Friday, January 20, 2012

Inmate wins reasonable accommodation claim at the Court of Appeals

An inmate wins his Second Circuit appeal claiming that a state correctional facility denied his rights under federal disability law. It looks like his lawyer won the case by writing a good brief.

The case is Shaw v. New York Department of Correctional Services, a summary order decided on December 15. Shaw is dyslexic. He wanted to take his GED exam. But he could not take the test because of his disability, so he asked the jail for assistance in proving that he has a cognizable disability so that he could get a reasonable accommodation in taking the exam. The jail denied the request.

The rule governing a case like this is that a demand for "reasonable accommodations to assure access to an existing program is cognizable, but a demand for additional or different substantive benefits is not." The district court denied Shaw's claim because it thought that he was requesting additional or different substantive benefits. Shaw is now represented by counsel on appeal, and the Second Circuit sees it differently. Folks, this is one reason why counseled cases fare better than pro se cases. Counsel told the Second Circuit (Newman, Hall and Gardephe [D.J.]) that  the complaint, in referring to a failure to accommodate, can refer to "a number of possible accommodations, including oral examinations, recorded lectures, and providing Plaintiff lecture notes. Other possibilities that might be especially suitable for a person afflicted with dyslexia are additional time for test-taking and allowing the student to dictate answers to essay questions." Seen in this light, the case states a claim for relief after all. Would Shaw have been able to articulate this theory of the case on his own? Probably not. His lawyer was able to do so, saving the case.

The Court of Appeals says that the jail should more fully review Shaw's request for accommodation through the prison grievance system. Counsel for the State is expected to make sure that appropriate prison officials promptly review Shaw's administrative request at the jail.

1 comment:

Jack said...

The plaintiff's lawyer was Veronica Vela of the Legal Aid society of Manhattan