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Disability Law

Woman with Down syndrome wins court case when judge rejects guardianship bid by her mom

Posted Aug 5, 2013 1:20 PM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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Jenny Hatch won’t have to live in a group home after a Virginia judge on Friday rejected a bid by her mother and stepdad to designate them as guardians.

Hatch, 29, has Down syndrome and an IQ of about 50, the Washington Post reports. Judge David Pugh of Newport News took her wishes into account when he appointed as temporary guardians Kelly Morris and Jim Talbert, friends who hired Hatch to work in their thrift store five years ago and took her into their home last year after a bike accident.

Hatch cried after the ruling, the Post says. “Oh my God,” she said. “I’m so happy to go home today. I deserve it. It’s over. My God, it’s over.” She has since moved back in with Morris and Talbert, Reuters reports.

Pugh said he believed Hatch needed a guardian to help her make decisions, but he did not appoint her mother and stepfather, who believed a group home was the safest place for her. Their guardianship petition sought the right to determine where Hatch lived, what medical treatment she received, and what people she could see, the Post says.

Hatch had run away from several group homes. Talbert and Morris said they allowed her placement there because they believed it was needed for Hatch to qualify for in-home and community services. Two days after Hatch returned to live with Talbert and Morris, her mom and stepdad applied for guardianship.

The case is regarded as a legal victory by experts on the rights of people with disabilities. Susan Mizner, disability counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union, said in a statement that the decision is a big step in the right direction. “Like most people with developmental disabilities—and just like all of us—Jenny will learn, grow, and live best when she has the freedom and responsibility to make her own decisions,” Mizner said.

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