Court Holds Case Challenging TDOC’S Failure to Accommodate Deaf Prisoners Can Proceed

  In an important decision for the enforcement of disability rights in Tennessee, the Middle District of Tennessee held that Disability Rights Tennessee (DRT), the state’s Protection & Advocacy (P&A) organization, has standing to file a lawsuit to protect the civil rights of individuals with disabilities. On November 12, 2020, Federal District Court Judge Aleta A. Trauger issued an opinion in the case of Trivette & Disability Rights Tennessee v. TDOC, recognizing DRT’s plaintiff status and affirming DRT’s ability to bring claims on behalf of its constituents in order to vindicate their rights. DRT, as Tennessee’s P&A, has been mandated by Congress to protect and advocate for the rights of people with disabilities. DRT and Ernest Kevin Trivette filed a lawsuit in the Middle District of Tennessee on March 30, 2020 based on the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. The suit alleges that the Tennessee Department of Corrections (TDOC) is failing to provide D/deaf inmates with effective communication, including sign language interpreters and videophones, so that they can have equal access to TDOC’s programs and services. For example, Mr. Trivette was unable to get his GED because TDOC did not provide him with a sign language interpreter who would interpret the course, which was taught in English, into his primary language of American Sign Language (ASL). TDOC filed a Motion to Dismiss, claiming, in part, that DRT lacked standing to bring suit on behalf of D/deaf inmates in TDOC custody. DRT has long advocated for TDOC to provide effective communication to D/deaf and hard of hearing inmates as required by law. In...

Disability rights advocates sue Trump Administration for “Migrant Protection Protocols”

Class action lawsuit seeks relief for asylum seekers with disabilities living in Mexico. SAN DIEGO, Cal. – Today, asylum seekers with disabilities who are forced to wait for immigration proceedings in Mexico filed a lawsuit against the Trump administration for its “Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) policy. It is the first class-action suit challenging MPP’s discriminatory practices on the basis of disability. If it succeeds, not only would it hold the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) accountable for breaking its own rules, hundreds of class members with disabilities would likely be allowed to wait in safer conditions stateside with their sponsors. Under the U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP) own stated procedures, asylum seekers with “known physical or mental health issues” cannot be sent to Mexico. The lawsuit argues that the Trump administration is violating the Administrative Procedures Act by failing to abide by its own stated policy, trapping hundreds of asylum seekers with disabilities and their families in Mexico at enormous risk to their health and safety. These violations also infringe on federal disability protections, including Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. “The ‘Remain in Mexico’ policy is inherently unfit and violent for any asylum seeker, but it is particularly dangerous, and unlawful, for those living with disabilities,” said Erin Thorn Vela, senior attorney with the Texas Civil Rights Project. “Our lawsuit is demanding that the Trump administration comply with its own stated policy. But let’s be clear, this policy has created a humanitarian catastrophe for tens of thousands of people who have the legal right to seek asylum but have been effectively barred from that right...

Lawsuit: Law enforcement fails to provide Oregonians with disabilities equal access to Portland demonstrations

Dispersal tactics violate the Americans with Disabilities Act, chill plaintiffs’ right to free speech Portland, Oregon—A lawsuit filed last night on behalf of people with disabilities in federal district court in Portland argues that law enforcement tactics fail to provide equal access to public demonstrations calling for racial justice, robbing them of their constitutional right to assemble and protest. People with disabilities who participate in public demonstrations are subjected to force and crowd control policies that fail to accommodate or consider their disabilities in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Law enforcement gives little or no notice or opportunity to comply before law enforcements’ use of overwhelming force. This failure to provide reasonable accommodations or effective communication denies people with disabilities their freedom of speech under the First Amendment. “As a person with a disability, I rely on my service animal to navigate the world, including participating in protests, and I have a right to that accommodation. When law enforcement denies my right to protest, they silence my voice. No one should be silenced because they have a disability,” said Juniper Simonis, a plaintiff in the case. “It’s important to me to stand shoulder to shoulder with my community in public demonstrations for Black lives and against police violence. Mass movements for social justice are indispensable in the fight for equality.” “Taking part in public demonstrations reflects a cherished American value. No one should be prevented from participating just because they have a disability,” said Brendan Hamme, senior staff attorney with Disability Rights Legal Center. “People with disabilities should...

