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Eighth Circuit Reverses Dismissal of Prisoner’s ADA/RA Claims

Eighth Circuit Reverses Dismissal of Prisoner’s ADA/RA Claims

by Mark Wilson

The Eighth Circuit has reversed in part the dismissal of a Missouri prisoner’s claims related to accommodation of his disabilities.

In 2004, Missouri Department of Corrections (MDOC) prisoner Robert Dinkins began suffering blackouts, weakness and difficulty walking. The prison system’s health care provider, Correctional Medical Services (CMS), failed to properly diagnose or treat him for six months. As a result he did not receive medication that would have slowed the progression of his condition, pernicious anemia. By April 2006, Dinkins was paralyzed from the waist down.

As late as 2010, his condition continued to deteriorate. Rather than assigning him to a Transitional Care Unit, prison officials placed Dinkins in administrative segregation without a wheelchair or handicap access. As a result, he was forced to crawl and eat meals off the floor.

Dinkins requested that prison officials accommodate his disability by providing “someone to push his wheelchair, a handicapped-accessible cell, medically prescribed physical therapy, preventative treatment, examination by an outside specialist, wheelchair accessories, and exemption from activities requiring exposure to cold.” All of his requests were denied, causing him “to miss meals, fall several times in his cell, be placed on strip-cell status, and be unable to move around his cell without hitting the toilet or walls.”

Dinkins filed suit against MDOC, CMS, two individual guards and several doctors. He alleged the defendants had violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Rehabilitation Act (RA). The district court dismissed the case and Dinkins appealed.

The Eighth Circuit affirmed in part and reversed in part on February 25, 2014, first recognizing that the denial “of meals and adequate housing by reason of his disability can form the basis of viable ADA and RA claims,” and that the denial of “physical therapy could form the basis for a viable claim if the therapy was medically prescribed.” Therefore, the appellate court reversed the dismissal of Dinkins’ injunctive relief claims against the two guards, the state and MDOC, as those claims “were not based on medical treatment decisions.”

The Court of Appeals then concluded that MDOC had waived its sovereign immunity under the RA by accepting federal funds, and that Title II of the ADA abrogates the state’s Eleventh Amendment immunity for conduct that violates the Fourteenth Amendment. Since “some of defendants’ alleged behavior could violate the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments,” the Eighth Circuit remanded the ADA/RA damages claims against the state and MDOC.

Accordingly, the district court’s dismissal of the doctors and CMS and the individual-capacity claims against the two guards was affirmed; the dismissal of injunctive claims against the state defendants not based on medical treatment decisions was reversed; and the dismissal of damages claims against the state and the MDOC was reversed. See: Dinkins v. CMS, 743 F.3d 633 (8th Cir. 2014).

Upon remand, the district court granted a motion to dismiss the two guards on April 4, 2014. The court then denied Dinkins’ motion to stay the case for six months until he was released from prison, his motion to appoint counsel and his motion to compel the defendants to produce documents in discovery. The defendants filed a motion for summary judgment on November 17, 2014, which remains pending. Dinkins is litigating the case pro se; he was represented on appeal by attorney David L. Simpson. See: Dinkins v. CMS, U.S.D.C. (W.D. Mo.), Case No. 2:09-cv-04111-NKL.

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Related legal cases

Dinkins v. CMS

Dinkins v. CMS