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Lewis v. Dart

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division

July 31, 2018

JIMMIE LEWIS, Plaintiff,


          Edmond E. Chang, Judge

         After breaking his foot, Jimmie Lewis used crutches to get around when he was detained in Cook County Jail. R. 40, DSOF ¶ 4.[1] Lewis alleges that, for his court appearances, he had to walk up and down two steep ramps in the basement of the Leighton Courthouse without any help. Id. ¶ 5. He also asserts that officers took away his crutches when he was placed in the courthouse lockup, and it was difficult to use the restroom in the lockup. Id. ¶ 7, 11. So Lewis brought this suit against Sheriff Thomas Dart and Cook County for violating the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act. See generally, R. 1, Compl.; 42 U.S.C. § 12132; 29 U.S.C. § 794(a).[2] Now, the Defendants move for summary judgment, arguing that Lewis has not exhausted administrative remedies as required by the Prison Litigation Reform Act. 42 U.S.C. § 1997e. For the following reasons, the motion is granted in part and denied in part.

         I. Background

         In deciding the Sheriff's[3] motion for summary judgment, the Court views the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986). In April 2017, Jimmie Lewis entered the Cook County Jail as a pretrial detainee. Compl. ¶ 2; R. 40-1, DSOF Exh. A, Lewis Dep. Exh. 1, Compl.[4] During the course of his arrest, Lewis had broken his left foot, and was prescribed crutches to walk, because the foot could not bear any weight. DSOF Exh. A, Lewis Dep. 32:11-21; DSOF ¶ 4.

         While awaiting trial in his criminal case, Lewis had to attend his court appearances at the Leighton Courthouse. In the courthouse basement, there are two steep ramps that Lewis had to climb in order to get to the courtroom. DSOF ¶ 5. His crutches made it difficult for Lewis to walk up the ramps, and he frequently complained to officers that the ramps were too steep. DSOF ¶ 8. This required Lewis to take a lot of time to carefully go up and down the ramps. Id.

         Due to previous litigation, Sheriff Dart and Cook County are aware that those ramps do not actually comply with the ADA's slope and landing requirements. PSOF ¶ 1. As a result, the Sheriff's Office amended its orders to require officers to provide assistance to wheelchair users on the ramps. Id. ¶ 2. But that change was silent as to detainees with other types of ambulatory disabilities or devices. Id. ¶ 3. The Leighton Courthouse did post a “Notice-Order” instructing detainees to wait for an officer to escort them up or down the ramp, and to ask for assistance if needed. Id. ¶ 18.

         Because he had trouble navigating the courthouse ramps, Lewis filed a grievance with the Jail in May 2017, asking for a wheelchair to use for his court appearances. DSOF ¶ 13; DSOF Exh. 5, Grievance.[5] In the grievance, Lewis explained that he had difficulty getting up and down the ramps with his broken foot and that he had previously asked for a wheelchair to attend court, but Jail and medical staff refused. DSOF Exh. 5, Grievance. In its response to his grievance, the Sheriff's Office did not directly address Lewis's complaint about the ramps, saying only that he had been seen by the orthopedist, who had recommended crutches. PSOF Exh. 1, Grievance Resp.[6] The same day that he received this response, Lewis appealed, pointing out that his concern was not about his everyday ambulatory needs, but that he was only requesting a wheelchair for court. Id., Grievance Appeal. But the Sheriff's Office rejected the appeal, repeating that Lewis had seen the orthopedist and asserting that Lewis had been told to wean off crutches. Id. There is no evidence that Lewis ever did receive a wheelchair to use at court hearings.

         In addition to his difficulty navigating the courthouse ramps, Lewis asserts that the holding cell at the courthouse was not ADA compliant. For each court appearance, officers would take his crutches and handcuff him when he entered the holding cell (which is also called the “bullpen”). DSOF ¶ 10. Because he was handcuffed and did not have his crutches, Lewis had difficulty using the restroom in the bullpen. Id. ¶ 11. But he never did ask officers for his crutches back or to help him when trying to use the restroom in the cell. Id. ¶ 12. According to at least one correctional officer, the policy to take away crutches in the bullpen was codified in a general order of the Sheriff's Office. PSOF ¶ 12; id. Exh. 6, Payton Dep. at 37:23-38:23, 58:24-59:6. Lewis also never filed a formal grievance on this complaint. DSOF ¶ 17. It is true, however, that the grievance form does specifically explain that an inmate may not grieve about “non-grievable matters, ” including the “formulation of departmental policies.” PSOF ¶ 7; DSOF Exh. 5, Grievance. As the Chief of the Department of the Corrections explained, those matters are nongrievable because they “relate[] to procedures the Department carries out, how the Department operates.” PSOF ¶ 8; Id. Exh. 5, Johnsen Dep. 26:12-23.

         II. Standard of Review

         Summary judgment must be granted “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 genuine issue of material fact exists if “the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). (It is worth noting that if a credibility call was necessary on the exhaustion defense, then there would not be a jury trial, but rather an evidentiary hearing, because exhaustion is a precondition of suit rather than an issue for the jury.) In evaluating summary judgment motions, courts must view the facts and draw reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 378 (2007). The Court may not weigh conflicting evidence or make credibility determinations, Omnicare, Inc. v. UnitedHealth Grp., Inc., 629 F.3d 697, 704 (7th Cir. 2011), and must consider only evidence that can “be presented in a form that would be admissible in evidence.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(2). The party seeking summary judgment has the initial burden of showing that there is no genuine dispute and that they are entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Carmichael v. Village of Palatine, 605 F.3d 451, 460 (7th Cir. 2010); see also Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986); Wheeler v. Lawson, 539 F.3d 629, 634 (7th Cir. 2008). If this burden is met, the adverse party must then “set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 256.

         III. Analysis

         A. Overview

         Lewis brings several claims under the ADA and the Rehabilitation Act. Congress enacted the Americans with Disabilities Act “to provide a clear and comprehensive national mandate for the elimination of discrimination against individuals with disabilities.” 42 U.S.C. § 12101(b)(1). Title II of the ADA prohibits public entities from discriminating against persons with disabilities by excluding them from participation or denying them the benefits of their “services, programs, or activities.” 42 U.S.C. § 12132. Public entities include state and local governments, as well as any department or instrumentality of them. 42 U.S.C. § 12131. So Title II does apply to the Cook County Sheriff's Office.

         But the subject of the pending motion is not the merits of the ADA or Rehabilitation Act claims. Instead, the question is whether Lewis exhausted administrative remedies before filing the lawsuit. Under the Prison Litigation Reform Act, a prisoner cannot bring a lawsuit “with respect to prison conditions” under any federal law until after exhausting available “administrative remedies.” 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a)(1); McCoy v. Gilbert, 270 F.3d 503, 507 (7th Cir. 2001). Pretrial detainees are considered prisoners for purposes of the Prison Litigation Reform Act because they are in custody while “accused of … violations of criminal law.” Kalinowski v. Bond, 358 F.3d 978, 979 (7th Cir. 2004) (quoting 28 U.S.C. § 1915(h)). When contested, exhaustion is a threshold issue. Pavey v. Conley, 544 F.3d ...

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