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Tunstall v. Knowles

August 5, 2010

ROBERT TUNSTALL, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MIKE KNOWLES, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



FINDINGS & RECOMMENDATIONS

Plaintiff is a state prisoner proceeding pro se with a civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff claims defendant prison officials at California Medical Facility (CMF) have violated his federal constitutional and statutory rights by denying him access to sign language classes. This matter is before the court on defendants' motion to dismiss pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6).

STANDARDS FOR A MOTION TO DISMISS

Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedures provides for motions to dismiss for "failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted." Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). In considering a motion to dismiss pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6), the court must accept as true the allegations of the complaint in question, Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 127 S.Ct. 2197 (2007), and construe the pleading in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236 (1974). In order to survive dismissal for failure to state a claim a complaint must contain more than "a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action;" it must contain factual allegations sufficient "to raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 554 (2007). However, "[s]pecific facts are not necessary; the statement [of facts] need only '"give the defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests."'" Erickson, 551 U.S. 89, 127 S.Ct. at 2200 (quoting Bell Atlantic at 554, in turn quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957).

ALLEGATIONS OF THE COMPLAINT

Plaintiff's complaint, filed December 31, 2008, contains the following allegations. Plaintiff alleges that he is hearing impaired and has suffered discrimination as a result. Plaintiff is totally medically disabled due to a chronic seizure disorder and therefore cannot work around sharp objects. For that reason, plaintiff does not qualify for any of the vocation trade programs offered at California Medical Facility (CMF) and has not been able to meet that program requirement for parole. Plaintiff was denied access to sign language classes by defendants, all of whom have the authority to make such classes, which were once offered at CMF, available. Plaintiff is being denied access to sign language classes because he allegedly has a G.E.D., but the institution claims that he received the G.E.D. on a date when he was twenty days old. The communication difficulties plaintiff experiences affect not only his ability to program and qualify for parole, but his participation in psychiatric groups and mental health programs, as well as his ability to communicate about multiple medical issues that he has secondary to brain surgery.

Plaintiff raises claims under the due process and equal protection clauses of the United States Constitution, Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq. (ADA), and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, 29 U.S.C. § 794 (RA). He seeks money damages and injunctive relief.

DEFENDANTS' MOTION

I. Failure to State a Claim Under the ADA or the RA

Defendants' first contention is that plaintiff has failed to state a cognizable claim for relief under either the ADA or the RA because he has failed to allege that any of the defendants have discriminated against him because of his disability. Defendants contend that plaintiff alleges, instead, that he is denied participation in the sign language classes because he has a G.E.D. and because of his chronic seizure disorder. Defendants also contend that plaintiff has not alleged that defendants knew plaintiff had a federally protected right to take sign language classes and that they knew that not offering the classes would likely deny plaintiff that entitlement, and that they failed to act despite such knowledge.

In order to state a claim under Title II of the ADA, plaintiff must allege four elements: (1) the plaintiff is an individual with a disability; (2) the plaintiff is otherwise qualified to participate in or receive the benefit of some public entity's services, programs, or activities; (3) the plaintiff was either excluded from participation in or denied the benefits of the public entity's services, programs, or activities, or was otherwise discriminated against by the public entity; and (4) such exclusion, denial of benefits, or discrimination was by reason of the plaintiff's disability.

Thompson v. Davis, 295 F.3d 890, 895 (9th Cir. 2002). The elements of a Rehabilitation Act claim are "'materially identical to and the model for the ADA, except that it is limited to programs that receive federal financial assistance--which the [California] prison system admittedly does....'" Armstrong v. Davis, 275 F.3d 849, 862 n.17 (9th Cir. 2001).

Defendants' argument misses the mark. Plaintiff alleges throughout his complaint that he is being denied access to vocational and other programming and is also being denied an opportunity to satisfy prerequisites to parole because of his hearing impairment and his chronic seizure disorder. Plaintiff alleges that he sought access to sign language classes as a request for accommodation of the hearing impairment and that his request was denied by defendants, in part because plaintiff has a G.E.D.*fn1 Plaintiff has plainly alleged that he is being denied access to services, programs and activities because of his hearing impairment. Plaintiff has adequately state a claim under the ADA and the Rehabilitation Act.

II. Request for Prospective Injunctive Relief

Defendants next contend that because plaintiff is a member of ...


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