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Friedson v. Shoar

United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Jacksonville Division

October 28, 2019

MATTHEW FRIEDSON, Plaintiff,
v.
SHERIFF DAVID SHOAR and DEPUTY RYAN WALLACE, Defendants.

          ORDER

          TIMOTHY J. CORRIGAN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This is a false arrest and disability discrimination case brought by a deaf driver against the Sheriff and his deputy. The case is before the Court on Defendant Sheriff David Shoar's Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint (Doc. 9), to which Plaintiff Matthew Friedson filed a response (Doc. 16).

         I. BACKGROUND[1]

         On February 27, 2015, Deputy Ryan Wallace, a deputy in the St. Johns County Sheriff's Department, pulled over Matthew Friedson, who is deaf, for the traffic violation of following too closely. (Doc. 1 ¶ 10). Deputy Wallace approached Friedson's vehicle with his gun pointed at Friedson and tried unsuccessfully to open the car door. (Id. ¶¶ 10-11). Friedson gestured that he was deaf and would either have to write or use sign language to communicate.[2](Id. ¶ 12). Friedson and Deputy Wallace drove to a nearby parking lot where Friedson was planning to meet his family, who are hearing. (Id. ¶ 12).

         At the parking lot, Friedson gave Deputy Wallace his driver's license and his attorney's business card. (Id. ¶ 13). Friedson's children were present. (Id. ¶ 14). Deputy Wallace motioned for Friedson to exit his vehicle, and as Friedson did so, Deputy Wallace threw Friedson to the ground, handcuffed him, and placed him in the back of the patrol car. (Id. ¶ 15). Friedson alleges he did not know what was going on or why he was being arrested. (Id.).

         Later, Deputy Gene Tolbert arrived at the scene. Friedson was removed from the patrol car, given a citation for following too closely, and permitted to leave. (Doc. 1 ¶ 16).

         On February 25, 2019, Friedson filed a six-count complaint against the Sheriff and Deputy Wallace, alleging: (1) a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claim for false arrest against Deputy Wallace (Count I); (2) an Americans With Disabilities Act (“ADA”) claim against the Sheriff (Count II);[3] (3) a Rehabilitation Act (“RA”) claim against the Sheriff (Count III); (4) a § 1983 claim for failure to train against the Sheriff (Count IV); (5) a state law claim for false arrest against Deputy Wallace (Count V); and (6) a state law claim for false arrest against the Sheriff (Count VI). (Doc. 1). Deputy Wallace answered. (Doc. 10). The Sheriff filed a motion to dismiss Counts II, III, and IV, and any claims brought against him in his individual capacity. (Doc. 9). Friedson filed a response in opposition. (Doc. 16).

         II. ANALYSIS

         A. ADA and RA claims (Counts II and III)[4]

         The ADA was enacted “to provide a clear and comprehensive national mandate for the elimination of discrimination against individuals with disabilities, ” and “to provide clear, strong, consistent, enforceable standards addressing discrimination against individuals with disabilities.” 42 U.S.C. §§ 12101(b)(1)-(2). To state a Title II claim under the ADA, a plaintiff generally must prove (1) that he is a qualified individual with a disability; (2) that he was either excluded from participation in or denied the benefits of a public entity's services, programs, or activities, or was otherwise discriminated against by the public entity; and (3) that the exclusion, denial of benefit, or discrimination was by reason of the plaintiff's disability. Shotz v. Cates, 256 F.3d 1077, 1079 (11th Cir. 2001).

         Police conduct during an arrest of a disabled person is subject to the parameters of the ADA. Bircoll v. Miami-Dade Cty., 480 F.3d 1072, 1084-85 (11th Cir. 2007). Under the ADA's implementing regulations, public entities shall furnish auxiliary aids, including qualified interpreters, where necessary to afford disabled persons equal opportunity. 28 C.F.R. § 35.160(b)(1). However, “[t]he ADA's ‘reasonable modification' principle . . . does not require a public entity to employ any and all means to make auxiliary aids and services accessible to persons with disabilities, but only to make ‘reasonable modifications' that would not fundamentally alter the nature of the service or activity of the public entity or impose an undue burden.” Bircoll, 480 F.3d at 1082 (quoting Tennessee v. Lane, 541 U.S. 509, 531-32 (2004)). Therefore, the “question is whether, given criminal activity and safety concerns, any modification of police procedures is reasonable before the police physically arrest a criminal suspect, secure the scene, and ensure that there is no threat to the public or officer's safety.” Id. at 1085. In Title II cases, the reasonable modification inquiry is highly fact-specific. The Eleventh Circuit notes that “terms like reasonable are relative to the particular circumstances of the case . . . [and] must be decided case-by-case . . . .” Id.

         The Sheriff avers that Friedson has failed to allege facts to support any of the three elements of an ADA discrimination claim. (Doc. 9 at 3-5). However, the complaint sufficiently states ADA and RA claims. First, Friedson is a qualified individual with a disability, as he is deaf. (Doc. 1 ¶ 9). Next, he must allege that he was either excluded from participation in or denied the benefits of a public entity's services, programs, or activities, or was otherwise discriminated against by the public entity. The Sheriff challenges the failure to define the programs, services, or activities Friedson was denied. (Doc. 9 at 3-4). However, because Friedson can still state an ADA claim under the final clause of Title II-that he was subjected to discrimination by a public entity, the police, by reason of his disability-he need not tie his claim directly to the services or programs of the public entity. See Bircoll, 480 F.3d. at 1084-85. Friedson alleges that he “made specific demands in writing” for a “qualified interpreter and/or a deputy trained to deal with hearing impaired individuals, ” but was denied these accommodations. (Id. ¶¶ 29-30; see also id. ¶¶ 37-38). Thus, he has alleged that the discriminatory failure to accommodate was by reason of his disability-his deafness.

         Whether Deputy Wallace's failure to obtain an interpreter or other accommodation for Friedson was reasonable under the circumstances cannot be determined on a motion to dismiss; such an inquiry is more appropriate for the summary judgment stage of this case. Thus, viewing the facts in the light most favorable to Friedson, the Court finds that he has sufficiently pled facts stating that he was discriminated against on the basis of his disability.

         While Friedson has substantively stated ADA and RA claims, the Court sua sponte questions the sufficiency of these claims with respect to his damages request. “To prevail on a claim for compensatory damages under either the RA or the ADA, a plaintiff must show that a defendant violated his rights under the statutes and did so with discriminatory intent.”[5]McCullum, 768 F.3d at 1146-47; Liese v. Indian River Cty. Hosp. Dist., 701 F.3d 334, 342 (11th Cir. 2012). A plaintiff may ...


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