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Disabled rights advocates won an important ruling last week when a federal judge rebuffed arguments that a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision overturned a key section of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Despite a high court ruling that bars suits for damages from being brought against state employers, federal Judge Vaughn Walker of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California ruled that a prisoner who alleges he was not properly accommodated at California’s Salinas Valley State Prison may pursue his claims. In Board of Trustees of the University of Alabama v. Garrett, 121 S. Ct. 955 (2001), the Supreme Court held that Title I of the ADA, which deals with employment, was not a valid exercise of Congress’ powers under the 14th Amendment. Although the Supreme Court specified that it was making no ruling on Title II of the ADA, which governs government services, California argued that the Garrett precedent should govern Title II as well. In Edwards v. California Department of Corrections, 00-0813, the state urged Walker to make that leap, but he declined. Instead, Walker ruled that even if Garrett casts doubt on the validity of Title II, controlling precedent remains in the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals until that court says differently. “ Garrett was a close case,” Walker wrote of the 5-4 decision. “The 9th Circuit might well decide that the findings made by Congress support the passage of Title II. The court concludes that this close call is best made by the court of appeals.” The case was brought by James Edwards, who is incarcerated. Edwards is an amputee, and he argues that despite repeated complaints that his prosthetic leg was ill-fitting and prone to fall off, prison officials ignored him. Edwards, serving a life sentence, told officials that the disconnecting prosthesis caused him to fall, and made repeated requests that he be given a new one or that it be fixed. He later protested his transfer to a cell on an upper tier of the prison, which caused him to walk up and down stairs. Those entreaties also fell on deaf ears. In Dec. 1999, the leg fell off and Edwards crashed down the stairs, causing neck and back injuries that have kept him in a wheelchair since. The state and Edwards’ lawyer recently agreed to have an independent medical diagnosis done, but the results have not been released. Edwards’ lawyer, San Francisco sole practitioner Michael Sorgen, said Walker’s was the first California decision to deal with the Title II issue after Garrett. “I think the judge made the right decision,” he said. An attorney with the state declined to comment on the case. Walker joins one other judge in the 9th Circuit holding that Title II remains the law of the land despite Garrett. A judge in New Jersey recently ruled otherwise. Furthermore, Walker denied a state motion that would have limited punitive damages.

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