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Court Decision Addressing the Americans with Disabilities Act

Court Decision Addressing the Americans with Disabilities Act


Tony Goodman sued the state Georgia for forcing him to live in an inaccessible cell. United Cerebral Palsy, a nation's leading organisation advocating for Americans with disabilities, joined other disability advocates in filing an amicus brief supporting the inmate.

The Supreme Court ruled unanimously that Georgia inmate Tony Goodman should get a fresh chance to prove that the state owes him damages for not accommodating his disability. "The Goodman ruling represents an affirmation of Congress' ability to address lingering discrimination against Americans with disabilities,” said Stephen Bennett, President and CEO of United Cerebral Palsy. "The unanimity of the Court is a signal to the USA that they should finally enforce the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) or be embarrassed in court.”

Mr. Goodman made two claims against the state. First, he alleged that state officials violated the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution's protection against cruel and unusual punishment. Second, he alleged that they had violated protections which the Congress created. He claimed the state confined him for 23 to 24 hours per day in a 12-by-3 foot cell, in which he could not turn his wheelchair, and provided only inaccessible toilets and showers at Georgia State Prison that Goodman could not use without assistance, which was often denied. He was also denied medical treatment and access to virtually all prison programs and services because of his disability.

Georgia claimed it could not be sued due to the "sovereign immunity” of states under the Eleventh Amendment, which bars citizens from filing federal suits against the state except when Congress abrogates that immunity under the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution of the United States.

The Court's decision was narrow. Justice Antonin Scalia refused to address whether Congress has the ability to abrogate states' sovereign immunity when there is no actual violation of the Fourteenth Amendment. So the Supreme Court sent the case back to the United States District Court for the Southern District of Georgia where Goodman will be allowed to file an amended complaint. After that the court will have to decide precisely which ADA claims were authorized.
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