department of Behavioral Health, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals (the Department). The Department held that Appellant is ineligible for developmental disability services because he is not a developmentally disabled adult as defined by G.L. 1956 § 40.1-21-4.3 (5).

         This Court has jurisdiction pursuant to G.L. 1956 § 42-35-15. For the reasons set forth herein, the case is remanded with instructions to consider whether Appellant is a "[m]entally retarded developmentally disabled adult" as defined under Rhode Island law and therefore eligible to receive developmental disability services. Sec. 40.1-21-4.3.

         I Facts and Travel

         The Department is a state agency responsible for, inter alia, providing assistance to people with mental illnesses and developmental disabilities. See § 40.1-1-4. The Department is comprised of three divisions, including the Division of Developmental Disabilities (DDD). Sec. 40.1-1-4(3); see also § 40.1-21-2. DDD was established to "promote, safeguard, and protect the human dignity, constitutional and statutory rights and liberties, social well being, and general welfare of all developmentally disabled citizens of the state." Sec. 40.1-21-4.2(2). DDD is tasked with providing and securing "certain social, protective, and other types of appropriate services for all developmentally disabled citizens" and ensuring "that all developmentally disabled adults in this state receive such developmental, supportive, and ancillary services as prescribed in an individualized program plan, developed with the participation of the developmentally disabled person and his or her family or guardian or advocate." Sec. 40.1-21-4.2(3), (5). Thus, significant and important services are provided through the Department to adults who are developmentally disabled within the limits of available appropriations. See § 40.1-21-6.1; see also § 40.1-21-4.2(3), (5).

         To be eligible for developmental disability services, an applicant must be determined to be a "[d]evelopmentally disabled adult" pursuant to § 40.1-21-4.3(5). That section, as well as the Department's regulations[1], provides:

"'Developmentally disabled adult' means a person, eighteen (18) years old or older and not under the jurisdiction of the department of children, youth, and families who is either a mentally retarded developmentally disabled adult or is a person with a severe, chronic disability which:
"(i) Is attributable to a mental or physical impairment or combination of mental and physical impairments;
"(ii) Is manifested before the person attains age twenty-two (22);
"(iii) Is likely to continue indefinitely;
"(iv) Results in substantial functional limitations in three (3) or more of the following areas of major life activity:
"(A) Self-care,
"(B) Receptive and expressive language,
"(C) Learning,
"(D) Mobility,
"(E) Self-direction,
"(F) Capacity for independent living,
"(G) Economic self-sufficiency; ...

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