Sunday, September 26, 2010

Northern California Prisoner Prevails in Disability Discrimination Claim

Photo Courtesy of Publik15
Several prisoner rights cases have come down in the past few days among them:

In Frederick v. California Dept. of Corrections and Rehabilitation, the plaintiff wanted to be part of the firecamp which trains inmates to fight fires.  Inmates who are unable to be firefighters can serve in support roles such as clerks and cooks.  Mr. Frederick sought to join the program but a prison doctor told him he was ineligible because he had non-insulin dependent diabetes and high blood pressure.  He made subsequent requests where doctors found him qualified as a support worker, but he was not transferred to a firecamp facility in order to leave spots open for individuals who could serve as firefighters. 

In August 2009, Mr. Frederick sued stating this practice was a violation of Title II of the American's with Disabilities Act in that he was qualified to be in the program but repeatedly not selected because of his disability.  CDCR responded that he was not qualified to be in the program because a previous forgery conviction prevented him from being a clerk and they did not know he had skills as a cook until May 2010 when he was, in fact, transferred to a firecamp.  Alternately, prison doctors made 'recommendations' that he was qualified to be in firecamp but no conclusive determinations other than the initial report.

Mr. Frederick rebuffed those arguments with the Katy Perry defense.  As this blog has previously explained:
In her song, Hot 'n Cold Ms. Perry states, "You change your mind like a girl changes overthink [and] always speak cryptically [therefore] I should know that you're no good for me." Similarly, witnesses who later change their mind are unreliable.
CDCR stated that Mr. Frederick was not qualified to be a clerk while he served as one and that they did not know he was qualified to be a cook while they had records of him serving in that capacity in prison.  The prison doctors came to different conclusions about whether he was medically qualified.  That raised a genuine question of material fact to Judge Maxime M. Chesney who denied summary judgment and sent the issue of damages to a settlement conference.

The other prisoner petitions were less successful:

In Morales v. Pelican Bay State Prison, the plaintiff filed a federal civil rights action (probably under 42 U.S.C. 1983, but the opinion does not mention the cause of action) stating that he was transferred to a Security Housing Unit (solitary confinement in a 6' by 8' cell for 22-23 hours a day) after an unconstitutional disciplinary hearing.  He previously filed a petition for habeas corpus relating to the hearing which the California Supreme Court denied.  The prison argued that the ruling in the state case barred relief in the current case.  Mr. Morales argued that a habeas petition is a sufficiently different cause of action such that the previous ruling does not prevent the present case.  The court sided with the prison focusing on the harm suffered being the same in both lawsuits and precluding relief in the present matter.  Judge Phyllis J. Hamilton granted summary judgment for the prison.

James v. United States involves a federal inmate who claimed the government sent him to the Federal Medical Center in Rochester, MN for treatment for his tuberculosis.  Instead of treatment, Mr. James contends that the unsanitary treatment caused him to get MRSA and a series of other infections during his six month stay.  The government argued that it has not waived statutory immunity for civil rights claims and that Mr. James' only avenue for relief is the federal tort claims act which has now passed.  Judge Maria-Elena James granted the government's motion to dismiss with prejudice.

In Stewart v. Evans, the plaintiff claimed that the he was subjected to unlawful treatment during a contraband search of his cell.  He filed an administrative grievance and, when he received no response, wrote letters to the warden and commissioner of CDCR stating that he wanted a response.  After not receiving a satisfactory response he filed the present lawsuit.  The warden argued that Mr. Stewart failed to exhaust his administrative remedies in that he had two levels to appeal his grievance which he never sought. Judge Jeffery S. White agreed with the warden, found that administrative remedies still existed that had not been exhausted and dismissed the case.

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