Southeastern Community College v. Davis

PETITIONER: Southeastern Community College
RESPONDENT: Frances Davis
LOCATION: Southeastern Community College

DOCKET NO.: 78-711
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1975-1981)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit

CITATION: 442 US 397 (1979)
ARGUED: Apr 23, 1979
DECIDED: Jun 11, 1979

Eugene Gressman - argued the cause for the petitioners
Marc P. Charmatz - argued the cause for the respondent

Facts of the case

Frances Davis sought admission to the nursing program at Southeastern Community College, which received federal funds. Davis also suffered from a hearing disability, and was unable to understand speech without lip-reading. Davis' application was denied. She asked for reconsideration, and her application was again denied. Davis filed suit in United States District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina, which ruled against her. The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit overturned that decision.


Did Southeastern Community College violate Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 in denying Davis admission to its nursing program?

Media for Southeastern Community College v. Davis

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - April 23, 1979 in Southeastern Community College v. Davis

Warren E. Burger:

We'll hear arguments first this morning in Number 711, Southeastern Community College against Davis.

Mr. Gressman, you may proceed whenever you're ready.

Eugene Gressman:

Thank you.

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

This is a case of first impression as far as this Court is concerned.

It is a case involving the interpretation and application of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which establishes a broad duty on recipients of federal aid and assistance.

Not to discriminate against handicapped persons, against qualified handicapped persons solely because of their handicap.

I think it essential at the outset to note that this is not a case of discrimination against a handicapped person.

This is a case rather of a handicapped person who has been found not qualified to participate in the program or activity to which she sought admission.

The uncontested facts as found by the District Court after an evidentiary hearing, facts and findings which have not been challenged in the lower courts or essentially before this Court established that the respondent, Frances Davis, by concession had a severe hearing handicap which made it impossible for her to communicate with other people other than with the use of a hearing aid and the ability and necessity to read the lips of the person to whom she is talking.

And she must apparently be face to face with the talker.

Warren E. Burger:

Well are you telling us that the hearing aid did not compensate fully or substantially for the handicap?

Eugene Gressman:

That is essentially the finding implicit in the District Court's opinion, yes.

It was a combination though of the hearing handicap -- of I mean the hearing aid plus the necessity to read lips, and even then that was found to be an inadequate compensation for the severity of a hearing handicap.

Now --

Harry A. Blackmun:

Mr. Gressman, she was a licensed practical nurse, was she not for some years?

Eugene Gressman:

That is true.

Apparently about 10 years previously.

Harry A. Blackmun:

And is there anything in the record which indicates that she was unable to perform those duties or that she did so with hazard to the patients?

Eugene Gressman:

There is nothing in the record one way or the other on that.

We do not know for example even whether her hearing handicap was that severe at the time she acquired the LPN license.

Harry A. Blackmun:

Well that brings me to my next question.

Is there anything in the record that protects the public when a licensed registered nurse becomes handicapped as this respondent was after her licensure had been obtained?

Eugene Gressman:

Well, yes.

Under the North Carolina statutes, the state licensing bureau is authorize to revoke any license it has previously granted because of incompetent or inadequate nursing practice under any license, whether it be an LPN license or an RN license.

That is very clearly set forth in the statutes.

That's a -- I would assume that's a fairly universal provision with respect to any licensing activity.

Harry A. Blackmun:

Are they fulfilled in actual practice? Does the record show that?

Eugene Gressman:

You mean if they have lifted licenses --

Harry A. Blackmun:

Say that licenses have been terminated or revoked.