Tuesday, April 03, 2012

S.D. Indiana Denies Preliminary Injunction in Rare Rehab Act Title I Case

A couple of weeks ago, Judge Tanya Walton Pratt of the United States District Court for the Southern District of Indiana issued an opinion denying the plaintiff's motion for preliminary injunction in Yochim v. Gargano, 2012 WL 1014840 (S.D. Ind., Mar. 23, 2012).  The case was brought under Title I of the Rehabilitation Act (the portion of the statute that provides for vocational rehabilitation services).  Yochim, who is blind, has a bachelor's degree and worked for nearly 30 years in Florida in a telephone-sales job.  When he moved to Indiana with his family a few years ago, he needed assistance finding a new job (in part, it seems, because of a lack of available accessible transportation).  He obtained vocational rehabilitation services, but the service provider assigned to him by the state was deficient in a number of ways.  Yochim ultimately did his own research and found a vocational rehabilitation program in Colorado that everyone seems to agree would meet his needs.  When he asked the Indiana VR department to pay for him to attend this out-of-state program, they refused.  A hearing officer upheld that decision, and an administrative appeal proved unsuccessful.

Yochim (represented by my friends at Brown, Goldstein & Levy) then sued in federal district court and sought a preliminary injunction.  In its opinion, the court denied the injunction.  The court first concluded that, despite some earlier cases to the contrary, a 1998 amendment to the Rehabilitation Act made clear that individuals aggrieved by the result of state administrative proceedings reviewing the decision of a state vocational rehabilitation agency have a right of action in federal district court to seek judicial review of those proceedings.  But when it turned to the merits, the court concluded that it had no basis to overturn the hearing officer's decision affirming the decision of the VR agency, a decision that the court determined was entitled to deference.  The hearing officer had concluded that Yochim's needs could be met in Indiana and that, in any event, a program in Colorado would not make Yochim any more likely to obtain a job in Indiana.  The court found this analysis sound.  The court found further support in two principles it identified in the regulations and the case law:  (1) that an agency may "prefer in-state facilities over out-of-state facilities to keep down costs"; and (2) that "clients of vocational rehabilitation agencies do not have carte blanche to choose their vocational facility."


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