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Case Name Yeh v. United States Bureau of Prisons PC-PA-0047
Docket / Court 3:18-cv-00943 ( M.D. Pa. )
State/Territory Pennsylvania
Case Type(s) Disability Rights-Pub. Accom.
Prison Conditions
Case Summary
On May 3, 2018, a deaf individual in federal custody at Schuylkill Satellite Camp in Minersville, Pennsylvania filed this lawsuit against the Federal Bureau of Prisons. The plaintiff, represented by the National Association of the Deaf and private counsel, sued the Bureau in the United States ... read more >
On May 3, 2018, a deaf individual in federal custody at Schuylkill Satellite Camp in Minersville, Pennsylvania filed this lawsuit against the Federal Bureau of Prisons. The plaintiff, represented by the National Association of the Deaf and private counsel, sued the Bureau in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania, under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, 29 U.S.C. §794. Alleging that the Bureau had violated the Act by refusing to provide videophone access. Hearing prisoners were allowed access to phones for communication with their family and friends. Because he was deaf, he could not use the phones, and the one TTY device available to him at the prison was cumbersome and frequently inaccessible. Further, TTY did not allow him to communicate in his primary language (American Sign Language). He sought a declaration that the Bureau was in violation of the Rehabilitation Act, a preliminary injunction requiring the Bureau to provide access to videophones immediately, and attorneys’ fees and costs. The case was assigned to Judge James M. Munley.

The plaintiff had previously sought administrative relief from the Department of Justice. An EEO officer issued a letter of findings determining that the TTY service provided to the plaintiff was an appropriate of the phone service provided to other prisoners. The plaintiff appealed the findings and had a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge, who upheld the EEO officer’s determination. The plaintiff again appealed, and a Complaint Adjudication Officer reversed the previous determinations, finding that TTY did not provide the plaintiff with equal participation opportunities, and further finding that the Bureau had failed to provide evidence that videophones would cause any undue administrative or financial hardship to the prison. However, the decision left the prison unlimited time to install a videophone, explaining that these “matters may take some time.” Three months later, in May 2018, the plaintiff filed this lawsuit.

After the lawsuit was filed, the Bureau began taking steps to install videophones, and the court ordered a series of status reports to track the Bureau’s progress. In June 2018, the Bureau’s Central Office provided notice to the prison that a national contract for video services had been renewed, instructing the prison to prepare, purchase, and install these videophones. On August 10, 2018, the court held a preliminary injunction hearing and heard evidence that the prison was preparing its infrastructure and computer systems to install three videophones and two monitoring stations. On November 28, 2018, the plaintiff made a phone call using the newly installed videophone at the prison.

On January 4, 2019, the court denied the motion for a preliminary injunction, noting a videophone had already been installed, and the plaintiff had access to that phone. The following month, the Bureau moved to dismiss the case as moot; the plaintiff opposed dismissal, arguing that the court should retain jurisdiction over the case because there was no guarantee that the Bureau would continue allowing the plaintiff access to the videophones. On March 25, 2019, the court stayed discovery pending resolution of the motion for dismissal. The court retained jurisdiction, and indicated that the plaintiff could seek expedited discovery or other relief in the event that the Bureau curtailed or eliminated the plaintiff’s access to videophones.

On March 27, 2019, the plaintiff renewed his opposition to dismissal, arguing that the prison still refused to commit to providing him videophone access for the remainder of his incarceration. He further argued that because the Bureau continued to insist that the Rehabilitation Act did not provide a private right of action, there was still a live controversy before the court. The court should retain jurisdiction, he argued, to ensure that he had continued access to a videophone until his release.

On May 15, 2019, Magistrate Judge Martin C. Carlson recommended that the Bureau’s motion be denied, and that the case be deferred as moot “pending completion of all aspects of [the plaintiff’s] sentence.” On August 6, 2019, District Judge Munley granted the Bureau’s motion to dismiss, ruling that the plaintiff’s claims were moot. 2019 WL 3564697.

On June 16, 2020, the court approved a settlement agreement requiring the Bureau to pay $156,000 in plaintiff attorneys’ fees.

The case is closed.

Chris Pollack - 04/01/2019
Bogyung Lim - 07/15/2020


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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)
General
Barrier Removal
Effective Communication (ADA)
Language access/needs
Phone
Reasonable Accommodations
TTY/Close Captioning/Videophone/etc.
Plaintiff Type
Private Plaintiff
Type of Facility
Government-run
Causes of Action Section 504 (Rehabilitation Act), 29 U.S.C. § 701
Defendant(s) United States Bureau of Prisons
Plaintiff Description A deaf individual in federal custody.
Class action status sought No
Class action status granted No
Filed Pro Se No
Prevailing Party Plaintiff
Public Int. Lawyer Yes
Nature of Relief Attorneys fees
Defendant voluntarily provided relief then sought dismissal
Source of Relief Settlement
Form of Settlement Court Approved Settlement or Consent Decree
Filed 05/03/2018
Case Closing Year 2020
Case Ongoing No
Additional Resources
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  See this case at CourtListener.com (May provide additional documents and, for active cases, real-time alerts)
Docket(s)
3:18-cv-00943 (M.D. Pa.)
PC-PA-0047-9000.pdf | Detail
Date: 06/16/2020
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
General Documents
Complaint [ECF# 1]
PC-PA-0047-0001.pdf | Detail
Date: 05/03/2018
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Report and Recommendation [ECF# 57]
PC-PA-0047-0003.pdf | Detail
Date: 12/12/2018
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Memorandum Order [ECF# 72] (2019 WL 1330446) (M.D. Pa.)
PC-PA-0047-0004.pdf | WESTLAW | Detail
Date: 03/25/2019
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Memorandum [ECF# 81] (2019 WL 3564697) (M.D. Pa.)
PC-PA-0047-0005.pdf | WESTLAW | Detail
Date: 08/06/2019
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
show all people docs
Judges Carlson, Martin C. (M.D. Pa.) [Magistrate] show/hide docs
PC-PA-0047-0003 | PC-PA-0047-0004 | PC-PA-0047-9000
Munley, James Martin (M.D. Pa.) show/hide docs
PC-PA-0047-0005 | PC-PA-0047-9000
Plaintiff's Lawyers Bitencourt, Anna P (Maryland) show/hide docs
PC-PA-0047-0001 | PC-PA-0047-9000
Stein, Mi S (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
PC-PA-0047-9000
Vargas, Mary C (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
PC-PA-0047-0001 | PC-PA-0047-9000
Defendant's Lawyers Butler, Michael J. (Pennsylvania) show/hide docs
PC-PA-0047-9000
Euliss, Richard D (Pennsylvania) show/hide docs
PC-PA-0047-9000

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