Disability Rights Tex. v. Pacillas

Docket NumberEP-21-CV-00211-DCG
Decision Date01 September 2023
PartiesDISABILITY RIGHTS TEXAS, Plaintiff, v. PETER PACILLAS, in his official capacity as the interim Police Chief of the El Paso Police Department, Defendant.
CourtU.S. District Court — Western District of Texas



PETER PACILLAS, in his official capacity as the interim Police Chief of the El Paso Police Department, Defendant.

No. EP-21-CV-00211-DCG

United States District Court, W.D. Texas, El Paso Division

September 1, 2023



Plaintiff Disability Rights Texas (“DRTx”) moves for summary judgment on its claim against Defendant Peter Pacillas in his official capacity as the interim Chief of the El Paso Police Department (“EPPD”).[1] Mot., ECF No. 19; Reply, ECF No. 33. Invoking 42 U.S.C. § 1983, DRTx requests declaratory and injunctive relief for Pacillas's alleged violation of the Protection and Advocacy for Individuals with Mental Illness Act (“PAIMI”), 42 U.S.C. §§ 10801-10851, the Developmental Disabilities Assistance and Bill of Rights Act of 2000 (“PADD Act”),[2] 42 U.S.C. §§ 15001-15045, and the Protection and Advocacy of Individual Rights Act (“PAIR Act”), 29 U.S.C. § 794e (collectively, the “Protection and Advocacy Acts” or “P&A Acts”).[3]Mot. at 20; Compl., ECF No. 1 ¶¶ 32-44. Pacillas opposes DRTx's Motion. Resp., ECF No. 31.


Like so many others, this case arises from an interaction-gone-wrong between law enforcement officers and an individual with mental illness.[4] E.C., who is DRTx's client, was experiencing a mental health crisis. At E.C.'s mother's request, EPPD dispatched officers to his home. EPPD officers arrived intending to apprehend and transport E.C. to a mental health facility. But that did not happen. After a short standoff, EPPD officers discharged three different weapons, striking and injuring E.C. with tasers, beanbags, and a bullet. DRTx, invoking its records-access authority and investigatory authority under the P&A Acts, is investigating this incident as probable abuse and neglect that EPPD officers committed against E.C. As part of its investigation, DRTx has requested certain records from EPPD related to the incident. EPPD is withholding those records and asserting that DRTx lacks the authority under the P&A Acts to obtain them.

On June 6, 2023, the Court issued a Memorandum Opinion and Order denying DRTx's Motion and indicating that it might enter summary judgment in Pacillas's favor under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(f).[5] Mem. Op., ECF No. 44, at 3, 38-39. The parties have briefed


the issue of whether the Court should do so. See generally DRTx Rule 56(f) Objs., ECF No. 54; Pacillas Rule 56(f) Resp., ECF No. 57; DRTx Rule 56(f) Reply, ECF No. 58. After carefully considering the parties' arguments, the Court DENIES DRTx's Motion, GRANTS SUMMARY JUDGMENT for Pacillas under Rule 56(f), and WITHDRAWS its prior opinion and SUBSTITUTES this one in its place.


DRTx is a federally-authorized, state-established organization that, broadly speaking, works to protect and advocate for people with disabilities. The Court refers to DRTx, and other organizations like it, as protection and advocacy organizations (“P&A organizations”) or protection and advocacy systems (“P&A systems”).

A. Protection and Advocacy Acts

Congress first established the framework for protection and advocacy systems in 1975 by passing the Developmentally Disabled Assistance and Bill of Rights Act. See Pub. L. No. 94103, Title II, § 113, 89 Stat. 486, 504 (1975). Congress recognized that people with disabilities were “often unreasonably and unnecessarily deprived of their rights and relegated to second class status.” H.R. Rep. No. 94-58, at 7 (1975), reprinted in 1975 U.S.C.C.A.N. 919, 925. It thus “applaud[ed] [the] effort on the part of the developmental disabilities program [at the National Center for Law and the Handicapped] to establish, assure, and preserve the rights of the disabled.” Id. Building off that, Congress later passed what has now become a collection of laws-the P&A Acts-that give P&A organizations various powers to protect and advocate on behalf of people with disabilities and mental illness.

In the 1980s, for example, acting in response to what Congress characterized as widespread mistreatment of people with mental illness, Congress took several steps to better


understand the problem and enhance protections for those individuals. See, e.g., S. Rep. No. 99109, at 1-3 (1985), reprinted in 1986 U.S.C.C.A.N. 1361, 1361-63; see also Amanda Peters, Lawyers Who Break the Law: What Congress Can Do to Prevent Mental Health Patient Advocates from Violating Federal Legislation, 89 OR. L. REV. 133, 133-45 (2010) (reviewing history of treatment of people with mental illness and the enactment of PAIMI). Included in those steps was a nine-month investigation into the “conditions in state-operated facilities” that provided inpatient services for people with mental illness. S. Rep. No. 99-109, at 1-3 (1985), reprinted in 1986 U.S.C.C.A.N. 1361, 1361-63. After that investigation, Congress found, among other things, that “individuals with mental illness are vulnerable to abuse and serious injury” and that “State systems for monitoring compliance with respect to the rights of individuals with mental illness var[ied] widely and [we]re frequently inadequate.” 42 U.S.C. § 10801(a)(1), (4).

