Mercer v. Champion
Pursuant to the U.S. Supreme Court's 2006 decision in U.S. v. Georgia, as followed by the 2006 Connecticut Appellate Court case of Mercer v. Strange, as long as a private cause of action against the state for money damages stems from conduct that violates the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. §12101validly abrogates state sovereignty without necessitating a showing of discriminatory animus or ill will. Eugene Mercer, incarcerated for felony murder, brought suit against Department of Correction employees, pro se, alleging violations of Title II, §504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, 29 U.S.C. §701, and his state and federal constitutional rights to equal protection. Mercer alleged that he is afflicted with neurological disorders affecting his balance, coordination and ability to walk and requested modification of Osborn Correctional Institution's rules to allow him daily access to a portable piano keyboard with headphones. The defendants denied his request. The plaintiff alleged entitlement to this "specialized recreational activity" because his disability prevents his participation in sports and activities nondisabled inmates access. The trial court granted the defendants' second motion to strike a substitute complaint adding allegations of differential treatment from other inmates due to disability because reasonable accommodations in recreational activities were granted to other inmates. Mercer appealed. The Appellate Court affirmed the judgment. The trial court erred in striking the Title II claim for money damages for failing to plead facts demonstrating discriminatory animus or ill will relying on the 2001 2nd Circuit decision in Garcia v. S.U.N.Y. Health Sciences Center. After Garcia, U.S. v. Georgia and Mercer v. Strange issued. Because the conduct alleged could constitute a constitutional and ADA violation, the claim validly abrogated state sovereign immunity. However, the error was harmless. The complaint otherwise lacked sufficient factual allegations to satisfy all elements under the ADA and Rehabilitation Act. The plaintiff's request was not a reasonable accommodation for access to programs he cannot participate in because of his disability; its denial was not a denial of a reasonable accommodation to enable meaningful access to such programs. Access was not allegedly blocked by the defendants, but by his disabilities. Additionally, the trial court properly concluded that the federal equal protection claim was legally insufficient for failure to allege supporting facts. The state constitutional claim was inadequately briefed.