Pennsylvania Dept. Correction v. Yeskey

Decision Date15 June 1998
Docket Number97634
Citation118 S.Ct. 1952,524 U.S. 206,141 L.Ed.2d 215
PartiesPENNSYLVANIA DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS, et al., Petitioners, v. Ronald R. YESKEY
CourtU.S. Supreme Court
Syllabus*

Respondent Yeskey was sentenced to 18 to 36 months in a Pennsylvania correctional facility, but was recommended for placement in a Motivational Boot Camp for first-time offenders, the successful completion of which would have led to his parole in just six months. When he was refused admission because of his medical history of hypertension, he sued petitioners, Pennsylvania's Department of Corrections and several officials, alleging that the exclusion violated the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA), Title II of which prohibits a "public entity'' from discriminating against a "qualified individual with a disability'' on account of that disability, 42 U.S.C. §12132. The District Court dismissed for failure to state a claim, holding the ADA inapplicable to state prison inmates, but the Third Circuit reversed.

Held: State prisons fall squarely within Title II's statutory definition of "public entity,'' which includes "any . . . instrumentality of a State . . . or local government.'' §12131(1)(B). Unlike the situation that obtained in Gregory v. Ashcroft, 501 U.S. 452, 111 S.Ct. 2395, 115 L.Ed.2d 410, there is no ambiguous exception that renders the coverage uncertain. For that reason the plain-statement requirement articulated in Gregory, if applicable to federal intrusion upon the administration of state prisons, has been met. Petitioners' attempts to derive an intent not to cover prisons from the statutory references to the "benefits'' of programs, and to "qualified individual'' are rejected; some prison programs, such as this one, have benefits and are restricted to qualified inmates. The statute's lack of ambiguity also requires rejection of petitioners' appeal to the doctrine of constitutional doubt. The Court does not address the issue whether applying the ADA to state prisons is a constitutional exercise of Congress's power under either the Commerce Clause or the Fourteenth Amendment because it was addressed by neither of the lower courts. Pp. ____-____.

118 F.3d 168, affirmed.

SCALIA, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court.

Paul A. Tufano, Harrisburg, PA, for petitioner.

Donald Specter, Washington, DC, for respondent.

Irving L. Gornstein, Washington, DC, for U.S. as amicus curiae, by special leave of Court.

Justice SCALIA delivered the opinion of the Court.

The question before us is whether Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA), 104 Stat. 337, 42 U.S.C. §12131 et seq., which prohibits a "public entity'' from discriminating against a "qualified individual with a disability'' on account of that individual's disability, see §12132, covers inmates in state prisons. Respondent Ronald Yeskey was such an inmate, sentenced in May 1994 to serve 18 to 36 months in a Pennsylvania correctional facility. The sentencing court recommended that he be placed in Pennsylvania's Motivational Boot Camp for first-time offenders, the successful completion of which would have led to his release on parole in just six months. See Pa. Stat. Ann., Tit. 61, §1121 et seq. (Purdon Supp.1998). Because of his medical history of hypertension, however, he was refused admission. He filed this suit against petitioners, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania's Department of Corrections and several department officials, alleging that his exclusion from the Boot Camp violated the ADA. The District Court dismissed for failure to state a claim, Fed. Rule Civ. Proc. 12(b)(6), holding the ADA inapplicable to inmates in state prisons; the Third Circuit reversed, 118 F.3d 168 (1997); we granted certiorari, 522 U.S.----, 118 S.Ct. 876, 139 L.Ed.2d 865 (1998).

