This single Civil Rights Litigation Clearinghouse case summary describes developments in a series of cases instituted by a disabled state prisoner in New York and dealing with safe transportation of prisoners who use wheelchairs. The cases were:
01-cv-1140 (Southern District of New York)
04-cv-6621 (Western District of New York),
05-cv-6025 (retaliation claim, Western District of New York),
05-cv-2903 (failure to protect claim, Southern District of New York).
The same prisoner also filed a bladder care case (filed in the Southern District as 03-cv-07664, and then transferred to the Western District 05-cv-6504), but that litigation is treated separately in PC-NY-0063.
On February 14, 2001, the paraplegic, wheelchair-using New York state prisoner filed a pro se complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. After obtaining counsel in that action, he filed a first amended complaint on September 6, 2002, against officials of the New York State Department of Correctional Services ("DOCS"). That first amended complaint contained transportation-related allegations similar or identical to the allegations contained in a separate complaint he later filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of New York. Through his Southern District lawsuit, plaintiff sought injunctive relief requiring the named defendants to transport in a safe manner disabled prisoners who require the use of a wheelchair. He alleged that he and similarly-situated prisoners were often transported by DOCS vehicles to receive medical care not available within the facilities housing them. During these occasions, he said, their wheelchairs were inappropriate for use in vehicles or were insufficiently secured within the vehicles. On May 6, 2003, plaintiff moved District Judge Deborah A. Batts, in the Southern District of New York, for a preliminary injunction, asking that defendants be ordered to transport plaintiffs in a safe manner and with procedures and equipment that are consistent with the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"). Less than three weeks later, DOCS transferred plaintiff to a prison facility outside the Southern District and, on June 9, 2003, filed their opposition to issuance of the requested injunction, saying his transfer to the different facility made his request moot. On August 8, 2003, Judge Batts denied the requested injunctive relief.
After the plaintiff had been moved in 2003, and represented by private counsel, he filed a second complaint on December 12, 2004, in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of New York. In it, he noted that his move in a vehicle while in a wheelchair to his new facility occurred with the same disregard for his safety as the defendants had previously displayed and reiterated many allegations made in his transportation-based Southern District lawsuit. Plaintiff's transportation-based complaints in both districts basically asserted six causes of action. He alleged that defendants' failure to provide safe transportation to prisoners who require a wheelchair for mobility, including plaintiff: (1) demonstrated deliberate indifference and/or willful neglect to plaintiff's serious medical needs constituting cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution; (2) deprived plaintiff of liberty and property without due process of law in violation of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution; (3) discriminated against qualified individuals with disabilities, including plaintiff, in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. § 12132; (4) discriminated against qualified individuals with disabilities, including plaintiff, solely by reason of their disability, in violation of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, 29 U.S.C. § 794; (5) by failing to provide adequate treatment of plaintiff's wrist injury suffered during the unsafe transportation of him in a wheelchair, a defendant demonstrated deliberate indifference and/or willful neglect to plaintiff's serious medical needs constituting cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution; and (6) by failing to provide adequate treatment of that wrist injury, a defendant demonstrated deliberate indifference and/or willful neglect to plaintiff's serious medical needs and deprived him of liberty and property without due process of law in violation of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution. Plaintiff sought compensatory and punitive damages, as well as appropriate injunctive relief and attorney's fees.
In the Western District transportation-based case, a defense motion to dismiss was denied by District Judge Charles J. Siragusa in a July 27, 2005, unpublished order. Judge Siragusa ruled that the Eleventh Amendment did not bar plaintiff's effort for injunctive relief against state officials sued in their official capacity as to the first cause of action, nor his seeking damages from those officials in his third and fourth causes of action. Neither were his claims so similar to those made in the Southern District case that the Western District case would have to be dismissed under the first-to-file rule, according to the judge. He noted that the parties had agreed to dismiss the second and sixth causes of action.
Plaintiff's request that this case be certified as a class action was granted in an order by Judge Siragusa, on April 5, 2006 (as modified on July 20, 2006). The judge described the class as consisting of DOCS inmates who use a wheelchair during vehicular transportation. The judge rejected the defendants' claim that class certification would be error in that the Eleventh Amendment barred a federal court from granting part of plaintiff's requested relief (required training for DOCS employees). Shariff v. Goord, 235 F.R.D. 563 (W.D.N.Y. 2006).
On October 20, 2011, Judge Siragusa approved the parties' settlement of both the plaintiff's personal injury claims and the class claims in two separate stipulations. The defendants were ordered to pay $20,000 in damages and $74,942.11 in attorneys' fees and costs. The defendants also agreed to address the inadequacies in transportation for prisoners in wheelchairs. The plaintiff agreed to discontinue all pending litigation except Shariff v. Goord, 05-cv-6504 (PC-NY-0063). Litigation that was discontinued included the original motor vehicle wheelchair accident claim (01-cv-1140), a retaliation claim (05-cv-6025), and a failure to protect claim (05-cv-2903). Mike Fagan - 05/02/2008
Jessica Kincaid - 03/02/2014