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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
Special Collection Post-PLRA enforceable consent decrees
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, sought 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 prisoner and other prisoners 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 prisoner'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 prisoners 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 prisoners, but the court refused to grant class status of the female prisoners until their numbers could be approximated. 783 F.Supp. 789. The court granted class certification on January 25, 1993. 145 F.R.D. 339.

On June 16, 1995, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York 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. 898 F.Supp. 1019. The defendants appealed. USCA Docket: 100−1.

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 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.

In October 2003, Judge Sweet issued an order that requires members of the Clarkson class to submit their complaints to the state ombudsperson for resolution. The ombudsperson must decide if the complainant is a member of the Clarkson class and whether a violation of the consent decree occurred before the complainant can file a motion for contempt or enforcement. If a prisoner seeks monetary relief to enforce the consent decree, he or she must file a formal complaint to initiate a new civil action which will be designated as related to the Clarkson lawsuit. If a formal complaint is filed, class counsel (the Legal Aid Society) is notified. Since the issuance of the consent decree, Judge Sweet treated lawsuits alleging violations of the Clarkson consent decree as de facto motions for contempt filed in the Clarkson action itself.

Since the consent decree was issued, numerous prisoners with hearing disabilities have filed complaints alleging violations of the Clarkson consent decree. Judge Sweet considered these motions in the original lawsuit for an order of contempt to compel the defendants to comply with the Clarkson consent decree. Other than the two motions discussed below, Judge Sweet has denied all motions for enforcement of the consent decree.

In 2006, class counsel for the plaintiff class moved to enter an order for notice to the class to provide the Clarkson class with notice of the court's October 23, 2003 order. The 2003 order requires members of the class to direct complaints about violations of the consent decree to the appointed ombudsperson before filing a motion for contempt with the court. On March 10, 2006, Judge Sweet granted the motion and entered the proposed order granting notice to the Clarkson class members. 2006 WL 587345.

In 2013, an individual prisoner moved pro se under the June 6, 1996 Clarkson consent decree and the October 23, 2003 order in an action for civil contempt for violating the consent decree. He filed three versions of his motion for contempt on September, October, and December 2013. The plaintiff claims that correctional officers destroyed his hearing aid and assaulted him because of his disability. He also alleged that he was not provided with replacement hearing aids or batteries. On August 29, 2014, Judge Sweet denied the motion because the plaintiff was not a member of the Clarkson class. Over the years the plaintiff was incarcerated, multiple audiologists examined the plaintiff and concluded that his hearing loss was not severe, and that he may not have any hearing loss at all. Furthermore, the plaintiff did not follow the procedures outlined in the consent decree that required him to contact the ombudsperson before filing a complaint. 2014 WL 4290699.

In 2019, the case was reassigned to Judge Coleen McMahon after Judge Sweet passed away. On June 3, 2019 another prisoner filed a motion for contempt of the Clarkson consent decree. The plaintiff alleged that he was improperly denied access to a telephone communication device for the deaf and that he was improperly denied access to a television viewing recreation room used by the deaf. Judge McMahon denied the plaintiff's motion on April 22, 2020. The plaintiff was diagnosed as "hard of hearing" and not "deaf", and so he was not entitled to the accommodations which he sought. According to the court, the plaintiff did not show by clear and convincing evidence that the consent decree was violated Additionally, his claims for declaratory and injunctive relief against prison officials in at Woodburne Correctional Facility were moot because he was transferred to a different correctional facility. 2020 WL 1941873.

As of June 2020, there are no active motions for contempt of the consent decree in this case. The case is ongoing.

