CHICAGO (CN) – The 7th Circuit revived the disability discrimination lawsuit of an Illinois man who claims that prison rules prevent wheelchair-bound inmates from participating in outdoor recreation.
Marc Norfleet, who says he is confined to a wheelchair because of a nerve condition, claims that he was kept indoors at Lawrence Correctional Center for seven weeks because prison officials will not let wheelchair-bound inmates participate in outdoor recreation unless nine others who are disabled wish to as well.
The Illinois Department of Corrections says the 43-year-old Norfleet is currently serving 59 years at Pinckneyville Correctional Center for “murder/intent to kill/injure.”
In a federal complaint, Norfleet said that the conditions he suffered constituted cruel and unusual punishment and a violation of the Americans With Disabilities Act.
U.S. District Judge J. Phil Gilbert dismissed the suit, finding that Norfleet failed to state an Eighth Amendment claim and that the prison officials had immunity.
The 7th Circuit partly reversed Monday, noting that “it is an open question whether state officers are immune from suits” under the ADA.
Norfleet’s claims could still proceed under the Rehabilitation Act, the court found.
“Courts are supposed to analyze a litigant’s claims and not just the legal theories that he propounds … especially when he is litigating pro se,” Judge Richard Posner wrote for a three-judge panel.
“The lawsuit is against a state agency – and one that happens to receive federal financial assistance, which brings the agency within the scope of the Rehabilitation Act,” Posner added.
Norfleet’s claims also appear to have merit, the six-page decision states
“The quorum rule seems arbitrary, especially since recreation, including aerobic exercises that cannot be performed in a cell (the plaintiff is in segregation, meaning he’s confined to his one-person cell 23 hours a day), is particularly important to the health of a person confined to a wheelchair,” Posner wrote (parentheses in original).