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Supreme Court Agrees To Hear Inmate's Accessibility Case
By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
May 16, 2005

WASHINGTON, DC--In a case that could have implications for corrections systems across the country, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed Monday to hear arguments from a Georgia State Prison inmate who claims that prison officials are discriminating against him because of his disability.

Tony Goodman is serving time for aggravated assault, possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, and illegal drug possession with intent to distribute. He sued the state of Georgia in 1999 accusing it of violating his Eighth Amendment right to be free of "cruel and unusual punishment", along with Title II of the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act, which bans state and local governments from discriminating in the provision of public services or programs. The Supreme Court ruled in 1998 that prisons are considered public programs under Title II.

Goodman, who is paraplegic, claims that he has been held in a high-security unit in a 12 foot by 3 foot cell -- much too narrow to move his wheelchair -- for 23 hours a day. He accuses prison officials of failing to help him transfer to the toilet, bed or shower, leaving him to sit in his own bodily wastes. His efforts to use the toilet or shower without assistance, he says, has resulted in broken bones and other injuries. Additionally, he says the failure to provide accessible facilities has prevented him from accessing the prison's law library, along with recreational opportunities and educational, vocational, and counseling services.

The state argues that the Eleventh Amendment protects them from lawsuits by individuals seeking damages.

A lower federal court and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit favored Georgia.

The justices are expected to hear arguments in the case during its next term which begins in October, with a decision expected by July of next year.

One year ago this week, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that states can face lawsuits from individuals if they fail to follow Title II of the ADA when it comes to the courts. The justices based the ruling in Tennessee v. Lane, however, on guarantees under the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution on "equal protection under the laws" rather than the ADA.

Related:
"Inmate's disability case goes to justices" (Atlanta Journal-Constitution)
"Justices to Decide if Disabled Inmates May Sue States for Damages" (New York Times)
"High Court Upholds Access To State Courts: State of Tennessee v. Lane et al" (Inclusion Daily Express Archives)

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