Sunday, November 29, 2015

Relationship Between Arrests and ADA Still an Open Question

As readers may recall, earlier this year the Supreme Court dismissed as improvidently granted the question whether police officers are obligated to provide reasonable accommodations to mentally ill suspects during arrests.

Last week the Tenth Circuit sidestepped that same question, as well as a related question, in J.H. v. Bernalillo County. J.H. was an 11-year-old special-needs student who was arrested, handcuffed, and taken to juvenile detention when an officer saw her kick a teacher. Her mother sued the officer and the county, claiming violations of both the Fourth Amendment and the Americans with Disabilities Act. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendants, and the Tenth Circuit affirmed. Two points of note for counsel challenging the arrest of a disabled client:

First, the Court holds that an officer may violate the ADA if the officer arrests a suspect "by reason of a disability," and notes that it has yet to decide the viability of an ADA-based wrongful-arrest claim. The Court declines to reach this question under the facts of the case.

Second, the Court assumes for the sake of argument that "accommodations may be necessary when disabled individuals are arrested," again noting that it has yet to decide this issue, and again declining to reach it under the facts of the case.

By the way, if you find the arrest and handcuffing of an 11-year-old special-needs student for kicking a teacher disturbing, J.H. reminds us that age does not exempt a child from arrest, even for misdemeanor offenses. In the course of finding the arrest reasonable and the handcuffs not excessive, the Court reminds us of two other unpleasant cases approving the arrests of children. One involved the arrest, search, and handcuffing of a 12-year-old girl for eating a single French fry in a subway station, while another involved the arrest and "twist-lock" of a 9-year-old boy suspected of stealing an iPad.

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