Duffy v. Riveland
Ensured that deaf and hearing-impaired prisoners would be provided with qualified sign language interpreters and assistive devices.
Criminal Justice Reform – IMPACT LITIGATION
The Duffy v. Riveland case was filed as a class action lawsuit on September 3, 1998 on behalf of deaf and hearing-impaired prisoners in Washington. The class consisted of all inmates in Washington “who are deaf or whose hearing impairment substantially limits a major life activity.” Plaintiff deaf prisoners had been required to defend themselves at prison hearings without a qualified interpreter, had been denied access to basic education, were paged over the P.A. system despite their deafness, and were sometimes unable to communicate with the outside world through adequate access to a TTY phone.
The Duffy case was litigated jointly by Columbia Legal Services and a private law firm. The case was originally filed pro se by Mr. Duffy. Attorney Leonard Feldman and Felix Luna of Heller, Ehrman, White and McAuliffe subsequently represented him. His case was joined with a suit filed by Charles Atkins, a deaf prisoner represented by David Fathi and Jeff Crollard of Columbia Legal Services.
Plaintiffs alleged that the Washington Department of Corrections (DOC) violated their rights under two federal anti-discrimination laws: the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended, 29 U.S.C. § 794; and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. § 12115, et seq. The court certified the proposed plaintiff class and allowed the case to proceed as a class action.
The Duffy case settled in June 1998 when the Washington State Department of Corrections agreed to enter into a Settlement Agreement which ensured that the plaintiff class would be provided with qualified sign language interpreters and assistive devices, such as hearing aids and TTY phones, whenever needed by disabled prisoners in Washington’s prisons. The settlement also provided that deaf and hearing-impaired prisoners must be allowed access to prison programs and services, such as education, medical care, treatment programs, disciplinary hearings and classification reviews, on an equal basis with non-deaf prisoners.
The Duffy settlement was monitored by the federal court for four years, and ultimately resulted in the adoption of a new policy on disabled prisoners by the Washington State DOC. In addition to deaf and hearing-impaired prisoners, the new policy covered prisoners with mobility, vision, or speech impairments, and required that they be given an equal opportunity to participate in, and enjoy the benefits of, any service, programs, or activities offered by Washington state prisons.