On January 20, 2023, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit reversed the district court’s decision to certify a class under Title II of the Americans With Disabilities Act (“ADA”), which prohibits public entities from discriminating on the basis of disability.

A. A. by & through P.A. v. Phillips, No. 21-30580, 2023 WL 334010 (5th Cir. Jan. 20, 2023), concerned six Medicaid-eligible children diagnosed with various mental or behavioral health issues.  They sued the Louisiana Department of Health (“LDH”) for failing to provide them, and similarly situated individuals, with intensive home- and community-based services (“IHCBS”).

In the district court, Plaintiffs successfully certified a class consisting of:

All Medicaid-eligible youth under the age of 21 in the State of Louisiana (1) who have been diagnosed with a mental health or behavioral disorder, not attributable to an intellectual or developmental disability, and (2) for whom a licensed practitioner of the healing arts has recommended intensive home-and community-based services to correct or ameliorate their disorders.

On appeal, the LDH argued that this class is not ascertainable and thus was improperly certified.  The Fifth Circuit agreed.

To be certified as a class, the class must be clearly ascertainable.  This means “the class must be susceptible to a precise definition to properly identify ‘those entitled to relief, those bound by the judgment, and those entitled to notice.’”  The common threshold for reaching this determination is whether the class is sufficiently definite.

The Fifth Circuit held that the class was not ascertainable because it was not clear what services are included in the term “IHCBS.”  Although the district court defined IHCBS as intensive care coordination, crisis services, and intensive behavioral services and supports that are necessary to correct or ameliorate class members’ mental illness or conditions, it failed to provide definitions for any of these terms.  Without any definitions or other governing parameters, the Fifth Circuit held the class could not be certified.   

While the Fifth Circuit was brief in its reasoning, it held that the district court’s definition of the class was “too vague” and thus unascertainable.  The class has now been vacated by the Fifth Circuit, and the case has been remanded for further proceedings consistent with the Court’s opinion.