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US District Court Denies Fla. DOC Wrongful Death Defense

The United States District Court for the Middle District in Ocala denied in September 2012 the Florida Department of Corrections’ dispositive motion in the First Amendment claims of Lynn Wolfe, Plaintiff and mother of deceased DOC prisoner, Daniel Wolfe. Plaintiff filed under Florida’s Wrongful Death Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), alleging deliberate indifference on the part of DOC staff as demonstrated by refusal to provide adequate accommodations commensurate with Daniel Wolfe’s disability and failure to train staff in the proper procedures associated with overseeing a prisoner subject to aggressive asthma attacks.

The issue at bar was whether the DOC’s motion for summary judgment was justiciable under Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c) – the rule that sets the parameters for summary judgment.

Daniel Wolfe was a Florida state prisoner with a history of life threatening asthma attacks, the last of which in August 2006 being terminal. Plaintiff offered record evidence of Wolfe’s restricted daily activity resulting from her son’s medical condition. The state countered with evidence that Daniel Wolfe participated in a variety of sports, both before and during his term of incarceration, as well as holding down jobs that required strenuous physical activity. The court noted that the state’s assertions were not germane to the issue at bar, but the existence of controversy in the party’s positions was germane, indicating a genuine issue of material fact. The court found Wolfe’s asthma to be a disability, rightly enveloping him within the ADA blanket.

As to the issue of whether the DOC discriminated against Wolfe, Plaintiff contended DOC acted intentionally or with deliberate indifference toward Daniel Wolfe’s medical condition by not providing, as he requested, adequate means to promptly communicate with guards in the event of a severe, life threatening asthma attack. Wolfe requested placement in a housing situation wherein he could be constantly monitored, or have access to an emergency call button. The DOC in response concentrated on the medical care they provided and did not counter the assertion that they neither provided adequate training for staff nor made an effort to monitor Daniel Wolfe more completely.

The DOC claimed sovereign immunity under the Eleventh Amendment. The court noted, though, that the Supreme Court had held that Title II of the ADA validly abrogated sovereign immunity for conduct that violates the constitution. The court ruled triable issue as valid, denied the DOC’s motion for summary judgment. See: Wolfe v. DOC, U.S.D.C. (M.D. Fla), Case No. 5:10-cv-663-OC-PRL; 2012 WL 4052334.

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Related legal case

Wolfe v. DOC