Armstrong v. Wilson

Decision Date20 September 1996
Docket NumberNo. C 94-2307 CW.,C 94-2307 CW.
Citation942 F.Supp. 1252
PartiesJohn ARMSTRONG, et al., Plaintiffs, v. Pete WILSON, et al., Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — Northern District of California

Warren E. George, McCutchen Doyle Brown & Enersen LLP, San Francisco, CA, Elaine Feingold, Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund, Inc., Berkeley, CA, Michael W. Bien, Rosen Bien & Asaro, San Francisco, CA, Donald Specter, Prison Law Office, San Quentin, CA, for plaintiffs.

Roy Zattiero, pro se.

Morris Lenk, CA State Atty. General's Office, George D. Prince, Deputy Atty. General, CA State Atty. General's Office, San Francisco, CA, for defendants.

Mary Beth Uitti, U.S. Attorney's Office, San Francisco, CA, Sharon N. Perley, U.S.D.J. — Disability Rights Section, Civil Rights Division, Washington, DC, for United States of America, Amicus Curiae.


WILKEN, District Judge.

Plaintiffs, a certified class consisting of all present and future California state prison inmates and parolees with mobility1, sight, hearing, learning or kidney disabilities, have moved for injunctive relief under Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), 42 U.S.C. §§ 12131 — 34, and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 ("the Rehabilitation Act" or "Section 504"), 29 U.S.C. § 794. Defendants, various California state officials being sued in their official capacities, have moved for summary judgment pursuant to the Stipulation and Order for Procedures to Determine Liability and Remedy entered on July 9, 1996 (the "Stipulation"). The United States Department of Justice ("DOJ") has submitted an amicus brief in support of Plaintiffs' opposition. The matter was heard on July 19, 1996. Having considered all of the papers filed by the parties and oral argument on the motion, the Court denies the motion.


Defendants move to strike Plaintiffs' separate statement of undisputed facts. The Court grants the motion on the grounds that the parties have stipulated that this summary judgment motion is to be decided solely on the facts included in the parties' joint Statement of Stipulated Facts.

The following is a brief summary of the facts as provided in the Statement of Stipulated Facts. The California Department of Corrections ("CDC") operates over 31 prisons housing in excess of 130,000 inmates. Some of these facilities receive federal financial assistance. The CDC has conducted surveys to identify certain inmates with disabilities. These surveys have found that: (1) 345 inmates use wheelchairs due to permanent disabilities; (2) 650 inmates have permanent lower extremity impairments which may require the use of an assistive device such as a walker, cane or prosthesis; (3) 141 inmates are deaf or have hearing impairments such that, even with a hearing aid, they are not able to hear effectively or to hear emergency warnings; (4) 219 inmates are blind or have vision that cannot be corrected to 20/100 with corrective lenses. HIV-positive inmates are placed in various units in facilities throughout the system. Inmates with mental health problems are clustered and frequently separated from other inmate populations.

The CDC initiated a self-evaluation in 1995 pursuant to the requirements of the ADA, but has not completed it. In April, 1995, the CDC established and implemented a new administrative grievance procedure which inmates and parolees with disabilities may use to submit grievances or requests for accommodations on matters related to their disabilities. There remain significant problems in implementing this procedure.

The CDC's written policies and procedures for emergencies do not specifically address the evacuation of prisoners with disabilities. Some CDC facilities do not have visual alarms or strobe lights to warn prisoners with hearing impairments of emergencies. When emergency situations arise in prison areas other than living units, some inmates with disabilities may not be aware of, or be able to respond to, emergency warnings of impending danger.

Most inmates who participate in educational classes, vocational training, or have work assignments, including those with disabilities, earn ½ time sentence credits to reduce their time in custody. Health care providers classify inmates as "totally medically disabled," "medically unassigned," or "light restricted duty." A "totally medically disabled" classification allows the inmate to earn ½ time sentence credits without being required to participate in a program, while a "medically unassigned" classification allows the inmate to earn 1/3 time sentence credits. A "light restricted duty" classification allows the inmate to participate in programs in accordance with a specified restriction due to a physical or mental condition. Some inmates with severe disabilities have been inappropriately classified as medically unassigned rather than totally medically disabled and only earn 1/3 instead of ½ time credits against their sentences. Inmates designated as "light restricted duty" may be assigned to jobs that are inappropriate for their limitations. The range of vocational programs available to inmates with disabilities is more limited than that available to other inmates.


Summary judgment is properly granted when no genuine and disputed issues of material fact remain, and when, viewing the evidence most favorably to the non-moving party, the movant is clearly entitled to prevail as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56; Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 2552-53, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986); Eisenberg v. Insurance Co. of North America, 815 F.2d 1285, 1288-89 (9th Cir. 1987). For the purposes of this motion, the parties have stipulated that there are no material facts in dispute. The Court, therefore, must decide whether the moving party is entitled to summary judgment as a matter of law.


Defendants argue that the protections of the ADA and the Rehabilitation Act do not extend to inmates or parolees of state correctional facilities and that Defendants are immune from liability under the Eleventh Amendment of the United States Constitution. While the Ninth Circuit has held that the Rehabilitation Act applies to state prisons, it has not yet considered whether the ADA is applicable to state correctional facilities.2 Nor has the Ninth Circuit ruled on whether state prison officials have immunity under the Eleventh Amendment for violations of the ADA and the Rehabilitation Act. These, then, are issues of first impression in this Circuit.


The Court will not address Defendants' argument that prisoners and parolees are adequately protected under the First, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution and, therefore, the protections provided under the Rehabilitation Act and the ADA are unnecessary. One need only look to the undisputed stipulated facts of this case to find that this argument is erroneous. Furthermore, it is not the proper role of the judiciary to preempt Congress' decision that there is a need for such legislation.

A. Ninth Circuit Case Law
1. Rehabilitation Act

Although the Ninth Circuit has held, in Bonner v. Lewis, 857 F.2d 559, 562 (9th Cir.1988), that the Rehabilitation Act applies to state prison facilities, Defendants argue that this Court should arrive at a different result. Defendants argue that, since Bonner was decided, the Supreme Court has clarified the proper analysis to be used by a district court to determine the applicability of federal statutes to state prisons. Defendants contend that utilization of this analysis will lead to the conclusion that neither the Rehabilitation Act nor the ADA are applicable to state prisons. The Court does not agree.

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 states, in pertinent part:

No otherwise qualified individual with a disability in the United States, ... shall, solely by reason of her or his disability, be excluded from the participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance ...

29 U.S.C. § 794.

In Bonner, the Ninth Circuit based its holding primarily on the plain language of the Act, which states that it "applies to `any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance'", and on the Justice Department's implementing regulations which require compliance by correctional facilities under 28 C.F.R. § 42.503(f). Bonner, 857 F.2d at 562. The court noted that "[t]he Supreme Court has repeatedly emphasized that federal regulations are `an important source of guidance on the meaning of § 504.'" Id. (citing School Board of Nassau County v. Arline, 480 U.S. 273, 107 S.Ct. 1123, 94 L.Ed.2d 307 (1987) (parenthetical omitted) and Consolidated Rail Corp. v. Darrone, 465 U.S. 624, 634 & nn. 14-16, 104 S.Ct. 1248, 1254 & nn. 14-16, 79 L.Ed.2d 568 (1984)).

The Ninth Circuit rejected the defendants' argument that, because the purpose of the Rehabilitation Act is to foster vocational rehabilitation and independent living, it is not applicable to prison inmates who "are hardly in need of help to live independently within their prisons." Id. Instead, the court viewed the goals of independent living and vocational rehabilitation as mirroring the goals of prison officials who "attempt to rehabilitate prisoners and prepare them to lead productive lives once their sentences are complete." Id.

In Gates v. Rowland, 39 F.3d 1439 (9th Cir.1994), the Ninth Circuit elaborated on its holding in Bonner. First, the court, citing Bonner, reaffirmed that "the Act is applicable to prisons receiving federal financial assistance." Gates, 39 F.3d at 1446. The court noted, however, that the Rehabilitation Act was intended for use within the general population, and was not specifically tailored to deal with the prison...

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