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Pennsylvania: $20,000 Settlement for Prisoner’s ADA Claim

A lawsuit alleging violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Rehabilitation Act led the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (PDOC) to pay $20,000 and agree to provide “reasonable therapy or reasonable accommodation” to prisoner Donald Scott.

Scott suffered a severe stroke in February 2010, which resulted in brain damage and aphasia – the latter being a disorder that affects an individual’s ability to express and understand written and verbal language. It also causes the impairment of cognitive functions such as mathematical concepts, problem solving, reasoning and memory.

The condition resulted in serious problems for Scott while he was incarcerated at SCI Somerset. “Forms are the basis of nearly every aspect of prison life, including sick call requests, library time slot requests, commissary, ADA and religious accommodation forms, grievances, misconduct appeals and requests to staff through which prisoners communicate with staff on a number of topics,” he said in his federal complaint.

Scott’s disability limited him to communicating only with help from his cellmate or a peer assistant in the library. “This reliance on other inmates for the completion of essential and daily tasks place[d] Mr. Scott in a vulnerable position where others could easily manipulate and take advantage of him,” his lawsuit stated.

In preparing for a temporary medical transfer, Scott was ordered to pack all his belongings. Due to his disability he forgot to pack his shoes and television, which were discovered by his cellmate after he left. When Scott returned to SCI Somerset he received a misconduct report for three charges: refusing to obey an order, leaving and borrowing property, and violating a rule in the Inmate Handbook.

The hearing officer denied Scott assistance at the misconduct hearing because he claimed Scott understood the charges; further, witnesses who would testify about Scott’s disability were also denied because they were not deemed necessary to determine his guilt or innocence. He was found guilty and received 15 days on cell restriction and a 30-day suspension of television privileges.

The PDOC had denied recommendations by Scott’s doctors to provide him with speech therapy, and refused to provide or respond to forms requesting an accommodation for his disability. The complaint noted several examples where Scott was unable to adequately complete forms to be scheduled for library time, which was essential to receiving help with legal work.

Scott filed his complaint in federal court in February 2015, with outside assistance. The parties reached an agreement in August 2016. In addition to the $20,000 settlement, the PDOC agreed to have Scott receive an evaluation of his condition by a speech pathologist/therapist and to arrange for reasonable accommodations recommended by that expert. Further, Scott was to remain at SCI Somerset as part of the settlement.

Scott filed his complaint pro se, but was represented during the litigation by attorney John Mizner. See: Scott v. Pennsylvania Dept. of Corrections, U.S.D.C. (M.D. Penn.), Case No. 1:15-cv-00229-JEJ. 

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Related legal case

Scott v. Pennsylvania Dept. of Corrections