Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

VanValkenburg v. Oregon Department of Corrections

United States District Court, D. Oregon, Portland Division

February 8, 2017

DAVID D. VANVALKENBURG, Plaintiff,
v.
OREGON DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          MICHAEL W. MOSMAN Chief United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff David VanValkenburg brought this suit against the Oregon Department of Corrections (“ODOC”), alleging violations of federal and state anti-discrimination laws while he was in custody. Mr. VanValkenburg's state-law claim was tried to a jury, beginning on November 1, 2016. The jury returned a verdict in favor of Mr. VanValkenburg, awarding him $400, 000 in noneconomic damages [183]. On December 5, 2016, ODOC filed post-trial motions for judgment as a matter of law, a new trial, and remittitur [200]. Mr. VanValkenburg responded in opposition [203], and ODOC replied [209]. For the reasons explained below, ODOC'S motions are DENIED.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Mr. VanValkenburg is a hearing-impaired individual who was housed at multiple prisons run by ODOC from 2000 to 2014. In 2014, he brought this case against ODOC based on allegations that it violated state and federal anti-discrimination laws when it failed to provide him with accommodations for his hearing disability that would allow him to meaningfully participate in prison programs and services provided to inmates. Mr. VanValkenburg's claims were grounded in violations of federal and state anti-discrimination laws. He sought injunctive relief, economic, and noneconomic damages. After receiving full briefing on ODOC's Motion for Summary Judgment, this Court dismissed Mr. VanValkenburg's claims for injunctive relief, and his alleged emotional distress damages based on his Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) claim. The Court also narrowed the period of time from which Mr. VanValkenburg could recover damages to instances of discrimination that occurred on or after May 5, 2012, for his federal-law claim and September 23, 2013, for his state-law claim.

         During a telephone oral argument on September 20, 2016, ODOC conceded that Mr. VanValkenburg was a qualified individual with a disability, and that his need for accommodation was obvious. But, ODOC contended that Mr. VanValkenburg's ADA claim was procedurally barred because he failed to exhaust his administrative remedies. As a result, on October 17, 2016, I held a bench-trial on the issue of exhaustion, where I found that he had not exhausted his administrative remedies, and dismissed Mr. VanValkenburg's ADA claim.

         On November 1, 2016, a jury trial commenced on Mr. VanValkenburg's remaining state-law claim for alleged disability discrimination between September 23, 2013, and his release from prison in 2014. The issues for trial were whether the accommodations ODOC provided so that Mr. VanValkenburg could equally participate in its programs and services were reasonable, and whether further accommodations would have posed an undue burden on ODOC. Specifically, Mr. VanValkenburg alleged that he was discriminated against when ODOC (1) failed to provide him with effective communication for five medical appointments, (2) refused to consider his application to work in the prison canteen, (3) failed to provide him with effective communication to participate in the “Road to Success” class, and (4) failed to provide him with equivalent access to the videophone system as hearing inmates had to prison phones. In presenting his case to the jury, Mr. VanValkenburg introduced documentary evidence, testimony from an expert witness, and testimony from a state-wide disability services coordinator. He also testified on his own behalf. ODOC moved for judgment as a matter of law before jury deliberations began. I DENIED ODOC's motion. After a three-day trial, the jury found in favor of Mr. VanValkenburg on these claims and awarded him $400, 000 in noneconomic damages.

         II. ANALYSIS

         Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 50, ODOC has renewed its motion for judgment as a matter of law. In the alternative, ODOC moves for a new trial under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59(a). Finally, ODOC moves for an order of remittitur and/or conditioning the denial of its motion for new trial on a reduction of the jury's damages award to $25, 000 total. Mr. VanValkenburg objects to all three motions.

         A. Motion for Judgment as a Matter of Law

         To succeed in their motion for judgment as a matter of law, the defendants must show that “a reasonable jury would not have a legally sufficient evidentiary basis to find for the party on that issue.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 50(a); see also Fed R. Civ. P. 50(b) (allowing for a renewed motion for judgment as a matter of law after trial). “[I]n entertaining a motion for judgment as a matter of law, the court should review all of the evidence in the record.” Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Prods., Inc., 530 U.S. 133, 150 (2000). The “court must draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the nonmoving party” and “give credence to the evidence favoring the nonmovant.” Id. at 150-51. Judgment as a matter of law is appropriate when “the evidence, construed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party permits only one reasonable conclusion, and that conclusion is contrary to the jury's verdict.” Acosta v. City of Costa Mesa, 718 F.3d 800, 828 (9th Cir. 2013). Additionally, the court must uphold the jury's verdict “if it is supported by substantial evidence, which is evidence adequate to support the jury's conclusion, even if it is also possible to draw a contrary conclusion.” Pavao v. Pagay, 307 F.3d 915, 918 (9th Cir. 2002).

         After reviewing all of the evidence in the record, I have determined that the jury's verdict is supported by substantial evidence in the record. From the outset, it is important to note that ODOC conceded before trial that Mr. VanValkenburg's disability and need for accommodations were obvious. Thus, the questions for the jury were limited to whether ODOC's accommodations were sufficient, and, if not, whether further accommodations posed an undue burden on ODOC. Evidence presented to the jury supports Mr. VanValkenburg's claim that ODOC discriminated against him when it failed to (1) provide him with effective communication during five of his medical appointments, (2) consider him for the canteen position, (3) provide him with effective communication at the Road to Success class, and (4) provide him with equivalent access to the videophone as hearing people had to the prison phones.

         As to the medical appointments, Mr. VanValkenburg's expert witness testified about his difficulty communicating by writing or lip-reading. At trial, ODOC did not dispute that prison medical staff used those methods of communication to communicate with Mr. VanValkenburg during the medical appointments at issue. Mr. VanValkenburg's testimony confirmed these facts and his preference for communicating through qualified sign language interpreters. In addition, Mr. VanValkenburg described the frustration, confusion, and fear that resulted from his inability to speak with and ask questions to his doctors. While ODOC suggested that providing a qualified ASL interpreter at these medical appointments would have posed an undue burden, this evidence was disputed and other evidence suggested that ODOC failed to pursue other accommodations that were available. Accordingly, the jury's finding of discrimination as to Mr. VanValkenburg's medical appointments is supported by the record.

         As to the canteen position, Mr. VanValkenburg introduced evidence of an inmate communication form that responded to his request to apply for an opening in the canteen. On the face of that form, the prison responded that he could not apply for the position because of his disability. Based on that statement and testimony from Ms. Carsner about ODOC's failure to investigate ways to accommodate Mr. VanValkenburg, the jury could find that ODOC discriminated against him. Although ODOC argued that he ultimately received a higher paying position, such evidence would only serve to undermine economic damages, which he did not seek at trial. Indeed, to support his claim for noneconomic damages, Mr. VanValkenburg testified about the mental anguish he experienced by not being allowed to apply for the position.

         As to the Road to Success course, Mr. VanValkenburg testified that he was unable to take the class, which is intended to prepare incarcerated individuals for successful release, because he was not provided with a translator after requesting one at least twice. While ODOC tried to rebut Mr. VanValkenburg's testimony with documents that suggest he agreed to participate in one-on-one meetings with his counselor and parole officer instead of taking the course, Mr. VanValkenburg denied these claims. The jury was entitled to evaluate Mr. VanValkenburg's credibility and believe his testimony. ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.