Holmes v. Godinez, 11 C 2961

Decision Date08 October 2015
Docket NumberNo. 11 C 2961,11 C 2961
CourtU.S. District Court — Northern District of Illinois
PartiesRALPH HOLMES, et al., Plaintiffs, v. SALVADOR A. GODINEZ, Defendant.

Hon. Marvin E. Aspen

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

MARVIN E. ASPEN, District Court Judge:

Plaintiffs, eleven deaf or hard of hearing prisoners, brought this proposed class action on behalf of themselves and others similarly situated against Defendant Salvador A. Godinez, the Acting Director of the Illinois Department of Corrections ("IDOC" or the "Department"). Plaintiffs allege that IDOC has denied them hearing accommodations needed to effectively communicate with IDOC staff and others, participate in IDOC programs and services, and follow safety warnings and directives. The complaint alleges violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), the Rehabilitation Act, the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act ("RLUIPA"), and the United States Constitution. Presently before us are Defendant's motion to exclude the expert testimony of Elizabeth Stanoshek, Plaintiffs' motion for class certification, and Defendant's motion for summary judgment. After a recitation of the relevant facts, we will address these motions in that order. As described fully below, Defendant's motion to exclude expert testimony is denied, Plaintiffs' motion for class certification is granted with a modification to the class definition, and Defendant's motion for summary judgment is granted in part and denied in part.

FACTUAL BACKGROUND

Unless otherwise noted, the facts described herein are undisputed and culled from the parties' Local Rule 56.1 statements of fact and exhibits. (See Def's Rule 56.1 Statement of Facts, Dkt. 259 [hereinafter Def's SOF]; Pls' Rule 56.1 Statement of Facts, Dkt. 259 [hereinafter Pls' SOF].)1 The parties' statements of fact were, however, riddled with objections and many were disputed as evidenced below. As to the objections, we shall rely on admissible evidence only for purposes of our analysis. See, e.g., Hemsworth v. Quotesmith.Com, Inc., 476 F.3d 487, 490 (7th Cir. 2007) ("The evidence relied upon in defending a motion for summary judgment must be competent evidence of a type otherwise admissible at trial."). We decline to address objections specifically unless warranted. In addition, as we will discuss more below, many of the disputed statements of fact are broad and generalized allegations about IDOC's conduct and policies or Plaintiffs' hearing impairments and accommodations. The respective sides often support or dispute these generalized statements by simply citing a handful of anecdotal examples rather than dispositive evidence. Where they have done so, we likewise highlight the competing evidence that each party puts forth and frequently cite to the record to do so.

After briefly describing the parties, we provide some background information on deafness and hearing loss before moving into IDOC's conduct.

I. The Parties

The single defendant in this case is Salvador Godinez ("Godinez" or "Defendant"), the Director of IDOC. Plaintiffs sue Godinez in his official capacity only. (Def's SOF ¶ 12.) TheComplaint includes eleven named Plaintiffs, each of whom suffer from varying degrees of hearing impairment and are, or were, inmates in the IDOC system. (Def's SOF ¶¶ 1-11.) A brief description of each follows.

Daniel Baxter ("Baxter") entered IDOC in 2002 and was released from incarceration on May 19, 2014. (IDOC Inmate Status Report for Daniel Baxter, Def's SOF Ex. 2; Def's SOF ¶ 2.) Before his release, Baxter resided at Shawnee Correctional Center ("Shawnee") for two years and Big Muddy River Correctional Center ("Big Muddy") for eight years before that. (Deposition of Daniel Baxter at 18, Def's SOF Ex. 29 [hereinafter Baxter Dep.].) Baxter testified that he is not deaf, but has been hard of hearing for at least ten years. (Id. at 25-26.) While incarcerated, Baxter did not wear hearing aids, although he asked IDOC to provide him with them. (Id. at 25.) He testified that he is "getting kind of rusty" at sign language, but did request the assistance of American Sign Language ("ASL") interpreters during his sentence. (Id. at 31-35; see Def's SOF ¶ 2.)

George Childress ("Childress") has been incarcerated since 2005 and housed at the Graham Correctional Center ("Graham") since 2012. (Declaration of George Childress ¶ 2, Pls' SOF Ex. 55 [hereinafter Childress Decl.].) He stated that he began to lose his hearing in 1969 following his service in Vietnam, and has recently become completely deaf. (Childress Decl. ¶ 3; Deposition of George Childress at 8, Def's SOF Ex. 3 [hereinafter Childress Dep.].) He communicates through ASL, lip-reading, and writing. (Childress Decl. ¶ 4.) Childress also suffers from diabetes and kidney disease. (Id. ¶ 9.)

Hannibal Eason ("Eason") has been incarcerated with IDOC at the Stateville Correctional Center ("Stateville") since 2009. Eason testified that he needs two hearing aids but currently wears only one in his right ear. (Deposition of Hannibal Eason at 5-6, Def's SOF Ex. 14[hereinafter Eason Dep.].) At his deposition, Eason did not have a battery for his hearing aid and instead relied on ASL interpreters and lip-reading. (Id. at 5, 16-17.)

