United States District Court, W.D. Arkansas, Harrison Division
OPINION AND ORDER
TIMOTHY L. BROOKS, District Judge.
Currently before the Court is the Report and Recommendation ("R & R") (Doc. 162) of the Honorable James R. Marschewski, United States Magistrate for the Western District of Arkansas, filed in this case on July 11, 2014. Judge Marschewski held an evidentiary hearing in this case on April 22-23, 2014, in order to determine which, if any, issues in this case were triable to a jury. Thirteen witnesses were called during the hearing, including Plaintiff David Stebbins and Defendant Sheriff Danny Hickman. Following the submission of the R & R by the Magistrate, Mr. Stebbins filed 40 pages of objections on July 25, 2014 (Doc. 165). The Court has reviewed the entire record in this case de novo, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1), including the Complaint, the Amended Complaint, the Answer, the R & R, and Mr. Stebbins' objections.
Mr. Stebbins generally contends that Judge Marschewski made and relied upon certain credibility determinations concerning witnesses who testified at the two-day evidentiary hearing. (Doc. 165, pp. 4-5). Although no written transcript of the hearing was created, the Court was provided with an audio recording of the proceedings, which the Court reviewed for purposes of making independent determinations as to the evidence presented. Accord Taylor v. Farrier, 910 F.2d 518, 521 (8th Cir. 1990) (finding that de novo review of a magistrate's evidentiary hearing requires district court to read full transcript or other verbatim record of proceedings).
While the Eighth Circuit has approved the use of a pretrial evidentiary hearing to assist in a court's preliminary review of a pro se inmate's 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claims, the Court of Appeals has "stressed that such a hearing must be consistent with the plaintiff's right to a jury trial." Hobbs v. Lockhart, 46 F.3d 864, 868 (8th Cir. 1995). "Even if both sides present evidence, so that the procedure resembles a summary judgment motion with live evidence, the standard remains the same-whether the evidence presents a sufficient disagreement to require submission to a jury or whether it is so one-sided that one party must prevail as a matter of law.'" Johnson v. Bi-State Justice Ctr., 12 F.3d 133, 135 (8th Cir. 1993) (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 251-52 (1986)). "In either case, the court must apply the proper standard of proof, avoid credibility determinations, believe the inmate's evidence, and draw all justifiable inferences in the inmate's favor." Id. (citing Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255).
Despite resolving all factual disputes in Mr. Stebbins' favor, the Court finds after consideration of the written record and the recording of the evidentiary hearing that Mr. Stebbins' objections offer neither law nor fact requiring deviation from the Magistrate's recommendations. Accordingly, the R & R (Doc. 162) will be ADOPTED. Below, the Court addresses each of Mr. Stebbins' specific objections to the R & R and explains why his claims fail as a matter of law.
I. OBJECTION ONE: MAGISTRATE'S BIAS
Mr. Stebbins' first objection to the R & R is that Judge Marschewski "has repeatedly demonstrated that he hates Petitioner's guts and wants Petitioner out of his hair." (Doc. 165, p. 2). Mr. Stebbins accuses the Magistrate of "repeatedly tak[ing] forever to rule on simple motions... mak[ing] up defenses... that the opposing parties never raised... completely ignor[ing]... various legal arguments that Plaintiff cites to support his claims... [and] [a]t the evidence hearing, he would repeatedly hold Plaintiff to blatant double standards." Id. at p. 2.
Having reviewed the complete record in this case, including the recording of the evidentiary hearing, the Court finds Mr. Stebbins' objection as to the Magistrate's bias to be without merit. Accordingly, the Court will turn to Mr. Stebbins' substantive objections
II. OBJECTION TWO: DISMISSAL OF AMERICANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT ("ADA") CLAIMS
The Magistrate recommends that Mr. Stebbins' ADA-related claims be dismissed with prejudice. It appears from the face of the Complaint that Mr. Stebbins believes certain jail personnel knew he had Asperger Syndrome, a developmental disorder, but "failed to accommodate it." (Doc. 1, p. 2). He sets forth numerous examples of alleged abuse and harassment by jail guards, surmising that most, if not all of these anecdotes, illustrate illegal discrimination or retaliation against him due to his disability. In one example, (Doc. 1, p. 16, "Example #409"), Mr. Stebbins recounts being booked into the Boone County Detention Center ("BCDC") and informing the staff about his Asperger Syndrome at that time. He suggests that when he told the staff about his condition, he was then "entitle[d] to reasonable accommodations." Id. He goes on to explain that his particular manifestation of Asperger Syndrome makes him "tactless" and given to rule-breaking behavior. He states, however, that "but for the disability, " he would not break prison rules. Id. He concludes by suggesting that jail personnel should have accommodated his disability by "being patient and understanding, " "not punishing him for breaking a rule, " and giving him "a good bit of leeway." Id.
As an initial matter, the Court observes that the Complaint's description of the nature of Mr. Stebbins' particular disability and the ADA claims related thereto are confusing and unclear. It appears to the Court, therefore, that at least one of the purposes of the two-day evidentiary hearing was to enable the Magistrate to parse through these dozens of claims and determine which set forth a prima facie case for disability discrimination, and which did not.
The Court's own review of the Complaint (Doc.1) indicates that while Mr. Stebbins was incarcerated for a 45-day period at the BCDC, he was subjected to treatment he characterizes as "harassment" or "punishment" at the hands of jail personnel due to his disability. In his Amended Complaint (Doc. 6), he characterizes some incidents as "terroristic threats." See Doc. 6, p. 1. The Court will not undertake an exhaustive recounting of each of these incidents but observes generally that not every physical or mental condition qualifies for protection pursuant to the ADA.
The ADA's enabling statute at 42 U.S.C. § 12132 provides that "no qualified individual with a disability shall, by reason of such disability, be excluded from participation in or be denied the benefits of the services, programs, or activities of a public entity, or be subjected to discrimination by any such entity." According to the Supreme Court's decision in Pennsylvania Dept. of Corrections v. Yeskey, 524 U.S. 206, 213 (1998), the ADA applies to services and programs provided to inmates at correctional facilities. Therefore, "[t]o state a prima facie claim under the ADA, a plaintiff must show: 1) he is a person with a disability as defined by statute; 2) he is otherwise qualified for the benefit in question; and 3) he was excluded from the benefit due to discrimination based upon disability." Randolph v. Rogers, 170 F.3d 850, 858 (8th Cir. 1999). "Defendants may demonstrate as an affirmative defense that a requested accommodation would constitute an undue burden." Gorman v. Bartch, 152 F.3d 907, 911 (8th Cir. 1998).
First, it is unclear to the Court whether Mr. Stebbins' Asperger Syndrome constitutes a disability under the ADA. The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke defines Asperger Syndrome as an autism spectrum disorder characterized by repetitive routines or rituals, peculiarities in speech and language, socially and emotionally inappropriate behavior and the inability to interact successfully with peers, problems with non-verbal ...