Pennsylvania Department of Corrections v. Yeskey

PETITIONER: Pennsylvania Department of Corrections
RESPONDENT: Yeskey
LOCATION: United States Department of State

DOCKET NO.: 97-634
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-2005)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit

CITATION: 524 US 206 (1998)
ARGUED: Apr 28, 1998
DECIDED: Jun 15, 1998

ADVOCATES:
Donald Specter - Argued the cause for the respondent
Irving L. Gornstein - On behalf of the United States, as amicus curiae, supporting the respondent
Paul A. Tufano - Argued the cause for the petitioners

Facts of the case

After being sentenced to 18 to 36 months in prison, Ronald Yeskey was recommended as a candidate for a Motivational Boot Camp for first-time offenders. Successful completion of the Boot Camp could have resulted in Yeskey's early parole after just six months. When the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections discovered Yeskey's medical history of hypertension, he was denied admission to the Boot Camp. Yeskey challenged the refusal as discriminatory. On appeal from a reversal of a district court's dismissal of the claim, the Supreme Court granted certiorari.

Question

Did the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections' refusal to allow a prison inmate to participate in a motivational boot camp, because of the inmate's history of hypertension, violate Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) prohibiting disability-based discrimination against qualified individuals?

Media for Pennsylvania Department of Corrections v. Yeskey

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - April 28, 1998 in Pennsylvania Department of Corrections v. Yeskey

William H. Rehnquist:

We'll hear argument now in Number 97-634, Pennsylvania Department of Corrections v. Yeskey, Ronald Yeskey.

Mr. Tufano.

Paul A. Tufano:

Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court:

Applying the Americans With Disabilities Act to State prisoners goes against the intent of Congress and violates the Constitution.

It also allows Congress to alter the Federal-State balance of power without first giving States notice and then opportunity to be heard, and it ignores this Court's clear mandate that State prison administrators who have difficult and dangerous jobs be given great deference.

William H. Rehnquist:

Well, Mr.--

--Mr. Tufano, did you make your constitutional argument in the courts below?

Paul A. Tufano:

Your Honor, we did make constitutional arguments in that we have always argued in this case as a matter of statutory construction, federalism issues, and the issue of the clear statement rule, and as a matter of statutory construction we believe that the Court is to be guided by possible serious and grave constitutional questions which could arise from an interpretation of the Americans With Disabilities Act as applying to prisoners.

William H. Rehnquist:

Did you make that argument below, that the statute should be construed a particular way because to construe it another way would get into constitutional difficulties?

Paul A. Tufano:

We did not, Your Honor.

We argued below, as we have always, the issues of federalism and the same arguments that we've raised below regarding federalism go to the arguments which we have made as a matter of statutory construction regarding the Fourteenth Amendment and the Commerce Clause as well.

Sandra Day O'Connor:

Mr. Tufano, the language of the statute says that public entity means any State or local government, any department, agency, district or other instrumentality of a State or States or local government.

That's very broad language, is it not?

Paul A. Tufano:

Yes, it is, Your Honor.

Sandra Day O'Connor:

Now, what about the application of the ADA... disabilities act... to employees of prisons?

Does it apply there?

Paul A. Tufano:

Yes, it does, Your Honor.

Sandra Day O'Connor:

How about to visitors at prisons?

Paul A. Tufano:

We would take the position that it does apply to visitors, Your Honor.

Sandra Day O'Connor:

Well then, what, in the language that I read, gets you off the hook for prisoners?

Paul A. Tufano:

We don't dispute the fact that the Department of Corrections is a public entity within the meaning of the ADA and in title II, but there is a difference between the Department of Corrections being considered a public entity and whether a prison is a public entity or a program, activity, or service.

When the Department of Corrections wears its--

Sandra Day O'Connor:

Well, a prison might not itself be a program, but it might have within the prison context a program or activity.

In this very case it's alleged that the particular program, the boot camp, is a sort of program or activity of the prison.

Paul A. Tufano:

--We believe, Your Honor, that program, activity, and service have different meanings in the context of a prison, that it is not the... it was not the intent of Congress to cover something like prisoners, that prisoners are not part of the public, and that--

Sandra Day O'Connor:

I can understand an argument that in complying with the statute and the regulations, that the prison only has to make reasonable modifications based on the circumstances.

Now, surely the circumstance that it's a prison and there are great security concerns would affect that determination, would it not?

Paul A. Tufano:

--It would affect it, Your Honor, but again, you have to look at the fact that Congress' findings in enacting the ADA talked about employment, housing, voting, medical services, and it talked about access to public services, and it talked about people having... being able to live independently, and they talked about living in a free society, and the fact that they based their findings in large part on the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights Report of 1983, which they lifted the conclusions almost verbatim, except for one, on involuntary sterilization, and they chose a couple of more which were not in the conclusions--

Ruth Bader Ginsburg:

Mr. Tufano, which Civil Rights Act did you say?

Paul A. Tufano:

--The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights Report of 1983, Your Honor.