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Puerto Rico Independent Prison Medical Services Contractor Not Employee

On November 16, 2010, the First Circuit court of appeals upheld the ruling of a Puerto Rico federal court that an physician who was an independent contractor providing medical services in Puerto Rico prisons was not an employee of the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (DOCR) or Correctional Health Services Corporation (CHSC), with which DOCR contracts for medical services.

Enrique Cortés-Rivera, a physician who provided medical services at the Guayama Correctional Facility from 2002 until 2007, filed a federal lawsuit alleging that his termination constituted discrimination and retaliation against him in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Rehabilitation Act (RA) and Puerto Rico law.

During the course of his employment, Cortes-Rivera had been diagnosed with Guillain-Barre syndrome which led to paralysis of his left leg and foot. In his suit, Cortes-Rivera complained that his seeking accommodation for his disability and filing complaints with the EEOC led to his dismissal, notwithstanding the fact that he was one of several low-seniority doctors whose contracts were not renewed. Defendants filed a motion for summary judgment on the grounds that Cortes-Rivera was not an employee of CHS or DOCR for RA and ADA purposes. Cortes-Rivera failed to file a timely opposition and the magistrate judge recommended that summary judgment be granted. Over Cortes-Rivera’s objections, the court granted summery judgment. Cortes-Rivera appealed.

The First Circuit held the Cortes-Rivera had not filed a timely opposition to the defendant motion for summary judgment, waiving his arguments. Furthermore, Cortes-Rivera did not adequately present to and brief the district court on the issue when he filed his objections to the magistrate judge's recommendations, resulting in a double waiver.
Finally, Cortes-Rivera failed to adequately brief the issue on appeal, resulting in a triple
waiver. Thus, the judgment on the ADA and RA claims was proper. The only remaining claims were under Puerto Rico law and could not be raised by themselves in a federal district court. Cortes-Rivera's attempt to invent a federal retaliation claim was disingenuous as he had not pled any such claim. Therefore, the judgment of the district court was affirmed. Cortes-Rivera was represented by Wilma E. Reveron-Collazo with Nora Vargas Acosta on brief. See: Cortes-Rivera v. Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, 626 F.3d 21 (1st Cir., 2010).

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Related legal case

Cortes-Rivera v. Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico