THOMPSON, Circuit Judge.
Americans are reputedly a litigious bunch, and Emory Snell, an inmate at MCI-Concord in Massachusetts, has greatly aided in keeping the federal and state judiciaries busy. In this lawsuit, one of at least 170 he has filed challenging his conviction and his prison conditions, Snell's legal focus is on a first-floor Lexis Nexis terminal and typewriter (collectively "the first-floor Terminal" or "the Terminal") where he spent two plus years conducting legal research and cranking out legal documents.
In order to understand the legal issues addressed in our decision, we find it necessary to provide the reader with a detailed background of events which triggered this appeal. Therefore, we ask the reader's patience as we soldier through the facts.
When a party appeals from a district court's grant of summary judgment, we describe the facts in the light most favorable to the non-moving party (here, Snell), so far, at least, as a reasonable review of the record obliges.
The Accommodation Process and Two-Tiered Library at MCI-Concord
After a jury convicted Snell of the first-degree murder of his wife in 1995, he began serving a life without parole sentence in the Massachusetts prison system, eventually landing at the facility known as MCI-Concord in 2010.
During the time period relevant to this appeal, incarcerated persons like Snell had a couple of avenues to attain relief. First, inmates could seek reasonable accommodations from prison officials if they had
Second, inmates could also seek a "medical restriction" from a medical professional. For instance, if a prison physician advised an inmate not to climb stairs because such movement would be harmful to the person's health, the inmate would have a "no-stairs" medical restriction. A medical restriction traditionally lasted for a maximum of one year, after which a physician would have to renew it. But prison officials did accord indefinite restrictions in some instances for individuals diagnosed with long-term disabilities. A medical restriction, though, did not automatically translate into an accommodation.
MCI-Concord followed prison regulations promulgated by the Department of Correction when deciding whether to grant a reasonable accommodation to an inmate, and Snell does not contend MCI-Concord ignored them. Inmates could request accommodations by: (1) asking any DOC staff member; (2) filling out a written accommodation request; or (3) asking medical staff for a restriction that the DOC defendants could translate into an accommodation.
For requests related to medical needs, such as not climbing stairs, the ADA coordinator almost always consulted with medical staff before providing or denying the accommodation in writing. While the DOC defendants ordinarily deferred to a medical professional's judgment about what inmates needed, there were limits built into the regulations. Before implementing a requested accommodation, the DOC defendants, ever mindful of their overarching responsibility to maintain order and security within the prison confines, weighed risks including ensuring accommodations did not appear to give unfair preferential treatment to any particular inmate.
The accommodation process mattered to Snell because of the prison layout. MCI-Concord has two libraries: the general library on the first floor, and, as mentioned,
An Inmate's Litigious Medical History
Soon after arriving at MCI-Concord, Snell's persistent health problems caused him to complain about having to climb stairs to get to various areas within the prison, including the law library. He sought (but did not get) a reasonable accommodation from prison officials to use the first-floor Terminal.
Of import here, Snell maintains DOC defendants, specifically MCI-Concord's ADA coordinator, did in fact grant him a reasonable accommodation to use the first-floor Terminal at some point prior to July 2013 because of his problems climbing stairs. However, Snell has never produced any documentation to verify that he ever had such an accommodation.
Stair mobility issues aside, Snell had other troubles. Various maladies, aches, and pains brought Snell to Dr. Ruze, his prison physician, up to fifteen times a year. By her thinking, Snell had obesity, a condition which she deemed a primary cause of his degenerative joint disease and likely a contributor to his hypertension and respiratory problems including sleep apnea. In Dr. Ruze's medical opinion, one with which Snell emphatically disagreed, Snell's degenerative
No matter the disagreement over stair ambulation, Dr. Ruze and other medical personnel at MCI-Concord did not ignore Snell's medical needs; far from it. From 2010 to 2017, Snell, among other medical treatments, had x-rays of his knees and was referred to specialists for his orthopedic problems. By way of medical aids, prison medical personnel provided Snell with knee sleeves, anti-embolism stockings, back braces, medication for leg swelling, and the aforementioned cane. He was also afforded bottom bunk, in addition to bottom tier, restrictions, and given light work status. Despite all of the medical attention Snell received in those seven years, no medical or correctional personnel ever deemed a no-stairs restriction appropriate.
It was only in late 2018, about one year after Dr. Ruze had departed her MCI-Concord prison job, that a doctor provided Snell with his long-sought no-stairs restriction. Dr. Churchville — Dr. Ruze's replacement — examined Snell twice in early October, and found him, at that time, walking slowly with visibly deformed knees, relying on his cane for support. Reporting eight-out-of-ten knee pain on November 7, 2018, Snell again requested a no-stairs restriction. On November 8, 2018, Dr. Churchville acceded, reasoning that Snell "was having more pain in his knee, [and] that stair climbing would aggravate that" pain. That same day prison officials transferred Snell to MCI-Shirley, a medium-security and accessible facility where he could readily get to the law library and more easily avail himself of other prison programs. Snell remained there as of oral argument.
Inching His Way to This Litigation
We backtrack further to explain how Snell got to our court. From July 2013 to October 2015, Snell used the first-floor Terminal near daily despite not having a no-stairs restriction or documented proof of an appropriate accommodation. Apparently, Snell told the librarian, who started working at MCI-Concord in September 2013,
Then, on October 9, 2015, Snell, apparently disturbed by some new issue concerning the amount of time he was being allowed to spend at the Terminal, submitted a new grievance seeking restoration of meaningful access to research time.
Ten days later, the DOC defendants denied Snell's grievance regarding extra time, but they also noted that they were "unaware of an ADA [accommodation] granted to [Snell]," as Snell had described it, and added they "would be happy to review [Snell's] situation if [Snell] can provide the necessary documentation" to use the first-floor Terminal. Snell apparently did not. On October 29, 2015, the DOC defendants formally ended Snell's access to the Terminal. Thereafter, they denied Snell's string of grievances and appeals through the end of 2015 and into 2016.
Traipsing Away from the Prison Administrative Process
With his access to the Terminal blocked by administrative determinations, Snell turned outward for assistance. On June 22, 2016, Prison Legal Services, a not-for-profit Massachusetts organization, got involved, sending the DOC defendants a letter demanding they resume Snell's reasonable accommodation (the Terminal) given his disability and what they believed to be an indefinite no-stairs medical restriction from 1998. The DOC defendants promptly replied, reiterating the absence of such a restriction or the presence of any other indicator in Snell's medical record warranting such an accommodation. They further expressed they had consulted with Dr. Ruze who reported Snell should not have difficulty navigating stairs, especially with the use of a cane.
Also on June 23, Dr. Ruze entered in Snell's medical file what she characterized as an "administration note" to update and to renew Snell's expiring medical restrictions (e.g., bottom tier, bottom bunk, light work status). She did this even though she did not examine him on that day. In her note, Dr. Ruze observed, based on her many interactions with Snell, that he was "ambulating well with a cane, could negotiate stairs, needs to move slowly, and has
On August 9, 2016, Snell filed a pro se complaint challenging, at its core, the termination of his access to the first-floor Terminal. The complaint was later amended after court-appointed counsel entered the scene.
To repeat, Snell's legal fight clearly centers around his loss of access to the first-floor Terminal, and he advances several arguments here as to why the district court erred by granting summary judgment to the defendants. First, Snell contends that contrary to the district court's preliminary determination, his appeals for injunctive and declaratory relief are not moot. Second, Snell argues the DOC defendants and Dr. Ruze retaliated against him in violation of Title V of the ADA (42 U.S.C. § 12203) essentially because of his proclivity for filing lawsuits and grievances. Third, Snell alleges that precluding him from using the Terminal was cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment because the defendants, knowing stair climbing aggravated Snell's maladies, made him do it anyway if he wished to exercise his right to use the law library. Fourth, Snell claims the DOC defendants discriminated against him on account of his disability by withholding a reasonable accommodation in violation of Title II of the ADA (42 U.S.C. § 12132), the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (29 U.S.C. § 794), and art. 114 of the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights (he does not appeal summary judgment against Dr. Ruze on this count).
The DOC defendants say the district court got it just right and appropriately denied Snell the relief he sought. They argue here, as they did below, that they never discriminated or retaliated against Snell — anything but. Rather, they "reasonably relied upon the [then extant] clinical judgment of Dr. Ruze" and others in determining Snell could make his way to the second-floor law library. Dr. Ruze, for her part, says she provided medically adequate care, was never indifferent to Snell's needs, and never retaliated against him. We will first take up Snell's mootness claims before addressing each of Snell's remaining challenges.
A. Whether Snell's Appeals Matter Anymore (Mootness)
Delays within the legal system sometimes result in the resolution of a plaintiff's injuries without courts having to be significantly involved. In such circumstances, we say the plaintiff's arguments are moot.
Because mootness touches upon jurisdictional issues (i.e., whether we can even hear the merits), we address it before his substantive claims,
An inmate generally loses the right to challenge "prison conditions or policies" at a particular facility when he transfers or leaves that prison because his complaints would no longer have any substantial impact on his life.
However, there is a way for inmates to keep their declaratory and injunctive relief claims alive after they leave the prison in which the alleged harm occurred. If an inmate can show the challenged policies are "capable of repetition, yet evading review," then he can escape mootness.
We assume Snell's circumstances satisfy the first prong and proceed to the second. In support thereof, Snell points to systemic imperfections in the prison medical review process for updating and renewing medical restrictions, and to his many battles with DOC defendants in pursuit of a no-stairs restriction.
The problem with Snell's argument is that he never references evidence of problems so severe as would amount to a systemically dysfunctional review scheme.
As for Dr. Ruze, she no longer works as a contractor for the Massachusetts Department of Correction and therefore has no further medical responsibility for Snell; injunctive and declaratory relief aimed at her would be of no avail.
Accordingly, we affirm the district court's decision to declare moot the claims for injunctive and declaratory relief and turn now to Snell's remaining claims for damages against the defendants, claims which survive because his transfer out of MCI-Concord does not erase any injury he may have suffered while he was there.
B. Standard of Review for Summary Judgment Claims
Appellants who lose at summary judgment get the benefit of what we call de novo review, which is where we examine the entire record afresh to determine whether the law required the moving party — here the defendants — to win.
C. Retaliation on Account of Litigation
Snell leans on Title V of the ADA by alleging claims which boil down to this: the DOC defendants and Dr. Ruze retaliatorily conspired to keep Snell from the first-floor Terminal because, he believes, his litigious character irked them.
By October of 2015, Snell had lodged a number of administrative complaints about stair climbing, and he had turned to state court litigation at least once.
As for Dr. Ruze, Snell claims her participation in the retaliatory conspiracy occurred when she wrote the June 23, 2016 administrative note wherein she reiterated her opinion that Snell had no medical reason to stay on flat ground. Dr. Ruze did so, says Snell, without medically reevaluating him, and on the same day prison officials consulted her after receiving the Prison Legal Services' demand letter asserting Snell's ADA rights. We first address the allegations against Dr. Ruze before moving on to the DOC defendants.
i. Dr. Ruze
For the first prong of the test — did Snell engage in protected ADA conduct — we conclude that Snell's numerous grievances concerning losing access to the first-floor Terminal can reasonably be viewed as protected conduct.
However, Snell can make it no further. Turning to the second step — whether Dr. Ruze subjected Snell to any adverse action — our scour of the record finds no evidence demonstrating she did. The June 23, 2016 note Snell points to as proof of an adverse action makes no mention whatsoever of the Terminal; it merely repeats Dr. Ruze's longstanding medical opinion concerning Snell's ability to climb stairs. In fact, the myriad administrative complaints concerning Snell's first-floor woes (both before and after June 23, 2016) never mention Dr. Ruze as acting adversely towards him. Rather, they focused almost solely on Snell's understanding of what his 1998 "indefinite" bottom tier restriction afforded him. Nor has Snell produced evidence of any specific grievances he may have filed which voiced dissatisfaction with Dr. Ruze's medical treatment (even as he insists he must have submitted them) or which complained to Dr. Ruze about accessing the Terminal. And although (as discussed more below) the DOC defendants' decision to shut off Snell's first-floor Terminal might reasonably be considered adverse vis-à-vis the responsible decision makers, Snell's opening brief concedes Dr. Ruze had no say in that decision. Her job was to provide medical restrictions and recommendations based on her best medical judgment, not to adjudicate what should be considered a reasonable accommodation, a determination which the DOC defendants could have provided to Snell with or without Dr. Ruze's medical input. As such, Snell has not, as our case law requires, advanced evidence to create a triable issue of fact regarding whether Dr. Ruze's note was an adverse action which would "dissuade a reasonable person from making or supporting a charge of discrimination."
Even if Snell managed to get past prong two, his argument falters at step three because there is no evidence Snell's grievances caused Dr. Ruze to act adversely against Snell. Snell counters that there is indeed such evidence of causation, and he points to the timing of Dr. Ruze's June 23 note as such proof. That Dr. Ruze provided
But not so fast. Snell also argues causation is established by the combination of two events on June 23, 2016, before Dr. Ruze filed the administrative note later in the day: (1) Dr. Ruze and the DOC defendants' discussion of Snell's law library usage; and (2) Dr. Ruze's failure to reexamine Snell. No reasonable juror could find either action separately or in concert suspect. Dr. Ruze's administrative note articulated her (and other medical providers') long-held medical opinion that Snell did not require a no-stairs restriction — an opinion clearly untethered to Snell's legal research preferences. As for entry of her note without a same-day examination, the record makes pellucid that Dr. Ruze was exceedingly familiar with Snell, considering the multiple times she treated him in 2016 and the abundance of times she saw him over the preceding years. As mentioned earlier, she opined stairs would improve, not harm, Snell's health and she retained this medical opinion way past the entry of her June 23, 2016 note. When treating Snell in April 2017, she still maintained he could "walk quickly" with or without a cane, that he had 5/5 strength in his lower extremities, and that his health would decline if he stopped walking stairs. The record thus shows, beyond dispute, that Dr. Ruze's consistent medical opinion, not Snell's protected conduct or her discussion with the DOC defendants about that conduct, caused her to pen the June 23, 2016 note.
ii. The DOC Defendants
So we move along to Snell's retaliation claims against the DOC defendants. Reading the facts in the light most favorable to Snell, we will assume he has made out his prima facie case of retaliation.
Snell asserts that the DOC defendants' proffered explanation for shutting down his access to the first-floor Terminal was inconsistent or contradictory with the actual record because: (1) they knew about and sanctioned his use of the Terminal between 2013 and 2015; and (2) they kept him away from those legal resources for reasons other than his lack of a no-stairs restriction.
a. Whether the DOC Defendants Knew about or Sanctioned Snell's Use of the Terminal
Snell points to evidence which he says supports his contention that he had permission to use the Terminal. Snell testified at his deposition that the DOC defendants, specifically the ADA coordinator, granted him a reasonable accommodation to use the first-floor Terminal between July 2013 and October 2015 (though they contest having done so). Remember also that Snell says the DOC defendants knew about his use of the Terminal. If either were true, Snell might well demonstrate the existence of a genuine disputed material fact as to whether the DOC defendants' proffered legitimate explanation for taking away Snell's access — that they only found out he was using the Terminal following the October 9, 2015 grievance — was pretextual.
But the analysis is not so simple. Although our case law recognizes that testimonial evidence can, at times, be sufficient to raise a genuine issue of material fact, we have also repeatedly indicated that conclusory statements without support in the record are not enough to survive summary judgment.