So Congress identified a remedial measure. Each of the state-operated facilities Congress investigated had some type of internal advocacy system for patients, but Congress found that some facilities “were unable to investigate complaints adequately for various reasons” and that advocates had “limited authority” to “investigate certain complaints under state definitions of abuse and neglect.” S. Rep. No. 99-109, at 2-3 (1985), reprinted in 1986 U.S.C.C.A.N. 1361, 1362-63. Advocates' limited authority, according to Congress, was “a serious impediment to effective protection of patients.” Id. at 1363. Congress thus concluded there was “a need for an advocacy system independent of any service provider.” Id. at 1362.

Enter PAIMI. Under its Spending Clause authority, Congress enacted PAIMI to (1) “ensure that the rights of individuals with mental illness are protected” and (2) help states “establish and operate a protection and advocacy system for individuals with mental illness.”


42 U.S.C. § 10801(b), Pub. L. No. 99-319, Title I, § 101 (1986). To receive funding under the Act, states must establish a protection and advocacy system. 42 U.S.C. § 10804; see also Va. Off. for Prot. & Advoc. v. Stewart, 563 U.S. 247, 250 (2011). A state may choose to establish either a private nonprofit entity or a public institution as its P&A organization.[6] 42 U.S.C. §§ 10805(c)(1), 15044. P&A organizations have a mission to, among other things, “ensure the protection of individuals with mental illness” and “investigate incidents of abuse and neglect of individuals with mental illness if the incidents are reported to the [P&A] system or if there is probable cause to believe that the incidents occurred.” Id. §§ 10801(b)(2)(B), 10805(a)(1)(A), (B); see also id. § 15043(a)(2)(B); 29 U.S.C. § 794e(f).

As originally enacted, PAIMI limited P&A organizations' mission to protecting and advocating for people with mental illness living in residential or overnight facilities, such as mental health hospitals. Pub. L. No. 99-319, Title I, § 102(3)(B), 100 Stat. 478, 479 (1986) (covering “an inpatient or resident in a facility rendering care or treatment”). But after PADD and PAIMI's successes,[7] Congress twice expanded PAIMI's scope, once in 1988 and again in 2000. In 1988, Congress added to P&A organizations' purview the protection and advocacy of individuals with mental illness who are “in the process of being admitted” or are “being transported” to a mental health facility. Compare Pub. L. No. 99-319, Title I, § 102(3), 100 Stat. 478, 478-79 (1986),


with Pub. L. No. 100-509, Title I, § 3(2)(C), 102 Stat. 2543, 2543 (1988).[8]The 2000 amendment “extend[ed] the responsibilities of the Protection and Advocacy program” to people with mental illness not living in inpatient or residential facilities. See S. Rep. No. 106196, at 8 (1999); 42 U.S.C. § 10802(4)(B)(ii). P&A organizations can now advocate for persons with mental illness who “live[] in a community setting, including their own home.”[9] 42 U.S.C. § 10802(4)(B)(ii).[10]

Meanwhile, in 1992, Congress passed PAIR to further expand P&A organizations' authorities. Pub. L. No. 102-569, Title V, § 510(a), 106 Stat. 4344, 4430-34 (1992). Congress wanted to “expand[] advocacy services to [individuals with disabilities], regardless of the age of onset or the severity of the disability.” H.R. Rep. No. 102-822, at 122 (1992). PAIR thus ensures that P&A organizations may advocate for certain individuals with disabilities not covered by PADD or PAIMI. See Pub. L. No. 102-569, Title V, § 510(a) 106 Stat. 4344, 4430 (1992);


see also S. Rep. No. 102-357, at 98 (1992); Disability Rts. Wis., Inc. v. State of Wis. Dep't of Pub. Instruction, 463 F.3d 719, 725 (7th Cir. 2006).

To ensure P&A organizations would effectively accomplish their missions, Congress specified their privileges and authorities by statute. First, Congress made P&A organizations independent from state agencies that provide treatment or services to individuals with disabilities or mental illness. 42 U.S.C. §§ 10805(a)(2), 15043(a)(2)(G); 29 U.S.C. § 794e(f). Second, Congress authorized P&A organizations to

(1) “pursue administrative, legal, and other appropriate remedies” on behalf of individuals with disabilities or mental illness, 42 U.S.C. §§ 10805(a)(1)(B), 15043(a)(2)(A)(i); 29 U.S.C. § 794e(f)(3),
(2) access facilities that provide care or treatment to individuals with mental illness, 42 U.S.C. § 10805(a)(3),
(3) access any location that “services, supports, and [provides] other assistance” to any individual with disabilities, 42 U.S.C. § 15043(a)(2)(H); 29 U.S.C. § 794e(f)(2), and
(4) access records related to

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