Bragdon v. Abbott Case Brief

Why is the case important?

Abbott (Plaintiff) alleged that her dentist, Bragdon (Defendant), violated the ADA when he discriminated against her by refusing to treat her in his office.

Facts of the case

During a visit to her dentist’s office, in order to fill a cavity, Sidney Abbott disclosed that although she did not manifest any obvious symptoms she carried the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). When her dentist, Randon Bragdon, refused to treat her in his office, offering to conduct any necessary work at a hospital for no extra charge other than use of the facilities, Abbott challenged his policy as discriminatory. After both a federal trial and an appeals court ruled in Abbott’s favor, Bragdon appealed and the Supreme Court granted certiorari.

Question

Must the existence or nonexistence of a significant health or safety risk be determined from the standpoint of the person who refuses to provide treatment or accommodation, and must the risk assessment be based on medical or other objective evidence?

Answer

“(Kennedy, J.)Â&nbsp

  • Yes.Â&nbsp
  • The existence or nonexistence of a significant health or safety risk must be determined from the standpoint of the person who refuses to provide treatment or accommodation, and the risk assessment must be based on medical or other objective evidence.Â&nbsp
  • No person is required to participate in or benefit from the services in any place of public accommodation if that person poses a direct threat to the health or safety of others.Â&nbsp
  • Defendant presented no objective evidence to show that treating Plaintiff in a hospital would be safer or more efficient than a well-equipped dental office in preventing the transmission of HIV.Â&nbsp
  • However, this Court is concerned that the court of appeals mistakenly relied on the 1993 CDC Dentistry Guidelines, and the 1991 American Dental Association Policy on HIV.Â&nbsp
  • This evidence is not definitive. As of September 1994, the CDC had identified seven dental workers with possible occupational transmission of HIV.Â&nbsp
  • It is not clear on this record whether this information was available to Defendant.Â&nbsp
  • If not, the seven cases might have provided some support for his position.Â&nbsp
  • The proper course is to give the court of appeals the opportunity to determine whether our analysis of some of the studies cited by the parties would change its conclusion that Defendant presented no objective evidence and no triable issue of fact on the question of risk.Â&nbsp
  • Reversed and remanded.”

    Conclusion

    The Supreme Court of the United States affirmed in part and vacated and remanded in part the appellate court’s judgment. The Court affirmed that part of the judgment that determined that Abbott’s HIV was a disability under the ADA even though her infection had not yet progressed to the symptomatic phase. The Court held that HIV was an impairment from the moment of infection that substantially limited Abbott’s ability to reproduce, which was a major life activity. However, the judgment was vacated and remanded to the appellate court to give that court the opportunity to determine whether the Court’s analysis of some of the medical studies cited by the parties during trial would change the appellate court’s conclusion that Bragdon presented neither objective evidence nor a triable issue of fact on the health risks associated with his treatment of Abbott.

    • Case Brief: 1998
    • Petitioner: Bragdon
    • Respondent: Abbott
    • Decided by: Rehnquist Court

    Citation: 524 US 624 (1998)
    Argued: Mar 30, 1998
    Decided: Jun 25, 1998