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Guy v. LeBlanc

United States District Court, M.D. Louisiana

August 29, 2019

WILFRED GUY
v.
JAMES LEBLANC ET AL.

          RULING AND ORDER

          BRIAN A. JACKSON, UNITED STATE DISTRICT COURT JUDGE.

         Before the Court is the Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 19) filed by Defendants James LeBlanc and the State of Louisiana, through the Department of Public Safety & Corrections (collectively, the "Department"). For the reasons that follow, the Motion (Doc. 19) is GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART.

         I. BACKGROUND

         This is a disability-discrimination case. (Doc. 1). Wilfred Guy is a hearing-impaired inmate incarcerated at the Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola, Louisiana. (Id.). He sues the Department for violating Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act and § 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. (Id.). He alleges the Department violated these laws by denying him access to Angola's only teletypewriter phone, denying him incentive pay, and prohibiting him from participating in sports, hobbycraft, and rodeo (Id.).

         Guy arrived at Angola in 1987, following his conviction for second-degree murder. (Doc. 19-3 at p. 8). He was diagnosed with a hearing impairment in 1996, and he received a hearing aid around the same time. (Id. at pp. 10-11). He is not deaf. (Doc. 19-6 at pp. 1-3). But he suffers from "neural hearing loss" of "an unknown degree" in "a certain portion of the frequency range." (Doc. 19-6 at p. 3). He says that he struggles to hear sounds at a distance. (Doc. 19-3 at p. 12).

         He uses a "pocket talker" to communicate. (Docs. 19-1 at ¶ 5; 24-1 at ¶ 5). An audiologist who treated him concluded that he "appear[ed] to have great benefit from" the pocket talker because, when using it, he "responded appropriately to 100% of questions during [the] history taking portion of [the] visit." (Doc. 19-6 at p. 3). The audiologist did not recommend a teletypewriter phone; she found that "[a]n amplified telephone w[ould] be sufficient as long as there is little to no ambient noise present during telephone calls." (Id.).

         Guy has worked various jobs at Angola. (Doc. 19-3 at p. 30). For a time, he performed field work, which he describes as "hoeing the rows, greens, . .. and ditches." (Id. at p. 39). He considered the work dangerous because he could not hear the swinging of sling blades, and he feared being struck. (Id. at p. 40). He presented these concerns to one of Angola's doctors, who responded by placing Guy on a "duty status restriction." (Doc. 18-10). The restriction, issued in September 2012, reads:

PERMANENT DUTY STATUS: REGULAR DUTY WITH RESTRICTIONS; OUT OF FIELD, NO KITCHEN, NO SPORTS, NO HOBBYCRAFT, NO RODEO X PERMANENT

(Doc. 18-10). The "out of field" and "no kitchen" restrictions prohibit Guy from working in the field and in the kitchen. (Id.). The "no sports" restriction prohibits Guy from playing sports at Angola, the "no hobbycraft" restriction prohibits him from participating in hobbycraft activities, and the "no rodeo" restriction prohibits him from riding horses or bulls in the Angola rodeo. (Docs. 19-2 at ¶¶ 8-10; 24-1 at ¶¶ 8-10). Angola officials updated Guy's duty status in July 2015. (Doc. 19-5 at p. 2). Not much changed: officials merely added an "away from machinery" restriction. (Id.).

         One of the prison's policies, Directive No. 13-063, forbids restricted-duty offenders (like Guy) from "participa[ting] in sports and/or recreational activities, unless specified by the treating health care provider." (Doc. 19-13 at p. 3). Despite this policy, Guy would like to participate in some of the prison's sports and hobbycraft programs. (Doc. 19-3 at pp. 46-47). So, in March 2017, he submitted an administrative remedy procedure form requesting "[a]ccess to sports, hobbycraft, and rodeo, three programs that my hearing disability does not prevent me from being able to participate in." (Doc. 21-13 at p. 4), Prison officials denied the request about four months later. (Id. at p. 5). But the prison's physician, Dr. Randy Lavespere, acknowledges that Guy can safely perform hobbycraft activities like "leather work" and painting. (Doc. 21-3 at p. 69).