Curtis Foster ("Foster") was incarcerated in IDOC from 1998 until May 2015. (Deposition of Curtis Foster at 5, Def's SOF Ex. 22 [hereinafter Foster Dep.].) On May 12, 2015, he died at Presence Saint Joseph Medical Center from a burst appendix. (See Pls' Mot. for Additional Discovery, Dkt. 272.) For the thirteen years preceding his death, he was incarcerated at Stateville. Foster testified that he was born deaf. (Foster Dep. at 6.) The record indicates that he communicated to a degree through reading and writing, (id. at 40-42, 68-69), but he testified that ASL was his first language, (id. at 63).

Curtis Halterman ("Halterman") has worn a hearing aid in his left ear for twenty years, and can hear only a little out of his right ear. (Deposition of Curtis Halterman at 6, Def's SOF Ex. 24 [hereinafter Halterman Dep.].) Halterman first entered IDOC in 1994, and has been incarcerated at Jacksonville Correctional Center ("Jacksonville") since 2008. (Id. at 5.) He does not know ASL. (Def's SOF ¶ 6.)

Ralph Holmes ("Holmes") has been an inmate at Dixon Correctional Center ("Dixon") since 2008 when he was originally incarcerated. (Declaration of Ralph Holmes ¶ 2, Pls' SOF Ex. 6 [hereinafter Holmes Decl.].) Holmes stated that as a child he was hard of hearing and that at age fifteen or sixteen he became completely deaf in both ears. (Id. ¶ 4.) He can hear some sounds in his left hear with the assistance of hearing aids and can use a telephone with an amplifier in his right ear. (Id. ¶ 5.) He communicates through reading, writing and lip-reading, and has taught himself limited ASL. (Id. ¶ 11; Deposition of Randolph Holmes at 21, Def's SOF Ex. 20 [hereinafter Holmes Dep.].)

Billy Johnson ("Johnson") has been incarcerated since 2007 and housed at Stateville since 2012. (Deposition of Billy Johnson at 5, Def's SOF Ex. 4 [hereinafter Johnson Dep.].) Johnson was born deaf. (Id. at 6.) He testified that sign language is his natural language and, although he can read and write some, English is his second language. (Id. at 13, 42.)

Wendell Lancaster ("Lancaster") entered IDOC in 2008, was placed in Dixon shortly thereafter, and resides there still. (Declaration of Wendell Lancaster ¶ 2, 4, Pls' SOF Ex. 5 [hereinafter Lancaster Decl.].) Lancaster stated that he is deaf and he communicates primarily through ASL. (Id. ¶ 3.) He does, however, wear two hearing aids and can hear some sounds. (Deposition of Wendell Lancaster at 10, Def's SOF Ex. 15 [hereinafter Lancaster Dep.].) The record indicates that he is also able to communicate, at least to some extent, through reading and writing in English. (See id. at 7, 31, 86-87.)

Daniel Lord ("Lord") was first incarcerated at Joliet Correctional Center ("Joliet") in 1989 and was transferred to Dixon in 1995. (Declaration of Daniel Lord ¶ 2, Pls' SOF Ex. 7 [hereinafter Lord Decl.].) Lord stated that he was born with hearing loss and became fully deaf by age three. (Id. ¶ 4.) He communicates through ASL and testified that he knows only limited English. (Deposition of Daniel Lord, Def's SOF Ex. 21 at 28, 41-42 [hereinafter Lord Dep.].)

Aaron Winfert ("Winfert") has been deaf in his left hear and hard of hearing in his right ear since age three. (Declaration of Aaron Winfert ¶ 2, Pls' SOF Ex. 16 [hereinafter Winfert Decl.].) Winfert was incarcerated at Menard Correctional Center ("Mendard") in 2006 and resides there still. (Id. ¶ 5.) He was also incarcerated at Taylorville Correctional Center ("Taylorville") for six months in 2004 related to a separate sentence. (Id. ¶ 4.) Winfert communicates through ASL and the record indicates that, to a lesser degree, he can also read, write, and read lips. (Deposition of Aaron Winfert at 13, 63-63, Def's SOF Ex. 5 [hereinafterWinfert Dep.].) He testified that he understands fifty percent of spoken words when he reads lips. (Id. at 13, 20-22.)

Jason Wright ("Wright") was incarcerated in 2008 and has been housed at Graham since 2010. (Declaration of Jason Wright ¶ 2, Pls' SOF Ex. 56 [hereinafter Wright Decl.].) He stated that he was born deaf in both ears and communicates through sign language. (Id. ¶ 3.) The record indicates that he can also read and write at least some in English. (Deposition of Jason Wright at 14, 25, 74, Def's SOF Ex. 13 [hereinafter Wright Dep.].)

II. Hearing Disabilities

Plaintiffs' expert Professor Dennis Cokely, Ph.D. identifies two primary types of hearing disabilities: deaf and hard of hearing. According to Professor Cokely, deaf individuals include those who cannot hear at all and those who can hear loud noises but cannot understand speech. (Expert Report of Dennis Cokely, Ph.D. at 4-5, Cert. Mem. Ex. 17 [hereinafter Cokely Rpt.].) Hard of hearing individuals can hear and...

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