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New Hampshire Prisoner’s ADA Claim Survives Summary Judgment

New Hampshire Prisoner's ADA Claim Survives Summary Judgment

The First Circuit Court of Appeals has reversed a New Hampshire federal district court's summary judgment order concluding that a prisoner failed to demonstrate that prison officials violated his rights under Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

While imprisoned at the New Hampshire State Prison (NHSP), prisoner Matthew Kiman began exhibiting signs of a disability in 1997. He first experienced numbness and pain in his left leg and buttocks. He met with NHSP's nurse and physical therapist several times between October and December 1997. On December 17, he reported having weakness and pain in his left shoulder. He paroled to serve a sentence in Massachusetts and missed an appointment on January 8, 1998, to see NHSP's doctor.

After a total release from imprisonment, Kiman had an April 1998 appointment with Dr. Jay Smith, who noted atrophy in Kiman's muscles and fasciculation (involuntary contractions and twitching) along both sides of his body. A subsequent consultation with a neurologist did not reach a conclusive diagnosis, but that specialist believed Kiman might have a motor neuron disease or muscular dystrophy.

Kiman had been bounced between several prison units while incarcerated, and alleged that he was not accommodated for his disability fully in any unit. The First Circuit concluded "that the district court failed to consider admissible evidence that may -- depending on the resolution of the issues -- establish genuine issues of material fact on whether prison officials violated Title II of the ADA."

Prison officials did not contest that Kiman was a "qualified individual with a disability." They instead argued that they provided Kiman with reasonable accommodations that he requested, except where accommodating his requests would have endangered prison security.

The First Circuit began its analysis with three issues in which it agreed with the district court, finding no ADA violation. First, the Court agreed prison officials did not discriminate against Kiman because of his disability in regard to his diagnosis, medical consultations, physical therapy or medical dosages. Next, the failure to provide him a cane while in "quarantine," or the Special Housing Unit, was based on valid security concerns. Finally, Kiman did not need a "cell feed" pass to be fed in his cell rather than the chow hall.

The Court then turned to issues it felt required further inquiry by the district court. The first was the failure to provide Kiman's medications to him on a regular basis despite his repeated requests to receive them.

Then, the Court found there was a dispute as to whether or not guards allowed him to use his shower chair. He contended that rather than allow him to use it for the purpose provided, guards would sit in it while they supervised him showering.

The third issue concerned the failure of guards to comply with Kiman's "front cuff pass." Prison officials argued that despite guards' knowledge that Kiman had such a pass, "it was reasonable for them to cuff him behind his back due to" Kiman's failure to have the pass on him. This occurred on more than one occasion, requiring the matter to survive summary judgment.

Finally, there was evidence in the form of Kiman's testimony that guards disregarded his low bunk pass, requiring him to climb in and out of a top bunk. They also required him to live on a top tier. There existed a dispute as to whether guards failed to accommodate Kiman's disability.

While the Court found these four issues survived summary judgment, it left for the district court to resolve several other issues. The appellate court held that the lower court must determine whether Kiman must exhaust his administrative remedies as a prerequisite to suit under the ADA. Also, it must be decided if the ADA abrogates sovereign immunity. If the ADA claims survive this analysis, then Kiman's state law claims must be considered.

Accordingly, the district court's summary judgment order was affirmed in part and reversed in part. See: Kiman v. New Hampshire Department of Corrections, 451 F.3d 274 (1st Cir. 2006).

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Related legal case

Kiman v. New Hampshire Department of Corrections