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Latson v. Clarke

United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Abingdon Division

July 21, 2017

HAROLD W. CLARKE, et al., Defendants.

          Caitlin Marie Kasmar, Katherine Katz, John Bell Williams, III, and Timothy James Coley, BuckleySandler LLP, Washington, D.C., and Elliot M. Mincberg, Washington Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs, Washington, D.C., for Plaintiff.

          Rita P. Davis and Nancy Hull Davidson, Office of the Attorney General, Richmond, Virginia, and Sheri H. Kelly, Office of the Attorney General, Abingdon, Virginia, for Defendants.


          James P. Jones United States District Judge.

         In this civil rights case, the plaintiff, a Virginia inmate, asserts claims against prison officials and state entities based on the First, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution, as well as the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) and the Rehabilitation Act (“RA”). The defendants have moved to bifurcate the issue of whether the ADA and RA claims are time-barred. They have also moved to stay discovery on all remaining issues pending resolution of the statute of limitations issue. For the reasons that follow, I will deny both motions.


         The plaintiff in this case is a former inmate who has been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (“ASD”) and intellectual disability (“ID”). He asserts claims against the Virginia Department of Corrections (“VDOC”) under the ADA and RA based on his alleged treatment at Rappahannock Regional Jail and Marion Correctional Treatment Center. He also asserts claims against several prison officials under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging violations of his rights under the First, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments. I previously reviewed the plaintiff's allegations in detail in an Opinion and Order disposing of the defendants' Motion to Dismiss. Latson v. Clarke, No. 1:16-CV-00039, 2017 WL 1407570, at *1-6 (W.D. Va. Apr. 20, 2017).

         In their Motion to Dismiss, the defendants argued that the plaintiff's ADA and RA claims are barred by the statute of limitations. I denied the Motion to Dismiss the two claims as time-barred after undertaking the following analysis:

Given the similarities between the ADA and the RA, courts apply the same limitations period to claims under both acts. Semenova v. Md. Transit Admin., 845 F.3d 564, 567 (4th Cir. 2017). Because Title II of the ADA does not contain a statute of limitations, courts must either apply the federal four-year catch-all limitations period or the state statute of limitations for the most analogous state-law claim. A Soc'y Without a Name, for People Without a Home, Millennium Future-Present v. Virginia, 655 F.3d 342, 347 (4th Cir. 2011). The four-year federal catch-all period applies only to claims arising under statutes enacted after December 1, 1990, and the ADA was enacted a few months before that, on July 26, 1990. Id. Therefore, as a general rule, “the one-year limitations period in the Virginia [Rights of Persons with] Disabilities Act applies to ADA claims brought in Virginia.” Id. at 348. The ADA was amended, however, in 2008. ADA Amendments Act of 2008, Pub. L. No. 110- 325, 122 Stat. 3553 (codified at 42 U.S.C. § 12102). If Latson's claim was made possible by the ADA Amendments Act rather than the pre-amendment ADA, then he can invoke the four-year statute of limitations. See Jones v. R.R. Donnelley & Sons Co., 541 U.S. 369, 382, 124 S.Ct. 1836, 158 L.Ed.2d 645 (2004); Mercado v. Puerto Rico, 814 F.3d 581, 589 (1st Cir. 2016).
Latson argues that his claim was made possible by the ADA Amendments Act because his condition is episodic in nature, and ASD and ID were not consistently recognized as disabilities under the original ADA. The ADA Amendments Act broadened the definition of “disability” under both the ADA and the RA. 42 U.S.C. § 12102(4)(A) (“The definition of disability in this Act shall be construed in favor of broad coverage of individuals under this Act, to the maximum extent permitted by the terms of this Act.”). The amendments to the ADA expressly included episodic impairments in the definition of disability and provided that mitigating measures such as medication should not be considered in determining whether an impairment substantially limits a major life activity and thus qualifies as a disability. 42 U.S.C. § 12101(4)(D), (E).
Recent regulations clearly indicate that ASD now qualifies as a disability under the amended version of the ADA. 29 C.F.R. § 1630.2(j)(3)(iii); 28 C.F.R. § 35.108(d)(2)(iii)(E). It is not clear, however, that ASD and ID, as they affect Latson, would have been recognized as disabilities prior to the ADA Amendments Act.
The defendants assert that ASD and ID were recognized as disabilities under the ADA prior to 2008, but they have not pointed to any controlling case actually holding that ASD and ID qualified as disabilities under the pre-amendment ADA. In most of the cases cited by the defendants, the court either assumed these conditions were disabilities without deciding the point, or the parties agreed that ASD and ID were disabilities and did not present the issue to the court. See, e.g., Roe ex rel. Preschooler II v. Nevada, 332 F.Supp.2d 1331, 1340 (D. Nev. 2004) (stating that defendants did not contest that the plaintiff had a disability under the ADA or was handicapped under the RA); Hahn ex rel. Barta v. Linn Cty., 130 F.Supp.2d 1036, 1045 (N.D. Iowa 2001) (noting that whether plaintiff was a qualified individual with a disability was not in dispute). Additionally, it is not apparent from the face of the Amended Complaint that ASD is an ever-present rather than episodic disorder. The defendants' arguments about the nature of ASD and ID raise issues of fact that go beyond the four corners of the Amended Complaint.
“Ordinarily, a defense based on the statute of limitations must be raised by the defendant through an affirmative defense, see Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(c), and the burden of establishing the affirmative defense rests on the defendant.” Goodman v. Praxair, Inc., 494 F.3d 458, 464 (4th Cir. 2007). Therefore, the question of whether a claim is time-barred usually cannot be resolved on a motion to dismiss, except “in the relatively rare circumstances where facts sufficient to rule on an affirmative defense are alleged in the complaint.” Id.
Here, based solely on the allegations in the Amended Complaint, I cannot say for certain that Latson's ADA and RA claims would have been cognizable prior to the 2008 ADA Amendments Act. Though it seems unlikely, the evidence may show that Latson's impairment is episodic, or that the mediation of his condition through medication and treatment would have negated his claims under the pre-amendment version of the ADA. The statute of limitations issue raised by the defendants is not one that I can resolve at this procedural ...

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