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Case Name Heyer v. United States Bureau of Prisons PC-NC-0014
Docket / Court 5:11-ct-03118-D ( E.D.N.C. )
Additional Docket(s) 5:11-cv-00318-D  [ 11-318 ]  Eastern District of NC (U.S.)
State/Territory North Carolina
Case Type(s) Disability Rights-Pub. Accom.
Prison Conditions
Attorney Organization Washington Lawyers' Committee
Case Summary
On June 20, 2011, two deaf prisoners filed this lawsuit in the United States District Court for the Western District of North Carolina against the federal Bureau of Prisons. Represented by private counsel and the Washington Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights, the plaintiffs filed pursuant to ... read more >
On June 20, 2011, two deaf prisoners filed this lawsuit in the United States District Court for the Western District of North Carolina against the federal Bureau of Prisons. Represented by private counsel and the Washington Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights, the plaintiffs filed pursuant to Bivens claiming violations of the Rehabilitation Act and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. In addition, the plaintiffs alleged violations of their Fifth Amendment due process rights, First Amendment Freedom of Speech, and First Amendment Free Exercise of Religion. Specifically, the plaintiffs alleged that the defendants refused to provide them with effective communication and auxiliary aids necessary to accommodate their disability. The discriminatory conduct deprived the plaintiffs of their ability to receive adequate and informed medical treatment, participate in institutional disciplinary proceedings, effectively take part in any rehabilitative, educational, or religious programs, or communicate with those within and outside the institution. The plaintiffs requested declaratory and injunctive relief.

On April 11, 2012, the plaintiffs filed an amended complaint. On June 22, 2011, the case was transferred to Judge James C. Dever, with a revised case number of 5:11-ct-3118. The defendants then filed a motion to dismiss or for summary judgment. The plaintiffs also filed for summary judgment on count two of their amended complaint.

On March 11, 2013, Judge Dever denied the plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment on count two, granted in part and denied in part the defendants' motion to dismiss, and denied the defendants' motion for summary judgment. Judge Dever dismissed count one under the Rehabilitation Act for failure to exhaust administrative remedies. Judge Dever dismissed count five under the Fifth Amendment for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Eight claims of the plaintiffs' claims survived. 2013 WL 943406 (E.D.N.C. Mar. 11, 2013).

Discovery was contested and the plaintiffs filed a motion to compel the production of documents. On September 12, 2014, the district court issued an ordering denying the plaintiffs' motion to compel the production of documents from the defendants. 2014 WL 4545946 (E.D.N.C. Sept. 12, 2014).

On March 31, 2015, the Court granted in part the defendants’ motion for summary judgment, denied the plaintiffs’ motion for partial summary judgment, and dismissed as moot the remaining counts of the amended complaint. 2015 WL 1470877 (E.D.N.C. Mar. 31, 2015). The plaintiffs filed a notice of appeal on May 27, 2015. The case went to the Fourth Circuit as Appeal No. 15-6826.

On November 5, 2015, after the plaintiffs submitted their appellate brief and while the defendants’ response brief was pending, Plaintiff Boyd filed a notice notifying the Fourth Circuit that he had “some limited ability to hear and understand speech in certain contexts.” See Notice, Appeal No. 15-6826, at Doc. 31. On this date, Boyd also filed a motion for voluntary dismissal of his appeal, and proposed that each party bear its own costs and attorneys’ fees. The U.S. opposed this proposal. The Fourth Circuit dismissed the appeal because Boyd was not determined to be deaf. 849 F.3d 202 n.1. On January 4, 2016, the district court dismissed Boyd's motion for a voluntary dismissal because the court lacked jurisdiction.

On February 23, 2017, the Fourth Circuit ruled on the appeal of the District Court's grant of summary judgment, affirming it in part, vacating it in part, and remanding for further judgment. 849 F.3d 202. The Court of Appeals found that the defendant was deliberately indifferent to plaintiff's medical needs by failing to provide him with an ASL interpreter for medical appointments, particularly when he was suffering from seizures as a result of inadequate medical care. The Fourth Circuit found that the plaintiff had adequately shown substantial risk of serious harm resulting from the defendant's actions. The court also reversed the summary judgment on plaintiff's First Amendment claims, finding that defendant's security complaints regarding the requested videophone were exaggerated, and that defendant substantially interfered with plaintiff's ability to communicate outside of the prison walls. The Fourth Circuit also found that the supplies given to the plaintiff to alert him of emergencies were inadequate.

