On Wednesday, July 27, 2022, Senior United States District Judge Donovan Frank of the District of Minnesota granted preliminary approval to a settlement agreement reached by the parties in Murphy, et al. v. Harpstead, U.S. District Court File No. 16-cv-02623, a significant federal court civil rights lawsuit brought on behalf of a class of people with disabilities living in group homes. Anthony Ostlund served as co-counsel with Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid, and its affiliate the Minnesota Disability Law Center, and Nichols Kaster, PLLP in this case spanning six years. The suit asserts that group home residents have been denied appropriate choice and opportunity to live more independent and integrated lives of their own choosing in the community.
“Our firm’s longstanding commitment to pro bono work and to Legal Aid in particular made our decision to take on this major pro bono assignment an easy one,” said Joe Anthony, reflecting on the lifespan of this case. This matter came to Anthony Ostlund in 2015 when Mr. Anthony was asked by the executive director of Legal Aid if we would consider joining Legal Aid in impact litigation challenging the state’s overreliance on group home placements.
“The settlement is a great result, with important structural relief for the class, including a requirement that people with disabilities living in group homes who request an opportunity to live independently be provided with access to services to help meet that goal,” said Steve Pincus, one of the attorneys from Anthony Ostlund who has been with the case since the beginning. “The Named Plaintiffs are very pleased with the result.”
The settlement also includes an agreement by the Department of Human Services to pay $1.138 million in attorneys’ fees and costs, which is the largest attorneys’ fees award received by Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid in its more than 100-year history. Anthony Ostlund handled this case on a pro bono basis and donated all attorneys’ fees to Legal Aid, which Legal Aid will use to advance the rights of people with disabilities in Minnesota and improve the lives of the most vulnerable members of our community.
The Plaintiffs asserted constitutional claims under the 14th Amendment and claims under the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act. The legal team overcame a motion to dismiss, obtained class certification, prevailed in an attempted interlocutory review, defeated a summary judgment motion and motions to exclude Plaintiffs’ experts, and succeeded on Plaintiffs’ own partial summary judgment motion.
“The scope of the case was enormous,” said Anthony Ostlund attorney Pete McElligott, “The legal team dealt with millions of pages of documents, over 80 depositions in two rounds of discovery, and numerous discovery motions.”
After multiple rounds of mediation with the magistrate judge and lengthy delays due to Covid–which has had a disproportionate effect on our clients–the case was set for trial on July 11th. Shortly before trial, the parties participated in a two-day mediation with retired Judge James Rosenbaum and arrived at the present settlement.
The great outcome we reached in this case was the result of an extraordinary effort with Legal Aid and Nichols Kaster. The Anthony Ostlund team included Joe Anthony, Steve Pincus, Pete McElligott, and Shannon Flinn. Special thanks go to the firm as a whole for supporting this important work.
Anthony Ostlund has a long and distinguished history of community service and pro bono work, led by Joe Anthony and Rich Ostlund. This case is emblematic of that work. A core principle of our firm is our commitment to giving back to our community, as we have done here. Legal Aid is extremely grateful to our firm for our work on this case and for our ongoing support of Legal Aid.