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Oregon Prison Officials Must Provide Post-release Disability Care

An Oregon federal district court issued a preliminary injunction enjoining prison officials from releasing a disabled prisoner without assistance.

Oregon state prisoner Steven Fox was an able-bodied person when he entered prison in 2010. Due to the neglect of prison officials, however, he sustained injuries that severely limited his mobility in July 2015. As a result he now has only limited use of his right leg, is unable to move his right arm and has only 10-15 percent use of his left arm.

Fox cannot move without a wheelchair attendant. In prison, helpers assisted him in moving, transfers and other tasks such as putting on his socks. It took him 15 minutes to get out of bed without assistance. Fox occasionally fell while transferring to and from his wheelchair, and could not get up by himself. He was also unable to obtain or prepare food without help. In short, he was essentially helpless and completely dependent upon others.

Fox had been confined to a community hospital or an Oregon Department of Corrections (ODOC) infirmary since July 2015. At the time of his August 12, 2016 release from prison, he was housed in a prison infirmary.

Dr. Michael Wilson recommended that Fox “have assistance with daily activities such as getting dressed and shopping for groceries.” Just prior to his release, however, prison officials revealed they intended to release him to a local motel with limited assistance, and virtually none after his initial check-in.

Fox moved for a preliminary injunction in a federal civil suit, seeking to enjoin prison officials from releasing him to a motel that was not compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and without anyone to assist him with basic daily living activities.

The district court granted the injunction on August 11, 2016, observing that “Dr. Wilson’s opinion, combined with Fox’s declaration, demonstrates Fox requires at least some continued supervision or assistance at this time.”

“The duty to provide adequate medical care does not necessarily terminate once the inmate walks through the prison gate,” the court observed. “Depending on the particular circumstances, a former inmate’s inability to secure medical care ‘on his own behalf’ may extend the state’s duty to provide care beyond the period of confinement,” it added, citing Wakefield v. Thompson, 177 F.3d 1160 (9th Cir. 1999).

The district court agreed that “there is a grave risk of imminent harm and Fox has demonstrated a reasonable likelihood of success on his claim that, absent an injunction, defendants will violate his constitutional rights.”

Although “this sort of affirmative action on a prison is somewhat unusual,” the court ultimately ordered prison officials to assist Fox following his release.

“While requiring ODOC to check in on Fox could in fact save Fox’s life,” the district court found that “it will not be an enormous burden on ODOC.” Therefore, it ordered prison officials “to check in on Fox two times per day” for two weeks. “One contact may be by a phone call to Fox’s motel. One contact must be an in-person check at the hotel,” the order specified. See: Fox v. Peters, U.S.D.C. (D. Ore.), Case No. 6:16-cv-01602-MC; 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 107100.

Fox’s attorney voluntarily dismissed the case in September 2016, stating, “Because the need for the Temporary Restraining Order ... is now moot, there is no need to proceed to judgment on the merits of the claims.” Fox was represented by Portland attorney Lynn S. Walsh. 

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Related legal case

Fox v. Peters