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, ...
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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