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Petition of Sawyer

Supreme Court of New Hampshire

June 30, 2017

PETITION OF WAYNE SAWYER (New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services)

         Department of Health and Human Services

          Argued: September 14, 2016

          Disability Rights Center-NH, Inc., of Concord (Aaron Ginsberg on the brief and orally), for the petitioner.

          Law Office of Joshua L. Gordon, of Concord (Joshua L. Gordon on the brief and orally), for the respondent.

          BASSETT, J.

         The petitioner, Wayne Sawyer, has a developmental disability and a history of mental illness. He currently receives state-administered developmental and mental health services and lives at the Laconia Designated Receiving Facility (Laconia DRF), a state-operated facility in Laconia. Prior to his move to Laconia DRF, the petitioner requested that his area agency affiliation for developmental services be changed to the respondent, Lakes Region Community Services (LRCS), the area agency serving Laconia. LRCS denied his request. The petitioner appealed to the

         Administrative Appeals Unit (AAU) of the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS). The AAU affirmed, finding that the petitioner failed to prove that his move to Laconia DRF constituted a change in legal residence.

         The petitioner challenges the AAU decision and has petitioned for a writ of certiorari. See Sup. Ct. R. 11. We reverse.

         I. Overview of Developmental and Mental Health Services Systems

         We begin with an overview of the two statutory frameworks under which the petitioner receives developmental and mental health services. DHHS is responsible for establishing, maintaining, and coordinating a "comprehensive service delivery system for developmentally disabled persons, " known as the developmental services system, RSA 171-A:1 Introductory Language (2014), and a "comprehensive, effective and efficient system of services for persons with mental illness, " known as the mental health services system, RSA 135-C:1, I (2015). Although DHHS coordinates both systems statewide, each is governed by distinct statutory and regulatory schemes.

         A. Developmental Services

         DHHS administers the developmental services system pursuant to RSA chapter 171-A. RSA 171-A:4 (2014). The policy underlying the developmental services system is that persons with developmental disabilities and their families be provided with services "that emphasize community living, " RSA 171-A:1 Introductory Language, that are "based on individual choice, " RSA 171-A:1, V (2014), and that allow them an opportunity to participate in decision-making, RSA 171-A:1, I (2014). An individual's participation in the developmental services system may be voluntary or involuntary. See RSA 171-A:5 (2014). Participation is voluntary unless the individual is involuntarily admitted pursuant to RSA chapter 171-B (2014). RSA 171-A:5, I-II. Persons voluntarily participating in the system have certain statutory and regulatory rights, see RSA 171-A:14 (2014), and may, at any time, "seek a change in services or withdraw entirely from the service delivery system, " RSA 171-A:7 (2014); see also N.H. Admin. R., He-M 310.

         To receive voluntary developmental services, an individual must apply through the area agency serving his or her region. See RSA 171-A:6, I (2014); N.H. Admin. R., He-M 503.04(b). The state is divided into ten regions, with one area agency serving each region. N.H. Admin. R., He-M 505.04. Area agencies are the primary recipients of funds dispensed by DHHS for use in administering developmental services and programs, and as such, serve as the nucleus of services for individuals living in each service region. See RSA 171-A:18, I (2014); N.H. Admin. R., He-M 505.03(a)-(b). Individuals can change their area agency affiliation to an area agency in a different region if they "plan[] to relocate where [they] live[]" to that region. N.H. Admin. R., He-M 503.14(a). Area agencies are responsible for, among other things, screening for eligibility, identifying appropriate services, and developing and reviewing service agreements. See RSA 171-A:6, II (2014); RSA 171-A:18, I; N.H. Admin. R., He-M 505.03. In addition to the basic developmental services provided by regional area agencies, individuals may also receive developmental services through a variety of other programs or institutions. See, e.g., N.H. Admin. R., He-M 507 (community participation services), He-M 524 (in-home services), HeM 1001 (community residences).

         B. Mental Health Services

         DHHS administers the mental health services system pursuant to RSA chapter 135-C. See RSA 135-C:5, I (2015). The purpose of the mental health services system is to provide mentally disabled individuals "adequate and humane care which, to the extent possible, " is "[w]ithin each person's own community, " "[l]east restrictive of the person's freedom of movement and ability to function normally in society while being appropriate to the person's individual capacity, " and "[d]irected toward eliminating the need for services and promoting the person's independence." RSA 135-C:1, II (2015). Individuals may receive mental health services on a voluntary or involuntary basis. See RSA 135-C:12, I-II (2015); RSA 135-C:20-:54 (2015 & Supp. 2016). Both classes of admittees have certain statutory and regulatory rights. See RSA 135-C:55-:60 (2015); N.H. Admin. R., He-M 309, 311.

         The mental health services system is also organized regionally, with one designated community mental health program serving each of ten regions. See N.H. Admin. R., He-M 425.03(a)-(b). Community mental health programs are tasked with providing, either directly or through a contractual relationship, an array of services to eligible individuals, including intake assessments, case management, medication services, and psychotherapy. RSA 135-C:7 (2015); N.H. Admin. R., He-M 403.06(a). Though mental health services are organized by regional community mental health programs, other facilities, including the New Hampshire Hospital, also deliver mental health services. See, e.g., RSA 135-C:26, I (2015); N.H. Admin. R., He-M 1002 (community residences).

         II. Factual Background

         The record supports the following facts. The petitioner is an individual with a developmental disability who is eligible to receive developmental services pursuant to RSA chapter 171-A. Prior to 2008, he lived in Concord and received his area agency ...


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