With that framing in mind, we take a deeper record dive to see what contentions
1. Whether the DOC Defendants Granted Snell a Reasonable Accommodation
As mentioned earlier, there is no written documentation of any reasonable accommodation having been granted to Snell, despite the regulations requiring the DOC defendants to keep such paperwork. Moreover, Snell makes no claim that the DOC defendants violated their regulations or lost apt paperwork.
According to the DOC defendants, staff did not grant reasonable accommodations temporarily or orally, even when it was obvious the inmate required one. For example, if an inmate in a wheelchair asked the librarian to use the first-floor Terminal, he could not do so without proof of an accommodation, notwithstanding the self-evident fact that the inmate could not climb stairs. The process to approve an accommodation for an inmate with "obvious physical impairments," a group to which Snell claimed he belonged, did not have to be lengthy. The librarian could call the ADA coordinator who could approve the accommodation without checking on a medical restriction, if the impairment was glaringly discernable. Or, if the inability to stair climb was less conspicuous (such as an inmate using a cane), the ADA coordinator could check quickly with medical staff to see if the inmate had any stair climbing medical restriction. If so, the ADA coordinator would formalize the accommodation by memorializing it in writing. Whatever the scenario, there would always be paperwork.
We note that although Snell says the ADA coordinator granted him permission to use the Terminal, he puts no other meat on the bones such as when or where the conversation occurred or the context in which it arose or was supposedly granted. Without more, we find Snell's statement amounts to a bald, conclusory allegation insufficient to create a genuine issue of material fact as to whether the DOC defendants let him use the Terminal. Thus, the decision to discontinue Snell's improper use of the Terminal cannot reasonably be viewed as evidence of pretext.
2. Whether the DOC Defendants Knew about or Permitted Snell's Terminal Use
Even if Snell had no formal reasonable accommodation, he could demonstrate pretext if he raised a genuine issue of material
Aside from that which we've already rejected, Snell guides us to no other evidence disputing that it was the librarian, not the DOC defendants, who permitted him to use the Terminal without a proper medical restriction in violation of MCI-Concord's rules. The policy preventing the librarian free rein was in place by 2011, and Snell concedes that the librarian "understood that the" Terminal was "designated for handicap-accessible use" only. The librarian, however, admitted that he nonetheless let inmates use the Terminal on a "[f]irst come, first serve" basis, apparently in violation of the DOC defendants' rules. He specifically believed that Snell could use the Terminal not because he checked with the DOC defendants, but because Snell was using the Terminal when the librarian started at MCI-Concord in September 2013 and because Snell showed up nearly every day to use it.
Moreover, nowhere in his opening or his reply brief does Snell describe or point to any evidence that the responsible DOC defendants saw him using the resources "in full view" until they found him there on October 29, 2015. By using the phrase "in full view," perhaps Snell wants us to conclude that the DOC defendants saw or should have seen him at the Terminal in the normal course of the prison day during his two-plus-year stint on the machine. But after thoroughly probing the record here, we have found no evidence to support that contention. And without more information in the record describing, for instance, what daily routine would have brought Snell into the view of the DOC defendants, the inference Snell asks us to draw amounts to speculation. That one prison librarian failed to do his job does not morph the DOC defendants' legitimate rationale into a contradiction evidencing pretext.
Second, as for the August 2015 grievance decrying his typewriter and Lexis deprivation, Snell claims it proves another prison official aside from the librarian (and one somehow involved in administrative processes) became aware of Snell's first-floor Terminal use and did not right then put an end to it.
From the face of the document, we fail to see why we should. In responding to Snell's grievance, the official explained, without embellishment, how alternative staffing had been arranged to provide access to a typewriter (and other items) in the librarian's absence. As for the Lexis disrepair, the prison official wrote: "The issue with the Lexis computer system has been resolved. Be advised that every effort is made to restore the Lexis computer system in the event of malfunction." Other parts of the record make clear the entire system of Lexis terminals — first and second-floor — had been inoperable on the day Snell complained and had to be fixed. Therefore, contrary to what Snell contends, no evidence suggests the official's written resolution of Snell's grievance, standing alone, could be reasonably viewed as a grant of permission for him to use the first-floor Terminal due to his medical condition. Snell's rejoinder thus does not contradict the DOC defendant's repeated official position on his many stair-climbing grievances; they believed Snell, in 2015, could still negotiate the hike and they were not aware he was using the first-floor Terminal.
b. Ulterior Motive Theory
Next, Snell attacks the second half of the DOC defendants' proffered legitimate explanation — that they kept Snell from the first-floor Terminal because he lacked a no-stairs medical restriction that could have qualified him for the accommodation. Specifically, he urges that a reasonable jury could return a retaliation verdict in his favor due to circumstantial evidence proving discriminatory animus.
Aside from Snell's lack of development, we note the decision came almost three years after the deprivation of Snell's access to the Terminal. Additionally, the DOC defendants, just as they had earlier done with Dr. Ruze, followed prison procedures by deferring to Dr. Churchville's updated November 2018 medical opinion that Snell, upon further examination, should no longer climb stairs and should have first-floor housing. That the DOC defendants responded to the updated 2018 medical recommendation by finding Snell an accessible prison without stairs, instead of simply letting him use the Terminal, says nothing about the DOC defendants' motivations for their 2015 ADA response.
D. Climbing the Cruel and Unusual Stairs to the Courthouse (Eighth Amendment)
The district court determined there was no triable issue of material fact that either the DOC defendants or Dr. Ruze subjected Snell to cruel and unusual punishment by withholding a no-stairs restriction and by discontinuing his reliance upon the first-floor Terminal. Snell disagrees, once more alleging the defendants' decisions caused harm to his health.
To succeed with an Eighth Amendment claim related to medical problems, Snell must satisfy two elements against the DOC defendants and Dr. Ruze.
i. Serious Medical Need
For the objective prong, the range of serious medical needs includes those which are either diagnosed by physicians or "`[are] so obvious that even a lay person would easily recognize the necessity for a doctor's attention.'"
Even assuming Snell's various knee, back, and respiratory ailments were objectively serious to a layperson, let alone
Focusing on Dr. Ruze for our objective prong analysis, the record indicates that her decision to withhold the no-stairs restriction scales along with the accepted medical touchstones of the time,
But wait, says Snell, Dr. Churchville and an expert retained by Snell for trial, Dr. Michael G. Kennedy, MD., C.C., F.R.G.S. (C), disagreed with Dr. Ruze, her expert, and the other medical professionals about Snell's proper medical treatment. And, in Snell's telling, the competing expert opinions create, at minimum, a genuine issue of material fact that he suffers from a serious medical need. No disputing Dr. Churchville provided a no-stairs restriction in November 2018, but, remember, this was three years after the DOC defendants stopped Snell's first-floor Terminal use and more than two years after Dr. Ruze's June 23, 2016 note confirming Snell could climb stairs. In addition to Dr. Churchville, Snell's expert, Dr. Kennedy, also thought Snell deserved a no-stairs restriction in October 2015 because he "should, at all cost, [have] avoid[ed] climbing up and down stairs" due to his problematic knees and back. But both events are inconsequential since we have already assumed Snell suffered a serious medical need in 2015. Our task, then, is to scrutinize the record to see if evidence shows Snell received inadequate care during the relevant time frame.
To remind, where medical experts do not contend the care provided fell outside of the bounds of acceptable medical practice, disagreement among the experts over the proper course of care does not help Snell.
ii. Deliberate Indifference
For the sake of completeness though, we'll continue along the tiered levels by assuming there is a genuine issue of material fact regarding the objective prong and by turning to assess the subjective element.
