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 Article of Interest - Court Cases

Justices to consider state agencies' immunity from ADA lawsuits

by Gina Holland, Associated Press, November 18, 2002

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The Supreme Court agreed Monday to consider more limits on lawsuits by the disabled, this time involving a state medical board's refusal to license a mentally ill doctor.


Justices will decide whether agencies, like the California Medical Board, have constitutional protection from lawsuits under a federal disability law.


The high court heard four cases involving the landmark Americans with Disabilities Act in its last term, and all four rulings went against the disabled. The 1990 law forbids discrimination against the disabled.


Dr. Michael J. Hason sued after he was turned down for a medical license because he suffers from depression. He argued that the licensing board should have accommodated his disability by offering him a probationary license that required him to get psychotherapy or other help.


An appeals court said Hason could sue the medical board, but the Supreme Court may stop the suit and prevent others like it. In recent years the court has repeatedly narrowed the scope of the landmark disability-rights law. In early 2001, the court ruled that state workers cannot use the law to win damages for on-the-job discrimination. Justices said the law does not trump states' constitutional immunity against being sued for damages in federal courts.


Lawyers for the California board said that the 2001 decision should protect it from Hason's lawsuit. They also argued that a license was not a "service, program or activity" that the ADA requires governments to offer the disabled.


Joel A. Davis, a deputy attorney general in California, said states have a right to determine qualified doctors without interference from a federal law.


Hason claims he was treated differently not only because of his illness, but also because he was from New York and new to California.


A psychiatrist told the board that Hason should be allowed to practice medicine and that he was not a danger to patients. The case is Medical Board of California v. Hason, 02-479.


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