The NH Supreme Court ruled in favor of a young man with learning disabilities when it affirmed the DHHS hearing officer’s decision that he was eligible for developmental services under RSA 171-A. The hearing officer had concluded that William had a developmental disability by virtue of his specific learning disability, which substantially impairs his ability to function normally in society. Attorney Kim Hallquist, from the Disabilities Rights Center, represented William S., the appellee.
William S. through his guardian applied to the Moore Center in March 2001, and was found ineligible. His guardian appealed the decision, and subsequently a hearing officer with the Administrative Appeals Unit of the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) reversed the Moore Center’s decision. The hearing officer concluded that William has a developmental disability by virtue of his specific learning disability, which substantially impairs his ability to function normally in society.
The Moore Center then appealed the case to the New Hampshire Supreme Court, arguing that the administrative hearing officer’s decision was incorrect, and that William does not have a developmental disability but rather has longstanding mental health and substance abuse problems. The Moore Center’s brief argues, “As of May 13, 2003, there were 495 developmentally disabled persons on the state’s waiting lists…To ensure that the limited resources and services available to developmentally disabled persons here in New Hampshire are allocated appropriately and fairly, it is important for area agencies and the department to follow the eligibility process set out in RSA 171-A:2, V…, and in the administrative rules adopted by the division.”
The Disabilities Rights Center, on behalf of William S. asserted that the hearing officer’s decision was correct. Further, the DRC argued that DHHS, and not area agencies, are ultimately responsible for ensuring that individuals with developmental disabilities receive appropriate services, including having the final say over eligibility determinations. As pointed out in the brief filed by the Disabilities Rights Center, William “has a developmental disability attributable to his specific learning disability. The fact that he also has mental illnesses, or that there is a waiting list for people needing services, or that he can get state-funded services from other sources, should not preclude him from receiving the services under RSA 171-A that he needs and that he has a right to receive.”
Read the Supreme Court Opinion.