“Temporary” Injuries May Constitute “Disabilities” Under the Americans With Disabilities Act, Court Holds

In Hamilton v. Westchester County et al, No. 20-1058-pr, 2021 WL 2671311 (2d Cir. June 30, 2021), a case brought by an inmate and arising under Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (relating to public services, programs, and activities), the Second Circuit held that the term “disability” within the meaning of the ADA (42 U.S.C. § 12102(1)(A)) may include so-called “temporary” impairments.

In this case, plaintiff sustained a knee injury (a torn meniscus) while playing basketball in the jail’s recreational yard, after stepping on crumbled concrete. As a result of alleged difficulties experienced by plaintiff by virtue of his injury, plaintiff filed this lawsuit. The district court dismissed plaintiff’s ADA claim against the County solely on the ground that plaintiff had “not plausibly alleged a qualifying disability under the ADA because temporary disabilities – such as plaintiff’s injuries – do not trigger the protections of the ADA.” (Cleaned up.)

The court summarized the law, including the evolution of the originally-enacted statute (under which the term “disability” had been interpreted narrowly) to the 2008 ADA Amendments Act (which broadened the definition of “disability” and relaxed the temporal requirements for establishing a “disability”).

It then applied the law to the facts:

Here, Hamilton alleges that following his knee injury on August 21, 2018, he suffered excruciating pain while daily navigating the Jail on crutches, climbing over a two-and-a-half-foot step to take showers in a slippery stall without railings, and being subjected to strip searches after family visits without benches or rails to assist him during undressing and dressing.
We do not reach the question of whether Hamilton plausibly alleges a qualifying disability under the ADA. We conclude only that Hamilton’s claim could not be dismissed as a matter of law simply because the injury causing these limitations was temporary. In reaching that conclusion, we join the First, Fourth, and Seventh Circuits in holding that under the expanded definition of “disability” under the ADAAA, which now covers impairments “lasting or expected to last less than six months,” 28 C.F.R. § 35.108(d)(ix), a short-term injury can qualify as an actionable disability under the ADA.5 In other words, a plaintiff’s actual disability claim under the ADA does not fail solely because he failed to “state that his [disability] will be permanent or chronic … [or] indicate the duration or long-term impact of his impairment such that the Court may infer that his injury was not temporary.”

While defendant emphasized that plaintiff’s injury had lasted only nineteen days when he filed his complaint, the court noted that the ADA “does not suggest that there is any duration that is too short” but that the court need not decide whether that argument had merit, since defendant’s argument that plaintiff suffered only a 19-day injury was “disingenuous”:

[T]he complaint alleged that Hamilton sustained a dislocated knee and torn meniscus, he suffered from excruciating pain, his injuries were not properly treated, and he was placed in situations where his injuries were aggravated. These circumstances permit the plausible inference that Hamilton’s injuries were ongoing and likely to last significantly longer than nineteen days.

Based on the district court’s narrow basis for dismissing plaintiff’s ADA claim – the temporary nature of plaintiff’s injury – the court did not reach other aspects of plaintiff’s ADA claim, nor did it reach defendant’s argument that, aside from the issue of duration, plaintiff failed to plausibly plead a qualifying disability.

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