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Ruffin v. Winnebago County Jail

August 25, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Herndon, Chief Judge


I. Introduction

Before the Court is defendant IDOC's Renewed Motion for Judgment as a Matter of Law or in the Alternative, Motion for New Trial (Doc. 283), to which Plaintiff has responded in opposition (Doc. 286).*fn1 This case was tried by a jury, the jury rendered a verdict finding no liability on the part of the individual Defendants. However, the jury found defendant Illinois Department of Corrections ("IDOC") was liable to Plaintiff for his claims made in Count 16 of his Complaint, and awarded damages in the amount of $17,000. Plaintiff's Count 16 alleged violations of his federal rights under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, 29 U.S.C. § 794, while he was incarcerated at Menard Correctional Center ("Menard").*fn2 Specifically, Plaintiff, who is a handicapped individual, claimed his rights under the Rehabilitation Act were violated because Menard failed to provide him with reasonable accommodations to certain programs and activities including the shower area, the healthcare unit (via the sick call request procedures), the segregation visiting room, the exercise yard, transportation to court, and access to emergency exits from the wing where his cell was located.

As the following discussion will show, the Court finds IDOC's arguments fail to warrant relief.

II. Discussion

A. Legal Standard

A motion for judgment as a matter of law made during trial, which is denied by the court, may be renewed pursuant to FEDERAL RULE OF CIVIL PROCEDURE 50(b). FED.R.CIV. P. 50(b). The moving party may also make an alternative request for a new trial under Rule 59. FED.R.CIV. P. 50(b) (citing FED.R.CIV. P. 59).The determining court then has three options when ruling on a Rule 50(b) motion: it may allow judgment on the verdict to remain, order a new trial or grant the motion and direct entry of judgment as a matter of law in favor of the movant. FED.R.CIV. P. 50(b). If the court grants the Rule 50(b) motion, it must also conditionally rule on the movant's alternate request for a new trial, "by determining whether a new trial should be granted if the judgment is later vacated or reversed." FED.R.CIV. P. 50(c)(1).

A Rule 50(b) motion should be granted only when "'a party has been fully heard on an issue and there is no legally sufficient evidentiary basis for a reasonable jury to find for that issue." Murray v. Chicago Transit Auth., 252 F.3d 880 (7th Cir. 2001). The standard governing a Rule 50(b) renewed motion for judgment as a matter of law is the same as used in determining a motion for summary judgment pursuant to Rule 56, meaning that the Court must review the entire record, construing all the evidence in favor of the nonmoving party. Appelbaum v. Milwaukee Metro. Sewerage Dist., 340 F.3d 573, 578 (7th Cir. 2003) (citing Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Products, Inc., 530 U.S. 133, 150 (2000); Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250-51 (1986)).

In the alternative, IDOC seeks a new trial pursuant to FEDERAL RULE OF CIVIL PROCEDURE 59.Rule 59(a) allows the court, after a jury trial, to grant a new trial on all or as to some of the issues, as to any party, "for any reasons for which a new trial has heretofore been granted in an action at law in federal court." FED.R. CIV. P. 59(a).

B. Analysis

Both the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA") and the Rehabilitation Act apply to state prisoners. Cassidy v. Ind. Dept. of Corr., 199 F.3d 374, 375 (7th Cir. 2000) (citing Penn. Dept. of Corr. v. Yeskey, 524 U.S. 206 (1998); Crawford v. Ind. Dept. of Corr., 115 F.3d 481, 483 (7th Cir. 1997)). The Rehabilitation Act is "materially identical to and the model for the ADA [citation omitted] except that it is limited to programs that receive federal financial assistance." Crawford, 115 F.3d at 483, abrogated on other grounds, see Erickson v. Bd. of Governors of State Colleges and Universities, 207 F.3d 945, 948-49 (7th Cir. 2000). In other words, it "incorporates the prohibitions contained within the Americans with Disabilities Act . . . and requires federal agencies . . . to offer 'reasonable accommodation' to 'qualified individuals with a disability.' " Bellino v. Peters, 530 F.3d 543, (7th Cir. 2008)

The Rehabilitation Act provides, in part:

No otherwise qualified individual with a disability in the United States . . . shall, solely by reason of her or his disability, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.

29 U.S.C. ยง 794(a). "Otherwise qualified" means Plaintiff must show that, were it not for his handicap, he would have qualified for the benefit, treatment, or program which he was denied. Grzan v. Charter Hosp. of Nw. Ind., 104 F.3d 116, 120-21 (7th Cir. 1997). "Program or activity" is defined in the Act as the operation of a "department, agency, special purpose district, or other instrumentality of a state or local government." Thus, a prima facie case for violation of the Rehabilitation Act necessitates a showing that: (1) Plaintiff suffers from a disability as defined under the Act; (2) Plaintiff was otherwise qualified to participate in the program; (3) the program received federal financial assistance; and (4) Plaintiff was "excluded from participation, denied ...

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