Kristen Sagar - 10/31/2006
Sabrina Glavota - 05/28/2020


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Issues and Causes of Action
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Issues
Affected Gender
Female
Male
Content of Injunction
Develop anti-discrimination policy
Discrimination Prohibition
Preliminary relief granted
Reasonable Accommodation
Defendant-type
Corrections
Disability
Hearing impairment
Discrimination-area
Medical Exam / Inquiry
Discrimination-basis
Disability (inc. reasonable accommodations)
Sex discrimination
General
Placement in detention facilities
Reasonable Accommodations
Type of Facility
Government-run
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
Filed 03/15/1991
Case Ongoing Yes
Additional Resources
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Docket(s)
1:91-cv-01792-RWS (S.D.N.Y.)
PC-NY-0002-9000.pdf | Detail
Date: 04/22/2020
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
Correspondence
PC-NY-0002-0002.pdf | Detail
Date: 06/21/1996
Memorandum Opinion [ECF# 132] (2006 WL 587345) (S.D.N.Y.)
PC-NY-0002-0008.pdf | WESTLAW | Detail
Date: 03/06/2006
Source: Westlaw
Opinion [ECF# 166] (2014 WL 4290699) (S.D.N.Y.)
PC-NY-0002-0006.pdf | WESTLAW | Detail
Date: 08/27/2014
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Memorandum and Order [ECF# 188] (2020 WL 1941873) (S.D.N.Y.)
PC-NY-0002-0007.pdf | WESTLAW | Detail
Date: 04/22/2020
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
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Judges McMahon, Colleen (S.D.N.Y.) show/hide docs
PC-NY-0002-0007 | PC-NY-0002-9000
Sweet, Robert Workman (S.D.N.Y.) show/hide docs
PC-NY-0002-0001 | PC-NY-0002-0003 | PC-NY-0002-0004 | PC-NY-0002-0005 | PC-NY-0002-0006 | PC-NY-0002-0008
Plaintiff's Lawyers Barnett, Helaine (New York) show/hide docs
PC-NY-0002-0003
Boston, John (New York) show/hide docs
PC-NY-0002-0002
Curtin, Teresa A. (New York) show/hide docs
PC-NY-0002-0004 | PC-NY-0002-0005
Finkel, Kalman (New York) show/hide docs
PC-NY-0002-0004 | PC-NY-0002-0005
Ginsberg, Betsy R. (New York) show/hide docs
PC-NY-0002-9000
Hellerstein, William E. (New York) show/hide docs
PC-NY-0002-0003
Hsu, Caroline Sandra (New York) show/hide docs
PC-NY-0002-9000
Rosenberg, Scott Alan (New York) show/hide docs
PC-NY-0002-0003
Sabel, Janet E. (New York) show/hide docs
PC-NY-0002-0001 | PC-NY-0002-0003 | PC-NY-0002-0004 | PC-NY-0002-0005 | PC-NY-0002-9000
Short, Stefen Russell (New York) show/hide docs
PC-NY-0002-9000
Zelermyer, Milton (New York) show/hide docs
PC-NY-0002-9000
Defendant's Lawyers Abrams, Robert W. (New York) show/hide docs
PC-NY-0002-0004 | PC-NY-0002-0005
Curtis, Edward Joseph Jr. (New York) show/hide docs
PC-NY-0002-0003 | PC-NY-0002-0004 | PC-NY-0002-0005 | PC-NY-0002-9000
Harben, Jeb (New York) show/hide docs
PC-NY-0002-9000
Hronsky, Rosalie J. (New York) show/hide docs
PC-NY-0002-0004 | PC-NY-0002-0005
Lahiff, Jeanne (New York) show/hide docs
PC-NY-0002-0001
Lieberman, Frederic L. (New York) show/hide docs
PC-NY-0002-0003 | PC-NY-0002-0004 | PC-NY-0002-0005
Sanders, Charles F. (New York) show/hide docs
PC-NY-0002-0001
Singelton, Valerie (New York) show/hide docs
PC-NY-0002-0001
Turbin, Ronald (New York) show/hide docs
PC-NY-0002-0001
Vacco, Dennis C. (New York) show/hide docs
PC-NY-0002-0001 | PC-NY-0002-0003
Other Lawyers Arden, James Daniel (New York) show/hide docs
PC-NY-0002-9000
Booth, Jane E. (New York) show/hide docs
PC-NY-0002-0004 | PC-NY-0002-0005 | PC-NY-0002-9000
Skarstad, Robin Beck (New York) show/hide docs
PC-NY-0002-9000

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