Deliberate indifference appears when defendants had a "sufficiently culpable state of mind" by ignoring (or worsening) the inmate's serious medical need.
a. Dr. Ruze
For the reasons stated above, Dr. Ruze crafted the strategy to handle Snell's ailments based on a reasoned medical decision, which makes it difficult, to say the least, for Snell to show deliberate indifference, even though he contends that had he "had an actual medical need for a no-stairs restriction," it "would support an inference that Dr. Ruze acted with deliberate indifference" by continuing his no-stairs restriction in June 2016 "without examining or consulting" Snell. Dr. Ruze may not have provided Snell with the type of care he desired or (viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to Snell) he needed, but that does not ring of an Eighth Amendment violation.
b. DOC Defendants
As for the DOC defendants, we similarly conclude that the record here yields no genuine issue of material fact which would support a finding of deliberate
Even putting aside their reasoned reliance on the opinions of medical professionals like Dr. Ruze, Snell had walked up and down stairs (even if with a cane in hand and even if with some difficulty)
We thus affirm the grant of summary judgment on the Eighth Amendment claims.
E. Reasonably Accommodating a Love for Litigation
Relying upon the ADA, 42 U.S.C. § 12132, the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, 29 U.S.C. § 794, and art. 114 of the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights,
Title II of the ADA requires public entities, including prisons and their officials,
We start by asking whether the record reflects sufficient evidence to create a genuine issue of material fact that: (1) Snell "is a qualified individual with a disability; (2) ... 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; and (3) ... such exclusion, denial of benefits, or discrimination was by reason of [his] disability."
Viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to Snell, we assume he is a qualified individual with a disability under the ADA given his various back, knee, and respiratory problems.
We thus turn to the third prong (whether the DOC defendants excluded Snell on account of his disability). Unless the evidence shows that the DOC defendants' decisions regarding the reasonable accommodation were "so unreasonable as to demonstrate that they were discriminating against [Snell] because of his disability," we will hesitate to overturn the district court's summary judgment decision.
Even examining the evidence in the light most favorable to Snell, the DOC defendants did not "exclude[ Snell] from participation," 28 C.F.R. § 35.149, in the law library "by reason of his disability," 42 U.S.C. § 12132. In October 2015, Snell did not have a medical restriction justifying his use of the first-floor Terminal. The DOC defendants admitted they would have allowed Snell to access the Terminal had Dr. Ruze, or any other medical provider, written Snell a no-stairs restriction. Until November 2018, no doctor ever felt such a restriction was called for, at which point the DOC defendants transferred Snell to an accessible prison. By the Department of Correction's regulations, the DOC defendants generally deferred to medical personnel on medical questions such as whether Snell could (or should) climb stairs,
Even putting aside the reasonable reliance upon medical advice, the record reflects only that the DOC defendants kept Snell away from the first-floor legal resources because they believed he could get to the second-floor library. Snell may have had an indefinite bottom tier restriction, but even prisoners on the bottom tier would navigate stairs from time to time. Snell himself climbed stairs to and from the law library for years, even while he claimed to have the 1998 indefinite bottom tier restriction exempting him from such an arduous feat. Although a layperson could look at Snell and, given his use of a cane, suspect he might have some difficulty traversing stairs,
The DOC defendants also had interests in "maintaining security and order" within the institution when they determined whether providing the accommodation to Snell would have been reasonable, and we will defer to such rationales.
In the DOC defendants' reasonable interpretation of Snell's medical needs and the institution's security needs, Snell would not significantly risk his health by climbing stairs despite his injuries and maladies, and the prison would suffer less potential institutional unrest if the DOC defendants required Snell to so navigate. Notwithstanding that Snell paints his arguments as regarding a reasonable accommodation, at heart he challenges the DOC defendants' reasonable reliance on his physicians' "reasoned medical judgment," decisions with which Snell disagreed.
For the foregoing reasons, the district court's grant of summary judgment to the defendants on all counts is
The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 similarly provides that "[n]o otherwise qualified individual with a disability ... shall, solely by reason of her or his disability, be excluded from the participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance." 29 U.S.C. § 794(a).
Art. 114 of the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights declares: "No otherwise qualified handicapped individual shall, solely by reason of his handicap, be excluded from the participation in, denied the benefits of, or be subject to discrimination under any program or activity within the commonwealth."
Snell stresses that we must reverse the grant of summary judgment because the district court mistakenly analyzed his Title II ADA reasonable accommodation claim as one requiring him to show the defendants' decisions "were based on any discriminatory animus."