By Prison Legal News

In separate decisions, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the dismissal of two lawsuits filed by disabled state prisoners, finding that the Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC) may have violated their rights under the Rehabilitation Act (RA), while skirting claims raised under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

In May 2010, Phillip E. Jaros was sent to the Vandalia Correctional Center (VCC) to serve a two-year sentence for driving on a suspended license.

Medical records indicated that Jaros suffered from several serious physical ailments, including advanced osteoarthritis and vascular necrosis in his right hip. He required a cane to walk, and walking for more than a few minutes made him tired. He suffered chronic, severe pain whether walking, sitting, standing or lying down. Private physicians had recommended a hip replacement.

VCC was not compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and lacked grab bars for the physically disabled near toilets and in showers and walkways. Two days after his arrival at VCC, Jaros told Teanah Harter, a grievance coordinator, that he required such accommodations. She conceded that VCC was not ADA compliant but told Jaros “to just deal with it,” because the prison’s administrators “did not do” medical transfers. Harter recommended that the warden deny a grievance filed by Jaros on the grounds that he could not be transferred as he had less than a year left to serve.

VCC’s failure to accommodate Jaros’ disability caused him to miss some meals because he could not walk fast enough to the cafeteria. He also limited himself to four showers a month out of fear that he would fall. Further, he alleged he was not approved for work release due to a “medical hold” placed in his file due to his disability.

Following his release, Jaros brought claims under the RA, ADA and Eighth Amendment. The suit was dismissed at the screening stage for failure to state a claim, and he appealed.

The Seventh Circuit held that the district court had properly dismissed the Eighth Amendment claim because “the alleged conditions of Jaros’s confinement did not deprive him of life’s necessities.” The Court of Appeals then turned to the RA and ADA claims.

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