The court referred the case to Magistrate Judge James E. Gates for a court-hosted settlement conference on May 18, 2017. Defendants moved for dismissal due to lack of jurisdiction, or in the alternative, judgment on the pleadings, on September 29, 2017. After reaching a partial settlement, the parties moved jointly to dismiss the case in part with prejudice on November 2, 2017. Under this partial settlement, the defendants agreed to provide the plaintiff with several accommodations, including in-person ASL interpreter services and calls through video relay service that facilitates communication with non-ASL speakers. The court granted this motion on November 3. This limited the litigation to the plaintiff's First Amendment claim regarding access to a videophone for communication.

A bench trial was held before Judge Dever from November 6-7, 2017. Judge Dever denied the defendant's motions to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction and for judgment on the pleadings on September 12, 2018. On February 12, 2019, the court entered judgment in favor of the defendant, finding that the plaintiff failed to prove that the BOP's failure to install and provide the requested videophone equipment violated the First Amendment.

The plaintiff filed a motion for reconsideration on March 12, 2019, requesting that the court alter the judgment. The court subsequently denied this motion on June 21, 2019. The plaintiff then appealed both orders to the Fourth Circuit.

The Fourth Circuit (Circuit Judges Henry F. Floyd, Motz, Diana Gribbon Motz, and Barbara Milano Keenan) agreed with the plaintiff and reversed the district court’s judgment on January 13, 2021. 984 F.3d 347. It remanded the case to the district court for judgment in favor of the plaintiff. Though the Fourth Circuit agreed with the defendants that the ban on videophone for communication bore a rational connection to the defendant's interests in prison safety, rehabilitation of the plaintiff, and protection of the public, it found that other factors weighed in the plaintiff’s favor. First, the plaintiff lacked alternative means to communicate with other deaf individuals. The Fourth Circuit found that the district court erroneously concluded that video relay service was an alternative means because video relay service only permitted communication with non-deaf individuals. Here, the plaintiff was asserting an interest in communicating with the deaf community—an interest video relay service couldn’t fulfill. Second, the Fourth Circuit found that the district court overlooked the substantial evidence that the defendants already have resource-efficient means of managing the risks of videophone calls in evaluating the hypothetical risks of these calls. Finally, the Fourth Circuit found that the district court did not explain why existing safeguards for videophone calls did not mitigate the risks of the calls to a de minimis level. It noted that the district court improperly focused on the nature of the risks of videophones rather than the likelihood of the risks materializing.

As of April 1, 2021, the Fourth Circuit had issued its mandate and this case was ongoing in the district court.

Jessica Kincaid - 04/22/2016
Elizabeth Heise - 11/04/2018
Alex Moody - 05/20/2020
Emily Kempa - 04/01/2021


