On November 21, 2017, Relman, Dane & Colfax filed a federal lawsuit against the Virginia Department of Corrections ("VDOC") for its alleged discrimination against Douglas Christy, a blind man who is currently incarcerated at the Deerfield Correctional Center in Capron, Virginia. Although Deerfield is supposed to be a specialized facility for prisoners with disabilities or specialized medical needs, the lawsuit alleges that VDOC has repeatedly failed to ensure that the programs and services at Deerfield are accessible to inmates with visual impairments, like Mr. Christy. The Complaint alleges that VDOC's failures to provide accessible services and to accommodate Mr. Christy violate the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.
As described in the complaint, Mr. Christy has been excluded from virtually every educational and vocational program at Deerfield because VDOC has refused to make any modifications to its programs that would allow a person with visual impairments to participate. As a result of being excluded from these programs, Mr. Christy has been prevented from earning "good time credit" that would effectively reduce the length of his sentence.
The lawsuit also alleges that VDOC has refused Mr. Christy's repeated requests for a mobility aid, for example a white cane, that would allow Mr. Christy to navigate the prison with the same degree of independence as sighted persons. As a result, he has missed important announcements and other information concerning prison rules, programs, and safety protocols. In addition, basic tasks, like accessing the restroom, attending appointments, or walking to the cafeteria for meals, are made difficult for Mr. Christy because VDOC refuses to comply with its obligations under federal disability rights laws. Finally, because VDOC has failed to take simple, common-sense steps to communicate effectively with Mr. Christy, such as reading materials to him or providing recorded versions of important documents, Mr. Christy often learns of Deerfield rules only after having been cited for violating them.
The case is Christy v. Commonwealth of Virginia, acting through the Virginia Department of Corrections, No. 3:17-cv-778, in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia. The Firm's litigation team is led by Michael Allen and Jia Cobb. Attorney Steven Rosenfield is assisting the Firm as co-counsel.