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Sixth Circuit: No Eleventh Amendment Immunity When ADA Claim Includes Fourteenth Amendment Violations

by Matt Clarke

On January 5, 2010, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a Michigan district court’s denial of Eleventh Amendment immunity for a claim involving both a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), 42 U.S.C. § 12131, et seq., and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Ned Mingus, a Michigan state prisoner with macular degeneration and other medical problems, filed a federal civil rights suit, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, against registered nurse Sherilyn Butler, the Health Unit Manager at the G. Robert Cotton Correctional Facility, alleging violations of the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments.

Specifically, Mingus complained about Butler’s failure to assign him a single-man cell when some able-bodied prison-ers and prisoners with lesser health-related issues were granted single cells. Mingus said he feared for his safety and his ability to protect his property from other predatory prisoners. Butler had denied Mingus’ requests, stating that he failed to meet the criteria for assignment to a single-man cell.

Butler filed a motion for summary judgment on the basis of qualified immunity and immunity under the Eleventh Amendment. The district court dismissed Mingus’ individual-capacity ADA claim and official-capacity § 1983 claim. How-ever, the court denied summary judgment on grounds of qualified immunity under § 1983 and Eleventh Amendment immunity under the ADA, and denied summary judgment on Mingus’ Fourteenth Amendment equal protection claim. Butler appealed.

The Sixth Circuit held that Mingus failed to show he was subject to deliberate indifference to his serious medical needs. “Mingus did not allege that he was denied medical treatment but, rather, that Butler failed to protect him from the risks resulting from his deteriorating eyesight and other physical ailments.” Therefore, Butler was entitled to qualified immunity on the Eighth Amendment claim.

The Sixth Circuit noted that Butler had conceded, for purposes of the appeal, that the facts showed a violation of Title II of the ADA. The Court of Appeals found that Mingus had “alleged misconduct that independently violated both Title II of the ADA and the Fourteenth Amendment.” Further, Mingus challenged the rational basis for denying him a single-man cell, “a traditional equal protection claim and not an ‘equal protection-type claim of discrimination.’”

The Supreme Court had determined in United States v. Georgia, 546 U.S. 151, 126 S.Ct. 877 (2006), that Congress abrogated state sovereign immunity for a claim that raises independent ADA and Fourteenth Amendment violations for the same conduct. Therefore, the district court’s denial of Eleventh Amendment immunity to Butler was upheld, but on different grounds.

The judgment of the district court was affirmed in part and reversed in part, and the case remanded for further proceedings. Mingus represented himself pro se on appeal after the appellate court denied his motion to appoint counsel, stating he had “more than adequately represented himself.” See: Mingus v. Butler, 591 F.3d 474 (6th Cir. 2010).

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Related legal case

Mingus v. Butler