By Mark Wilson The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals held in March 2014 that a district court had abused its discretion when it dismissed a
By Mark Wilson / Prison Legal News
On August 16, 2013, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals held for the second time that a prisoner’s request to form an atheist study group must be given the same consideration as other religious study groups.
Wisconsin prisoner James J. Kaufman, an atheist, asked to form a study group dedicated to atheism. Prison officials denied his request as one seeking to establish a nonreligious activity group. He then filed suit in federal court.
In 2005, the Seventh Circuit held that prison officials had violated Kaufman’s First Amendment rights by refusing his request to create a religious study group dedicated to atheism while allowing other religious study groups. See: Kaufman v. McCaughtry, 419 F.3d 678 (7th Cir. 2005) (Kaufman I).
After Kaufman was transferred to the Stanley Correctional Institution, he “encountered nearly identical resistance to his efforts to create an atheist practice group.”
Prisoners requesting to participate in religious study “fill out a Religious Preference form that allows them to select one of the recognized umbrella groups, ‘no preference,’ or ‘other.’ If the inmate selects ‘other,’ he may write in a religion. If the religion he specifies does not fall within one of the seven umbrella groups, he is not permitted to attend a religious practice group, though he may practice on his own by visiting the religious library or meeting with the Chaplain individually.”
The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld the transfer of a former federal prisoner’s negligence action from Illinois to Kansas.
Daniel Hudson relocated to Illinois following his release from a federal prison in Kansas. He filed a Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) suit in U.S. District Court in Illinois, alleging that Kansas medical staff had negligently misdiagnosed a blood clot in his leg.
The district court granted the defendants’ motion to transfer the case to a federal court in Kansas pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a), because the principal witnesses were located in Kansas and the per-judge caseload in that state was lighter than the caseload in Illinois.
Hudson then filed a mandamus petition with the Seventh Circuit, seeking to return venue to Illinois. He argued that he and five of his witnesses – including three treating physicians – resided in Illinois.
The Court of Appeals agreed that mandamus was the proper method to challenge the district court’s transfer order: “The grant of the government’s motion to transfer the case was an unappealable interlocutory order, but an unappealable order can in exceptional circumstances be reviewed by a mandamus proceeding. The grant of a motion to transfer is an appealing candidate for such review.”
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.