Nov. 2, 2022

North Carolina must stop discriminating against thousands of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) and provide them the services and support they need to live in their communities, according to a recent ruling in a state lawsuit*.

NC Superior Court Judge R. Allen Baddour issued the ruling in Samantha R., et al. v North Carolina and the NC Department of Health and Human Services, a lawsuit Disability Rights NC (DRNC) filed in 2017 on behalf of people who were institutionalized or risked institutionalization because the state failed to make sure they could get essential services in their communities. State law requires that disabled people have supports and services they need to live in the community as an alternative to institutionalization.

In an earlier ruling in the case, the judge determined the state is violating state law by denying people with I/DD the choice to live in their communities instead of institutions. The latest order imposes specific, measurable goals to ensure that the state addresses serious and persistent gaps in the I/DD system so people with I/DD aren’t forced into institutions because they can’t get what they need to live safely and thrive at home.

Under the order:

  • Within 10 years the state must provide services to the 16,314 people currently on the waiting list for an Innovations (Medicaid) Waiver slot. The Innovations Waiver is a package of services that support people with I/DD who want to live in the community instead of an institution.
  • The state must effectively address and resolve the serious shortage of direct care workers who provide community-based support. The support these workers provide is critical to the success of people who want to live independently. Without these important workers, the independence of disabled people cannot be realized, preventing people with I/DD from living, working, and playing in their own communities.
  • The state must assist 3,000 people who want to leave or avoid institutional settings, and cease new admissions to institutions after 6 years, except for purposes of respite or short-term stabilization.
  • The state must provide quarterly reports about each measure the judge set forth in the order, and post data to its website so everyone gets timely information about the state’s progress. The state must also report this information to DRNC and the judge to allow for verification and tracking.

The order requires the state expand access to community-based services, which will in turn create jobs in communities throughout NC. Expansion of services will primarily come through Medicaid, which provides a 2-to-1 federal match for each state dollar. Providing services in the community is less expensive than paying for institutional care, creating long-term savings.

“North Carolinians with I/DD and their families have waited far too long for this,” said Virginia Knowlton Marcus, CEO of DRNC. “This order should move the state to address the serious shortage of direct support professionals and shift funding from more expensive, less desirable institutions into NC communities. It is long past time for the state to enable people with I/DD to have independent lives in the communities of their choice. This is no different than what people without disabilities expect and demand every day. We call on the state to implement this Order in full and with a sense of urgency. Lives hang in the balance.”

Disability Rights NC, attorney Jerry Hartman of the Barbara McDowell Foundation, and Faegre Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP, a global law firm, represent the plaintiffs. The case, which was filed in May 2017, challenged the lack of adequate home and community-based services for people with I/DD, resulting in overreliance on institutions.

The lead plaintiff is Samantha Rhoney, forced into a state-operated institution, the J. Iverson Riddle Center, at age 27 because she was denied the services and support she needed to remain at home with her family. Now 33, Samantha just recently moved out of the Riddle Center and into a home in the community.

“I believe in my heart Samantha is in a beautiful home because God is giving her a blessing for all the trials she had to endure. I want people to know Samantha, I want people to see the beautiful side of her,” said Dana Rhoney, Samantha’s mother. “And I want the state to wake up and offer support (to others). The state could actually save money if they would offer the support.”

“This ruling is a win for all North Carolinians,” Knowlton Marcus said. “People with I/DD will have freedom of choice, local communities will see their job markets expand and an influx of local spending, and the state will actually save money by implementing this ruling.”

Said Hartman: “The McDowell Foundation has been proud to be involved in this important case. We look forward to seeing prompt and meaningful improvement in the lives of North Carolinians with I/DD and their families.”

Faegre Drinker participated in the case as part of its work with the Barbara McDowell Foundation, named for the late Barbara McDowell, a well-known social justice advocate, appellate litigator, and wife of retired Drinker Biddle & Reath (now known as Faegre Drinker) partner, Jerry Hartman.


About Disability Rights North Carolina

Disability Rights North Carolina is the federally mandated protection and advocacy system in North Carolina, dedicated to advancing the rights of all people with disabilities, of all ages, statewide. DRNC is an independent, 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization and a member of the National Disability Rights Network. Learn more about Disability Rights North Carolina at

About Faegre Drinker

Faegre Drinker is a firm designed for clients. With more than 1,200 attorneys, consultants and professionals in 21 locations across the United States, London and Shanghai, Faegre Drinker provides exceptional transactional, litigation, regulatory and government advocacy services to organizations ranging from emerging enterprises to multinational companies. Learn more at

About The Barbara McDowell Foundation

The Barbara McDowell Foundation honors the work of Barbara McDowell, a well-known social justice advocate, and aims to improve the economic well-being and social conditions of disadvantaged persons and groups in the United States by making grants to organizations that undertake systemic litigation and coordinating direct pro bono litigation through its High Impact Project. Jerry Hartman, President of the Foundation, established it in 2009 in honor of his late wife who died at age 56 from brain cancer. Learn more at

  • Accessible version of order can be found here


Lisa Grafstein, Litigation Counsel for DRNC
919-856-2195, ext 212 

Dana Rhoney, Samantha Rhoney’s mother