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Fourth Circuit: ADA Relief Claims Improperly Dismissed in Virginia

In 2006, Virginia prisoner Douglas Fauconier was diagnosed with myasthenia gravis, a neuromuscular disease that requires occasional hospitalization. Despite his medical condition, Fauconier has held various prison jobs without any accommodation. His job was routinely restored whenever he returned to the prison from any required hospitalization.

That changed in 2010, however, after prison officials imposed a “Work Code D” medical classification, prohibiting all employment. While it is unclear when prison officials imposed this on Fauconier, it did not initially result in termination of his employment as “houseman” (i.e., a janitor).

While working on October 14, 2010, Fauconier’s medical condition required him to be hospitalized for 24 hours. This time, his job was not automatically restored when he returned to the prison. Rather, Fauconier was required to reapply for his “houseman” position.

He was “automatically disqualified” from the position due to the “Work Code D” medical classification. He then applied for four different jobs between June 26, 2012 and October 25, 2013. Each time, however, he was denied because of the “Medical Work code D —per policy.”

Five days after the October 25, 2013 rejection, Fauconier filed a grievance, which was denied on November 4, 2013, stating: “Your medical work code is ‘D.’ Medical work code ‘D’ means no work, making you ineligible for all jobs.” Fauconier appealed the grievance, which was finally denied on January 8, 2014.

In October 2014, Fauconier was transferred to a different prison and reclassified as “Work Code C medical status,” making him eligible for “light work.”

On December 3, 2014, Fauconier brought federal suit, alleging that termination of his job and refusal to hire him for any others violated the ADA and Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution. The district court sua sponte dismissed for failure to state a claim, holding that prisoners do not have a constitutional right to prison employment and the ADA claim was barred by Eleventh Amendment immunity. The Fourth Circuit reversed. See: Fauconier v. Clarke, 652 Fed Appx. 217 (4th Cir. 2016)(per curiam).

On remand, the district court granted defendants’ motion to dismiss, concluding that Fauconier’s suit was time-barred, he failed to state a claim or a basis for damages or injunctive relief, and defendants were entitled to Eleventh Amendment immunity and qualified immunity.

The Fourth Circuit reversed. Extending Battle v. Ledford, 912 F3d 708 (4th Cir. 2019) to ADA claims, the court first found that Fauconier’s claims were not time-barred because the statute of limitations was tolled while he exhausted administrative remedies.

The court also found that Fauconier did not fail to state cognizable ADA and equal protection claims. While affirming the Eleventh Amendment immunity dismissal of Fauconier’s equal protection official capacity damage claims, the Court vacated the dismissal of the official capacity ADA damage claims.

The court then upheld the grant of qualified immunity on Fauconier’s equal protection individual capacity damage claims. Noting that defendants’ conduct was consistent with prison policy, the court found that “Fauconier has not and cannot establish that every reasonable official would have believed that” their actions “were unlawful.”

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Related legal case

Fauconier v. Clarke