         Angola inmates may receive "incentive pay" for work at hourly rates ranging from $.02 to $1. (Docs. 21-2 at ¶ 1; 27-1 at ¶ 1). Guy is capable of performing paid work at Angola. (Docs. 21-2 at ¶ 13; 27-1 at ¶ 13). But he did not receive nine months of incentive pay from 2016-2017. (Docs. 21-2 at ¶ 14; 27-1 at ¶ 14). The reason for that is not clear. (Doc. 21-3 at p. 136). Guy has received incentive pay since March 2017, when he began working as a janitor in Angola's mattress factory. (Docs. 19-2 at ¶ 39; 24-1 at ¶ 39). He now works as a "walk orderly," a paid position he considers "appropriate to his disability." (Doc. 1 at ¶ 51).

         On March 6, 2018, Guy sued the Department for violating his rights under Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. § 12132 ("ADA"), and § 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, 29 U.S.C. § 794(a) ("RA"), by denying him access to a teletypewriter phone and prohibiting him from participating in sports and hobbycraft. (Id. at ¶¶ 77-78). He alleges that the discrimination was intentional, and he seeks declaratory relief, a permanent injunction requiring the Department to comply with the ADA and RA, nominal and compensatory damages, as well as costs and attorney's fees. (Id. at ¶¶ 81, 82, 86).

         Now, the Department moves for summary judgment. (Doc. 19).

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         The Court "shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). A dispute is "genuine" if "the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A fact is "material" if it "might affect the outcome of the suit." Id. at 248. In ruling on a motion for summary judgment, the Court "view[s] the facts and draw[s] reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party." Duncan v. Wal-Mart La., L.L.C., 863 F.3d 406, 409 (5th Cir. 2017).

         III. DISCUSSION

         The Department's motion implicates two federal laws: Title II of the ADA and § 504 of the RA. (Docs. 19, 21). "The ADA is a 'broad mandate' of 'comprehensive character' and 'sweeping purpose' intended 'to eliminate discrimination against disabled individuals, and to integrate them into the economic and social mainstream of American life.'" Frame v. City of Arlington, 657 F.3d 215, 223 (5th Cir. 2011) (en banc) (quoting PGA Tour, Inc. v. Martin, 532 U.S. 661, 675 (2001)). Title II, in particular, "focuses on disability discrimination in the provision of public services." Frame, 657 F.3d at 224. Section 504 of the RA complements Title II by "prohibit[ing] disability discrimination by recipients of federal funding." Id.

         These laws "are judged under the same legal standards, and the same remedies are available under both." Kemp v. Holder, 610 F.3d 231, 234 (5th Cir. 2010) (citing Delano-Pyle v. Victoria Cnty., Tex., 302 F.3d 567, 574 (5th Cir. 2002)). Accordingly, the Court analyzes Guy's ADA and RA claims under one rubric.

         The Department first contends that a one-year limitations period applies and that all claims that accrued before July 12, 2016 are time-barred. (Doc. 19 at pp. 1-2). It next contends that Guy cannot come forward with evidence sufficient to support his ADA and RHA claims; that Guy cannot recover compensatory damages because he cannot show a concomitant physical injury; and that Guy cannot establish a right to injunctive relief. (Id.). Guy rejoins that his claims are governed by the four-year catch-all limitations period and that material factual disputes preclude summary judgment. (Doc. 24). The Court considers timeliness first. A. Timeliness The parties dispute the limitations period that applies. (Docs. 19, 21). The Department urges the Court to apply the one-year limitation period governing delictual actions under Louisiana law. See LA. CIV. CODE art. 3492. Guy, on the other hand, asks the Court to apply a four-year catch-all limitations period under federal ...


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