Federal Judge Rejects ICE’s ‘Weak’ Implementation of Court-Ordered Custody Determinations of High Risk Individuals and Other Safety Measures

As COVID-19 cases continue to climb inside detention centers, Court finds ICE has fallen “far below” compliance with its previous injunction. FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE RIVERSIDE, Calif. – Last night in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, U.S. District Judge Jesus Bernal granted civil rights organizations’ motion to enforce a preliminary injunction in their class-action lawsuit against Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), ordering the agency to perform custody determinations to all individuals in all of their detention centers across the country with medical risk factors that increase their risk of serious COVID-19 complications in compliance with the Court’s April 20 injunction. In his order, Judge Bernal found that ICE has fallen “far short” of complying with the April 20 order, adding that, “the Court is gravely concerned that Fraihat custody decisions are a disorganized patchwork of non-responses or perfunctory denials” and that, “more active monitoring of Defendants’ compliance is needed.” The Court went on to issue several clarifications to the April 20 injunction including ICE’s obligation to identify and track individuals with risk factors within five days of their detention and to make timely custody determinations, including individuals subject to mandatory detention. The order also clarifies limits on transfers between facilities, a practice that has contributed to massive COVID-19 outbreaks inside detention centers, and bans solitary confinement as a quarantine measure, a punitive and inhumane practice that goes against public health recommendations. “This order shows that ICE has essentially ignored the court for nearly six months,” said Pilar Gonzalez Morales, a senior attorney at the Civil Rights Education and Enforcement Center. “ICE’s actions are not just...

Months Later, the Fraihat Hotline Remains Necessary

“We couldn’t keep up with the calls and voicemails at first,” said Pilar Gonzalez Morales, Senior Staff Attorney at CREEC, “it was a tsunami of people who were in crisis, seeking re-assessment and needing help to do so.” In response to a motion for an emergency preliminary injunction filed by CREEC and co-counsel on March 25, 2020 in Fraihat v ICE, the court ordered ICE to conduct new assessments for every person at heightened risk of contracting COVID-19 in ICE custody for release redetermination. If ICE cannot take the medically necessary precautions to protect medically vulnerable people in immigration detention, they should be released and allowed to shelter in place safely in their homes. To ensure contact with those medically vulnerable people, the court also ordered ICE to create a free, confidential hotline that detained people could call to contact Fraihat class counsel in May 2020. The word spread quickly. “The sheer volume of calls to the hotline showed us that ICE had followed at least one requirement of the court’s order and that was to post the redetermination ruling and hotline number in ICE detention jails,” said Gonzalez Morales. Unfortunately, it has also revealed the chaos of ICE’s inadequate COVID-19 response and utter lack of a consistent, navigable process in ICE detention prisons for immigrants who are eligible for re-determination and their advocates to follow. “We have learned from hotline callers that what should be a straight-forward redetermination application process for people who are medically vulnerable and scared of the COVID breeding ground that exists in congregate settings like ICE prisons, is actually a nearly impossible path full...

Landmark Accessibility Settlement Reached with the City of San Jose

The Civil Rights Education and Enforcement Center (CREEC), along with co-counsel Goldstein, Borgen, Dardarian & Ho (GBDH), reached a landmark settlement with the City of San Jose on behalf of a class of persons with mobility disabilities. The settlement requires San Jose to install or remediate over twenty-seven thousand accessible curb ramps throughout the City over the next eighteen years, and to appropriate more than $130 million to fund this work. Importantly, class members are able to request curb ramp construction and remediation at specific locations according to this settlement. The settlement was approved by the Court on September 2, 2020. Curb ramps provide people with mobility disabilities a safe way to get on and off sidewalks as they travel through the pedestrian right of way. In San Jose alone, there are approximately 157,000 people with mobility disabilities. Missing, broken, or poorly maintained curb ramps prevent people with mobility disabilities from safely using city sidewalks, crosswalks, and other walkways to participate in daily activities like getting to work or going to school. Tim Fox, Co-Executive Director at CREEC and attorney in this case commented, “We initiated this case after receiving reports of people experiencing life-threatening situations as a result of unsafe curb ramps – including being thrown out of their wheelchairs and onto the pavement of busy streets when the wheel of their chair became lodged in a curb ramp gap or hit other construction defects. One person had to wait for more than ten minutes on the pavement before someone stopped and helped them back into their chair. Clearly this is unacceptable.” In 2014 and in response to...