Today’s case discusses the issue of just when is an arrest out of compliance with the ADA. There is also a nice little bonus of qualified immunity as well. The case is Trujillo v. Rio Arriba County ex rel. Rio Arriba County Sheriff’s Department, 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 96797 (D. N.M. June 15, 2016). We know from this blog entry that arrests are subject to the ADA. This case goes further by talking about when might an arrest be out of compliance with the ADA. The case is actually a discovery dispute, but there is some excellent analysis and discussion of when an arrest might be out of compliance with the ADA as well as a discussion of just how far qualified immunity goes. As is my usual practice, the blog entry is divided into categories: facts; issues; court’s reasoning with respect to when is an arrest out of compliance with the ADA; court’s reasoning with respect to the County’s qualified immunity; and takeaways. The reader is free to focus on any or all of the categories.
The plaintiff, an honorably discharged veteran of the United States Army, suffered from degenerative joint disease in his knees, nephropathy, and end-stage renal disease associated with diabetes mellitus. At approximately 7 PM on August 22, 2013, the plaintiff was stopped while at a driving while intoxicated checkpoint where an officer asked him to perform sobriety tests. Because of his disability, the plaintiff asked the officer if he could retrieve his walking cane from the trunk of his car. The officer denied him the opportunity to retrieve his cane even though the plaintiff repeatedly attempted to explain to the officer that he had a physical disability and offered to produce his handicap placard to prove his physical limitations. The officer noted that the plaintiff struggled to perform various walking and standing tests and that he was informed by the plaintiff that the plaintiff had knee problems and other ailments that prevented him from performing the tests adequately. The officer eventually arrested the plaintiff for driving under the influence of alcohol and kept him in handcuffs until the plaintiff’s daughter paid his bail around midnight. Throughout the encounter, the plaintiff was only allowed out of the handcuffs in order to sign paperwork related to his arrest. The plaintiff brought civil rights and tort claims against the County and the two individual officers in their individual capacities. For our purposes, we are particularly interested in the ADA claims against the County where the plaintiff claimed that he was denied the benefits of services, programs, and activities of the Department of Public Safety with respect to: 1) an encounter with an officer properly trained to deal with citizens suffering from service related disability; and 2) being treated with dignity by the government entities in that the County failed to provide adequate accommodation for persons with disabilities while conducting field sobriety tests and when he was placed in jail.
- Just when is an arrest out of compliance with the ADA?
- Can the County claim qualified immunity?
Court’s Reasoning with Respect to When Is an Arrest Out Of Compliance with the ADA
- Drawing on a case from the 10th Circuit (Gohier v. Enright, 186 F.3d 1216 (10th 1999), and one from the Fourth Circuit adopting the 10th Circuit’s reasoning (Waller ex rel Estate of Hunt v. Danville, 556 F.3d 171 (4th Cir. 2009), there were two possible theories under which federal courts have addressed claims under the ADA arising from arrests: 1) where police wrongly arrest someone with a disability because they misperceive the effects of that disability as criminal activity; and 2) where police properly investigate and arrest the person with a disability for crimes unrelated to the disability but fail to reasonably accommodate that person’s disability in the course of the investigation or arrest, causing the person to suffer greater injury or indignity in that process than other arrestees.
- With respect to wrongful arrest, a plaintiff must establish three things: 1) the plaintiff was a person with a disability; 2) the arresting officers knew or should have known that the plaintiff had a disability; and 3) the defendant arrested the plaintiff because of legal conduct related to the plaintiff’s disability.
- With respect to whether arresting officers knew or should have known that the plaintiff had a disability, that means the arresting officer must know or have reason to know that the arrestee is a person with a disability.
- The essence of the reasonable accommodation during arrest theory is that once the police have a situation under control, the police have a duty to accommodate a disability.
Court’s Reasoning with Respect to the County’s Qualified Immunity
- Since the Sheriff’s department through the County is not being sued in its individual capacity but only vicariously, qualified immunity, which only applies to individual capacity suits, is not available.
- This case puts some meat on the bone so to speak with respect to how you would go about proving up a case involving an arrest that may be out of compliance with the ADA. With respect to the wrongful arrest theory, we now have the elements of a prima facie case.
- With respect failure to provide a reasonable accommodation when arresting theory, Trujillo and the cases Trujillo is based upon (here and here), do not lay out the prima facie case for such a claim. However, from reading these cases, we might be able to hazard a guess as to what a prima facie claim for lack of a reasonable accommodations when arresting someone might look like, namely: 1) plaintiff had a disability; 2) the arresting officers knew or should have known that the plaintiff was a person with disability; 3) plaintiff suggested to the officer a reasonable accommodation; and 4) the officer ignored that request or did not engage in any effort to explore what reasonable accommodations might work. Keep in mind, this theory only applies after the scene has been secured by the police.
- With respect to qualified immunity, it does not apply where a person or entity is not being sued in an individual capacity. So, plaintiff’s attorneys may want to consider that in structuring their complaint.
- A governmental entity can be vicariously liable under title II of the ADA where their employees violate the ADA.