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Case Name Bonner v. Lewis PC-AZ-0016
Docket / Court No. CIV 86–1771 PHX CLH ( D. Ariz. )
State/Territory Arizona
Case Type(s) Disability Rights-Pub. Accom.
Prison Conditions
Case Summary
Plaintiff was an inmate at the Arizona State Prison. He is deaf, mute, and suffers from a severe progressive vision loss which results in increasingly narrow tunnel vision. In 1986, Plaintiff filed suit pro se in the U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona, alleging that the failure of ... read more >
Plaintiff was an inmate at the Arizona State Prison. He is deaf, mute, and suffers from a severe progressive vision loss which results in increasingly narrow tunnel vision. In 1986, Plaintiff filed suit pro se in the U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona, alleging that the failure of prison officials to provide him with a qualified interpreter constitutes a violation of section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, 29 U.S.C. § 794. He also brings 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claims because his constitutional rights to due process, equal protection, and the eighth amendment's prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment are violated. Plaintiff names the Director of the Arizona Department of Corrections ("ADOC") and other prison officials as Defendants. Plaintiff asks the court for injunctive relief and damages.

Plaintiff had difficulty communicating with people who do not know American Sign Language. None of the personnel at the prison know sign language. Plaintiff has had several counseling sessions and administrative or disciplinary hearings while in prison. He has seen the prison psychologist. He has also received medical treatment, diagnosis, and medicine. In all of these contacts, he has been without the aid of a qualified interpreter. Plaintiff claims that his inability to effectively communicate without a qualified interpreter severely inhibited his ability to participate in or benefit from these programs, hearings, or activities. He further alleges that he has made requests to prison officials for the services of a qualified interpreter "a thousand times" without results. Instead, prison authorities attempt to communicate with Plaintiff primarily through the use of a telecommunication device for the deaf. They also have designated prison inmates to serve as sign language interpreters.

Plaintiff maintains that the inmate interpreters were forced upon him by prison officials against his wishes. It is not disputed that the inmate interpreters are not skilled in American Sign or trained in language interpretation. In addition, the use of inmate interpreters raises serious confidentiality concerns. Plaintiff claims that at least one of these inmates leaked information to the general prison population which could threaten his safety.

Prison officials recognize the imperfection of the methods utilized to communicate with Plaintiff, but contend that nothing more is constitutionally or statutorily required. Plaintiff disagrees and filed the suit pro se.

On December 12, 1986, the district court dismissed the Director of the ADOC as a defendant. On August 12, 1986, the district court granted summary judgment in favor of the remaining prison officials.

Plaintiff appealed both orders to the Ninth Circuit. On September 13, 1988, in a published opinion, the Court of Appeals (Judge Joseph Jerome Farris) affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment regarding Plaintiff's equal protection and eighth amendment claims but reversed the grant of summary judgment regarding Plaintiff's due process and § 504 claims and remanded the case in part for further proceedings consistent with the published opinion.

Xin Chen - 06/27/2011


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Issues and Causes of Action
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Issues
Defendant-type
Corrections
Disability
Hearing impairment
Discrimination-basis
Disability (inc. reasonable accommodations)
Plaintiff Type
Private Plaintiff
Type of Facility
Government-run
Causes of Action Section 504 (Rehabilitation Act), 29 U.S.C. § 701
42 U.S.C. § 1983
Defendant(s) the Director of the Arizona Department of Corrections
Plaintiff Description Plaintiff was an inmate at the Arizona State Prison. He is deaf, mute, and suffers from a severe progressive vision loss which results in increasingly narrow tunnel vision.
Indexed Lawyer Organizations None on record
Class action status sought No
Class action status granted No
Prevailing Party Mixed
Public Int. Lawyer No
Nature of Relief Unknown
Source of Relief Unknown
Form of Settlement None on record
Order Duration not on record
Case Closing Year 1988
Case Ongoing No
Additional Resources
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Case Studies Civil Rights Injunctions Over Time: A Case Study of Jail and Prison Court Orders
N.Y.U. Law Review
By: Margo Schlanger (Washington University)
Citation: 81 N.Y.U. L. Rev. 550 (2006)
[ Detail ] [ PDF ] [ External Link ]

  Judicial Policy Making and the Modern State: How the Courts Reformed America's Prisons
By: Malcolm M. Feeley & Edward Rubin (UC Berkeley Boalt Hall School of Law & Vanderbilt School of Law Faculty)
Citation: (1998)
[ Detail ]

Docket(s)
No docket sheet currently in the collection
General Documents
9th Circuit Opinion 09/13/1988 (857 F.2d 559)
PC-AZ-0016-0001.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Document Source: Westlaw
Memorandum Opinion and Order 05/26/1989 (714 F.Supp. 420) (D. Ariz.)
PC-AZ-0016-0002.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Document Source: Westlaw
Judges Farris, Joseph Jerome (Ninth Circuit)
PC-AZ-0016-0001
Hardy, Charles Leach (D. Ariz.)
PC-AZ-0016-0002
Monitors/Masters None on record
Plaintiff's Lawyers None on record
Defendant's Lawyers None on record
Other Lawyers None on record

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