Judge deals blow to advocates for old, disabled

WEST PALM BEACH (AP) — A federal judge struck a blow Tuesday to advocates for the elderly and disabled, removing class-action status from a lawsuit that had argued Florida illegally forces people into nursing homes when they are capable of living elsewhere.

U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle ruled in favor of one of the institutionalized Medicaid patients who sued the state of Florida in 2008, saying they should be allowed to live in other settings. But by removing the suit’s class status, the ruling applies to just one person, Clayton Griffin, instead of the 8,500 plaintiffs estimated by attorneys to be in a similar situation.

“It is a limited victory,” said David Bruns, a spokesman for AARP, the nonprofit group for those 50 and over which took up the case up on the behalf of the plaintiffs. Southern Legal Counsel also joined AARP in that action.

Filed just shy of four years ago and argued in court early last year, the lawsuit has dragged on so long that of the original seven plaintiffs, five have died. A sixth, according to the judge’s written decision, said he no longer wished to leave a nursing home after relatives moved away.

Because of that, Hinkle vacated the class action he previously had granted, also citing changes to the state Medicaid program have ensured peop

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