Skip navigation
× You have 2 more free articles available this month. Subscribe today.

Ninth Circuit Reverses Dismissal of California ADA Suit Against Parole Officers

Ninth Circuit Reverses Dismissal of California ADA Suit Against Parole Officers

by Derek Gilna

In a decision that displayed its displeasure with California parole officers’ disregard for both the spirit and statutory requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Ninth Circuit reversed the dismissal of an ADA Title II lawsuit filed by parolee Dennis Sharkey. While Sharkey had failed to file suit within the two-year statute of limitations for personal injury actions in California, the Court of Appeals adopted a three-year limitations period for ADA Title II cases.

Sharkey, 55, had serious disabilities that required him to live in residences with handicap-accessible features. He used a wheelchair and canes, and previously resided in a handicap-accessible apartment in Oakland, California. In December 2006, he was advised by state parole officers that due to new housing restrictions required by the California Sexual Predator and Control Act, his apartment was no longer an acceptable place of residence. Sharkey was forced to move the same day he was notified, within one hour, and given only 25 minutes to pack his belongings. He was injured in the hurried move and had to seek emergency and long-term medical treatment for his injuries.

Sharkey was moved to a motel that was not handicap-accessible; although he complained to his parole officer, he was not afforded alternative housing to accommodate his disabilities. He suffered at least three slip-and-fall accidents at the motel due to the lack of ADA-compliant features. Further, he “lost access to a federal program that had provided him with in-home medical services because the motel did not meet the program’s residence requirements. Sharkey’s doctors in turn canceled several scheduled surgeries because he no longer had a suitable recovery environment, and Sharkey was unable to participate in other medically necessary treatments.”

California prisoners’ rights advocates have strongly opposed restrictive statutory provisions that force sex offenders to move out of their homes, and the California Sexual Predator and Control Act and other restrictive local ordinances have been the subject of frequent litigation. [See: PLN, Feb. 2015, p.28].

Sharkey, proceeding pro se, filed suit in 2009 under Title II of the ADA, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and various constitutional claims, but the district court dismissed his complaint with prejudice as time-barred under the two-year statute of limitations applicable to personal injury actions in California. Federal courts are required to follow the procedural rules for lawsuits in the states where they are located unless a federal rule or statute mandates otherwise. Sharkey appealed.

The Ninth Circuit disagreed with the district court’s categorization of Sharkey’s claims, stating in a February 10, 2015 decision that “Title II of the ADA does not contain an express statute of limitations,” but that “California Government Code § 11135 provides the most analogous state-law claim to a Title II claim.Title II of the ADA provides that ‘no qualified individual with a disability shall, by reason of such disability, be excluded from participation in or be denied the benefits of the services, programs, or activities of a public entity....” The appellate court found that since “California provides a three-year statute of limitations for ‘[a]n action upon a liability created by statute, other than a penalty or forfeiture,’ Cal. Civ. Proc. Code § 338(a),” the three-year statute of limitations was appropriate in this case, and therefore Sharkey was not time-barred.

The Court of Appeals also held that the lower court had abused its discretion in failing to grant Sharkey leave to amend his pleadings, noting, “In the instant case, the district court provided no explanation for dismissing with prejudice, despite the fact that the operative complaint was the first and only complaint filed by Sharkey, who was proceeding pro se. ‘A simple denial of leave to amend without any explanation by the district court is subject to reversal.’” The case was remanded for further proceedings. See: 


As a digital subscriber to Prison Legal News, you can access full text and downloads for this and other premium content.

Subscribe today

Already a subscriber? Login

Related legal case

Sharkey v. O’Neal