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Issues and Causes of Action
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Issues
Constitutional Clause
Due Process
Free Exercise Clause
Freedom of speech/association
Defendant-type
Corrections
Disability
Hearing impairment
Discrimination-basis
Disability (inc. reasonable accommodations)
Language discrimination
General
Informed consent/involuntary medication
Language access/needs
Rehabilitation
Religious programs / policies
TTY/Close Captioning/Videophone/etc.
Language
Other
Medical/Mental Health
Medical care, general
Plaintiff Type
Private Plaintiff
Type of Facility
Government-run
Causes of Action Ex Parte Young (Federal) or Bivens
Religious Freedom Rest. Act/Religious Land Use and Inst. Persons Act (RFRA/RLUIPA)
Section 504 (Rehabilitation Act), 29 U.S.C. § 701
Defendant(s) United States Bureau of Prisons
Plaintiff Description Two deaf federal prisoners.
Indexed Lawyer Organizations Washington Lawyers' Committee
Class action status sought No
Class action status granted Not sought
Filed Pro Se No
Prevailing Party Plaintiff
Public Int. Lawyer Yes
Nature of Relief Injunction / Injunctive-like Settlement
Source of Relief Litigation
Settlement
Form of Settlement Voluntary Dismissal
Filed 06/20/2011
Case Ongoing Yes
Additional Resources
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  See this case at CourtListener.com (May provide additional documents and, for active cases, real-time alerts)
Court Docket(s)
E.D.N.C.
03/08/2021
5:11−ct−03118−D
PC-NC-0014-9001.pdf | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
General Documents
E.D.N.C.
06/20/2011
Complaint [ECF# 1]
PC-NC-0014-0001.pdf | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
E.D.N.C.
04/11/2012
Verified First Amended Complaint [ECF# 24]
PC-NC-0014-0002.pdf | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
E.D.N.C.
03/11/2013
Order [ECF# 46] (2013 WL 943406)
PC-NC-0014-0003.pdf | WESTLAW | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
E.D.N.C.
09/12/2014
Order [ECF# 118] (2014 WL 4545946)
PC-NC-0014-0004.pdf | WESTLAW | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
E.D.N.C.
03/31/2015
Order [ECF# 142] (2015 WL 1470877)
PC-NC-0014-0005.pdf | WESTLAW | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
E.D.N.C.
01/04/2016
Order [ECF# 151]
PC-NC-0014-0006.pdf | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
U.S. Court of Appeals
02/23/2017
Opinion [Ct. of App. ECF# 67] (849 F.3d 202)
PC-NC-0014-0007.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
E.D.N.C.
11/02/2017
Partial Settlement Agreement [ECF# 181-1]
PC-NC-0014-0011.pdf | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
E.D.N.C.
02/12/2019
Order [ECF# 205]
PC-NC-0014-0008.pdf | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
E.D.N.C.
03/12/2019
Motion to Alter or Amend the Judgment, or in the Alternative, to Amend the Court's Findings [ECF# 207]
PC-NC-0014-0009.pdf | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
E.D.N.C.
06/21/2019
Order [ECF# 211]
PC-NC-0014-0010.pdf | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
U.S. Court of Appeals
01/13/2021
Opinion [Ct. of App. ECF# 54] (984 F.3d 347)
PC-NC-0014-0012.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | External Link | Detail
Source: U.S. Court of Appeals website
show all people docs
Judges Dever, James C. III (E.D.N.C.) show/hide docs
PC-NC-0014-0003 | PC-NC-0014-0005 | PC-NC-0014-0006 | PC-NC-0014-0008 | PC-NC-0014-0010 | PC-NC-0014-9001
Floyd, Henry Franklin (D.S.C., Fourth Circuit) show/hide docs
PC-NC-0014-0012
Gates, James E. (E.D.N.C.) [Magistrate] show/hide docs
PC-NC-0014-0004
Keenan, Barbara Milano (Fourth Circuit) show/hide docs
PC-NC-0014-0012
Motz, Diana Jane Gribbon (Fourth Circuit) show/hide docs
PC-NC-0014-0012
Plaintiff's Lawyers Bergman, Daniel B. (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
PC-NC-0014-0001 | PC-NC-0014-0002
Fornaci, Phillip Jerome (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
PC-NC-0014-0001 | PC-NC-0014-0002 | PC-NC-0014-0009 | PC-NC-0014-9001
Gardner, Elizabeth [Elaine] Elaine (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
PC-NC-0014-0001 | PC-NC-0014-0002
Golden, Deborah Maxine (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
PC-NC-0014-0001 | PC-NC-0014-0002 | PC-NC-0014-9001
Hoffman, Ian S. (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
PC-NC-0014-0001 | PC-NC-0014-0002 | PC-NC-0014-0009 | PC-NC-0014-9001
Nath, Snayha M. (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
PC-NC-0014-0009 | PC-NC-0014-9001
Pearce, Carolyn A. (California) show/hide docs
PC-NC-0014-0001 | PC-NC-0014-0002 | PC-NC-0014-0009 | PC-NC-0014-9001
Riemann, Neil A. (North Carolina) show/hide docs
PC-NC-0014-0001 | PC-NC-0014-0002 | PC-NC-0014-0009 | PC-NC-0014-9001
Williamson, Tara L. (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
PC-NC-0014-0009 | PC-NC-0014-9001
Defendant's Lawyers Acker, G Norman III (North Carolina) show/hide docs
PC-NC-0014-0011 | PC-NC-0014-9001
Bredenberg, Michael D. (North Carolina) show/hide docs
PC-NC-0014-9001
Dannels, Jennifer D. (North Carolina) show/hide docs
PC-NC-0014-9001
Dodson, Robert J. (North Carolina) show/hide docs
PC-NC-0014-9001
Fesak, Matthew Lee (North Carolina) show/hide docs
PC-NC-0014-9001
Higdon, Robert Jr. (North Carolina) show/hide docs
PC-NC-0014-0011
Kelley, Christina A. (North Carolina) show/hide docs
PC-NC-0014-9001
Renfer, R. A. Jr. (North Carolina) show/hide docs
PC-NC-0014-9001
Wood, Seth Morgan (North Carolina) show/hide docs
PC-NC-0014-9001

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