January 10, 2006

Top court allows disabled prisoner to sue state

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A unanimous U.S. Supreme Court ruled
on Tuesday that a disabled prisoner may sue a state for money
damages under the Americans with Disability Act for conduct
that also violated his constitutional rights.

But the high court put off a decision on the more important
question of whether states could be sued and held liable for
violations of the federal disabilities law alone.

The case involved a paraplegic Georgia prisoner, Tony
Goodman, who said in his lawsuit that he has been held for at
least 23 hours a day in a cell so narrow that he could not turn
his wheelchair, leaving him essentially immobile.

Goodman, unable to walk since a 1992 auto accident, said in
the lawsuit that he suffered injuries from falls while trying
to move himself to his toilet and shower.

Goodman, who was convicted on gun, drug and assault charges
in 1995, said he had been denied medical care, access to toilet
and bathing facilities and access to other prison services open
to inmates without disabilities.

Justice Antonin Scalia said in the opinion that a U.S.
appeals court was wrong to dismiss Goodman's claims that were
also based on conduct by the prison that violated
constitutional provisions that guarantee due process of law.

Scalia said that no one doubts that Congress has the power
to enforce those provisions by allowing states to be sued for
damages for constitutional violations.

Sending the case back for more hearings, Scalia said lower
courts will be able to best determine whether Congress revoked
a state's sovereign immunity when the prison's conduct violated
the disability law, but not the Constitution.

In a separate concurring opinion, Justice John Paul Stevens
said he agreed with the court's decision to await further
proceedings before trying to define whether the law allowed
such lawsuits.