University of Michigan Law School
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Case Name Clarkson v. Coughlin PC-NY-0002
Docket / Court 1:91-cv-01792-RWS ( S.D.N.Y. )
State/Territory New York
Case Type(s) Disability Rights-Pub. Accom.
Prison Conditions
Case Summary
On March 15, 1991, deaf inmates at state prisons in New York filed a class action lawsuit under the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), 42 U.S.C. § 12131, against the New York State Department of Corrections in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. The plaintiffs, ... read more >
On March 15, 1991, deaf inmates at state prisons in New York filed a class action lawsuit under the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), 42 U.S.C. § 12131, against the New York State Department of Corrections in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. The plaintiffs, represented by the Prisoners' Rights Project of the Legal Aid Society, asked the court for declaratory and injunctive relief, alleging that their constitutional rights had been violated by the defendants' failure to provide them with access to the programs and services that were routinely accorded to hearing inmates. The inmates further alleged that the defendants violated their right to equal protection by granting male inmates, but not female inmates, access to the sensorially disabled unit (SDU) at one prison.

The suit was originally filed by a deaf inmate and other inmates sought to intervene. On Feb. 3, 1992, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York (Judge Robert W. Sweet) held that the individual inmate's claims were moot since she was out on parole; that dismissal of the individual claims did not warrant dismissal of the class claims; that other inmates not able to transfer to the hearing-impaired unit would be allowed to intervene; and that class certification was appropriate, with separate subclasses for male and female inmates, but the court refused to grant class status of the female inmates until their numbers could be approximated. Clarkson v. Coughlin, 783 F.Supp. 789 (S.D.N.Y 1992). The court granted class certification on January 25, 1993. Clarkson v. Coughlin, No. 91-1792, 145 F.R.D. 339 (S.D.N.Y. Jan. 25, 1993).

On June 16, 1995, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York (Judge Sweet) granted the plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment, holding that the defendants' failures violated all statutes and constitutional provisions under which the plaintiffs sought relief, thus warranting declaratory and injunctive relief. The court held that the defendants should have provided the deaf inmates with sign language interpreter services and other assistive communication devices during reception, classification, educational, vocational, counseling, medical, and mental health encounters, as well as during disciplinary, grievance, and parole proceedings. Clarkson v. Coughlin, 898 F.Supp. 1019 (S.D.N.Y. 1995). The defendants appealed.

On November 22, 1995, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit determined sua sponte that it lacked jurisdiction over the appeal because the notice of appeal was untimely and because a final order had not been issued by the district court.

On June 10, 1996, the district court (Judge Sweet) issued a consent decree and closed the case. The consent decree provided for notice and assessment of the needs of deaf inmates, classification procedures, provision of sign language interpreters and other auxiliary aids and devices, staff education and training, and record keeping. On December 4, 1996, the parties settled the plaintiffs' request for attorneys fees and costs without any admission of wrongdoing by any party.

Kristen Sagar - 10/31/2006

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Issues and Causes of Action
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Affected Gender
Hearing impairment
Disability (inc. reasonable accommodations)
Sex discrimination
Type of Facility
Causes of Action Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), 42 U.S.C. §§ 12111 et seq.
Defendant(s) New York Department of Correctional Services
Plaintiff Description deaf and hearing impaired inmates at state prisons in New York
Class action status sought Yes
Class action status granted Yes
Filed Pro Se No
Prevailing Party Plaintiff
Public Int. Lawyer Yes
Nature of Relief Injunction / Injunctive-like Settlement
Source of Relief Settlement
Form of Settlement Court Approved Settlement or Consent Decree
Order Duration 1996 - n/a
Filing Year 1991
Case Closing Year 1996
Case Ongoing No
Additional Resources
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  Civil Rights Injunctions Over Time: A Case Study of Jail and Prison Court Orders
N.Y.U. Law Review
Date: May 2006
By: Margo Schlanger (Washington University Faculty)
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
Date: Jan. 1, 1998
By: Malcolm M. Feeley & Edward Rubin (UC Berkeley Boalt Hall School of Law & Vanderbilt School of Law Faculty Faculty)
Citation: (1998)
[ Detail ]

1:91-cv-01792-RWS (S.D.N.Y.)
PC-NY-0002-9000.pdf | Detail
Date: 06/08/2005
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
General Documents
Opinion (783 F.Supp. 789) (S.D.N.Y.)
PC-NY-0002-0004.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Date: 02/03/1992
Source: Google Scholar
Opinion (145 F.R.D. 339) (S.D.N.Y.)
PC-NY-0002-0005.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Date: 01/25/1993
Source: Google Scholar
Opinion (898 F.Supp. 1019) (S.D.N.Y.)
PC-NY-0002-0003.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Date: 06/16/1995
Source: Google Scholar
Consent Judgment and Order (S.D.N.Y.)
PC-NY-0002-0001.pdf | Detail
Date: 06/06/1996
PC-NY-0002-0002.pdf | Detail
Date: 06/21/1996
Judges Sweet, Robert Workman (S.D.N.Y.)
PC-NY-0002-0001 | PC-NY-0002-0003 | PC-NY-0002-0004 | PC-NY-0002-0005 | PC-NY-0002-9000
Plaintiff's Lawyers Barnett, Helaine (New York)
Boston, John (New York)
Curtin, Teresa A. (New York)
PC-NY-0002-0004 | PC-NY-0002-0005
Finkel, Kalman (New York)
PC-NY-0002-0004 | PC-NY-0002-0005
Ginsberg, Betsy R. (New York)
Hellerstein, William E. (New York)
Rosenberg, Scott Alan (New York)
Sabel, Janet E. (New York)
PC-NY-0002-0001 | PC-NY-0002-0003 | PC-NY-0002-0004 | PC-NY-0002-0005 | PC-NY-0002-9000
Defendant's Lawyers Abrams, Robert W. (New York)
PC-NY-0002-0004 | PC-NY-0002-0005
Curtis, Edward Joseph Jr. (New York)
PC-NY-0002-0003 | PC-NY-0002-0004 | PC-NY-0002-0005 | PC-NY-0002-9000
Hronsky, Rosalie J. (New York)
PC-NY-0002-0004 | PC-NY-0002-0005
Lahiff, Jeanne (New York)
Lieberman, Frederic L. (New York)
PC-NY-0002-0003 | PC-NY-0002-0004 | PC-NY-0002-0005
Sanders, Charles F. (New York)
Singelton, Valerie (New York)
Turbin, Ronald (New York)
Vacco, Dennis C. (New York)
PC-NY-0002-0001 | PC-NY-0002-0003
Other Lawyers Arden, James Daniel (New York)
Booth, Jane E. (New York)
PC-NY-0002-0004 | PC-NY-0002-0005 | PC-NY-0002-9000
Skarstad, Robin Beck (New York)

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