Law School Case Brief
Waller v. City of Danville - 556 F.3d 171 (4th Cir. 2009)
In the context of arrests, courts have recognized two types of Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) claims: (1) wrongful arrest, where police arrest a suspect based on his disability, not for any criminal activity; and (2) reasonable accommodation, where police properly arrest a suspect but fail to reasonably accommodate his disability during the investigation or arrest, causing him to suffer greater injury or indignity than other arrestees. Some courts, however, have held that Title II of the ADA contains an "exigent circumstances" exception that absolves public entities of their duty to provide any reasonable accommodation. Title II of the ADA does not apply to an officer's on-the-street responses to reported disturbances or other similar incidents, whether or not those calls involve subjects with mental disabilities, prior to the officer's securing the scene and ensuring that there is no threat to human life. Requiring officers to consider ADA compliance in such situations would risk public safety.
In May 2002, the decedent, Rennie Edward Hunt, Jr., was shot and killed in his apartment by police officers who were attempting to execute an arrest warrant for Hunt. The incident arose from reports of domestic issues at the apartment and requests for a welfare check of a woman who, apparently, was being held hostage by Hunt. Prior to the shooing, Hunt's sister, Olivia Waller, informed officers that Hunt had a history of mental illness. In April 2003, Waller, personally and as administrator of Hunt's estate, brought an action under 42 U.S.C.S. § 1983 against defendant City of Danville ("City"), its police department, and individual police officers. The suit alleged that defendants violated the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution, as well as the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act. Specifically, Count IV of the complaint alleged that the City had discriminated against Hunt on the basis of his disability by unlawfully arresting him, using excessive force, and failing to properly train officers in dealing with the disabled, and in this case, reasonably accommodating Hunt's mental illness during the incident.
The district court granted the individual officers qualified immunity on the Fourth Amendment claims. In Dec. 2005, the district court granted summary judgment to defendants on all of Waller's claims and dismissed as moot Waller's request for further discovery. Waller appealed the grant of summary judgment.
Did the police department fail to reasonably accommodate Hunt's mental illness, while the Hunt held a woman hostage in his apartment?
The court of appeals determined that, even assuming a duty of reasonable accommodation existed, it was unreasonable to expect the sorts of accommodations that Waller proposed (summoning mental health professionals and family members and administering medication). Instead, any duty of reasonable accommodation that might have existed was satisfied in several ways. First, officers spoke with their supervisors and with persons close to the situation, who confirmed that Hunt had a history of mental illness. Officers also called in a hostage negotiator. Nothing in the record suggested that the negotiator acted toward Hunt in a manner that escalated tensions. Rather, the negotiator considered all plausible options, attempted to speak with Hunt, and tried to verify the hostage's safety, and police attempted to calm the situation by waiting at least two hours before entering the apartment. Waller had not indicated what the officers reasonably might have been expected to do that they in fact did not do.
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