Petitioners argue that state prisoners are not covered by the ADA for the same reason we held in Gregory v. Ashcroft, 501 U.S. 452, 111 S.Ct. 2395, 115 L.Ed.2d 410 (1991), that state judges were not covered by the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA), 29 U.S.C. §621 et seq. Gregory relied on the canon of construction that absent an "unmistakably clear'' expression of intent to "alter the usual constitutional balance between the States and the Federal Government,'' we will interpret a statute to preserve rather than destroy the States' "substantial sovereign powers.'' 501 U.S., at 460-461, 111 S.Ct., at 2400-2401 (citations and internal quotation marks omitted). It may well be that exercising ultimate control over the management of state prisons, like establishing the qualifications of state government officials, is a traditional and essential State function subject to the plain-statement rule of Gregory. "One of the primary functions of government,'' we have said, "is the preservation of societal order through enforcement of the criminal law, and the maintenance of penal institutions is an essential part of that task.'' Procunier v. Martinez, 416 U.S. 396, 412, 94 S.Ct. 1800, 1811, 40 L.Ed.2d 224 (1974), overruled on other grounds, Thornburgh v. Abbott, 490 U.S. 401, 414, 109 S.Ct. 1874, 1882, 104 L.Ed.2d 459 (1989). "It is difficult to imagine an activity in which a State has a stronger interest,'' Preiser v. Rodriguez, 411 U.S. 475, 491, 93 S.Ct. 1827, 1837, 36 L.Ed.2d 439 (1973).

Assuming, without deciding, that the plain-statement rule does govern application of the ADA to the administration of state prisons, we think the requirement of the rule is amply met: the statute's language unmistakeably includes State prisons and prisoners within its coverage. The situation here is not comparable to that in Gregory. There, although the ADEA plainly covered state employees, it contained an exception for ""appointee[s] on the policymaking level''' which made it impossible for us to "conclude that the statute plainly cover[ed] appointed state judges.'' 501 U.S., at 467, 111 S.Ct., at 2404. Here, the ADA plainly covers state institutions without any exception that could cast the coverage of prisons into doubt. Title II of the ADA provides that:

"Subject to the provisions of this subchapter, no qualified individual with a disability shall, by reason of such disability, be excluded from participation in or be denied the benefits of the services, programs, or activities of a public entity, or be subjected to discrimination by any such entity.'' 42 U.S.C. §12132.

State prisons fall squarely within the statutory definition of "public entity,'' which includes "any department, agency, special purpose district, or other instrumentality of a State or States or local government.'' §12131(1)(B).

Petitioners contend that the phrase "benefits of the services, programs, or activities of a public entity,'' §12132, creates an ambiguity, because state prisons do not provide prisoners with "benefits'' of "programs, services, or activities'' as those terms are ordinarily understood. We disagree. Modern prisons provide inmates with many recreational "activities,'' medical "services,'' and educational and vocational "programs,'' all of which at least theoretically "benefit'' the prisoners (and any of which disabled prisoners could be "excluded from participation in''). See Block v. Rutherford, 468 U.S. 576, 580, 104 S.Ct. 3227, 3229-3230, 82 L.Ed.2d 438 (1984) (referring to "contact visitation program''); Hudson v. Palmer, 468 U.S. 517, 552, 104 S.Ct. 3194, 3214, 82 L.Ed.2d 393 (1984) (discussing "rehabilitative programs and services''); Olim v. Wakinekona, 461 U.S. 238, 246, 103 S.Ct. 1741, 1745-1746, 75 L.Ed.2d 813 (1983) (referring to "appropriate correctional programs for all offenders''). Indeed, the statute establishing the Motivational Boot Camp at issue in this very case refers to it as a "program.'' Pa. Stat. Ann., Tit. 61, §1123 (Purdon Supp.1998). The text of the ADA provides no basis for distinguishing these programs, services, and activities from those provided by public entities that are not prisons.

We also disagree with petitioners' contention that the term "qualified individual with a disability'' is ambiguous insofar as concerns its application to state prisoners. The statute defines the term to include anyone with a disability

"who, with or without reasonable modifications to rules, policies, or practices, the removal of architectural, communication, or transportation barriers, or the provision of auxiliary aids and services, meets the essential eligibility requirements for the receipt of services or the participation in programs or activities provided by a public entity.'' 42 U.S.C. §12131(2).

Petitioners argue that the words "eligibility'' and "participation'' imply voluntariness on the part of an applicant who seeks a benefit from the State, and thus do not connote prisoners who are being held against their will. This is wrong on two counts: First, because the words do not connote voluntariness. See, e.g., Webster's New International Dictionary 831 (2d ed. 1949) ("eligible'': "Fitted or qualified to be chosen or elected; legally or morally suitable; as, an eligible candidate''); id., at 1782 ("participate'': "To have a share in common with others; to partake; share, as in a debate''). While "eligible'' individuals "participate'' voluntarily in many...

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