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SCOTUS Asks: Do Cops Have ADA Duties to Crazed Knife Lady?

By William Peacock, Esq. | Last updated on

This is the weirdest application of the Americans with Disabilities Act I've ever seen. And with the Ninth Circuit's reputation, and the Supreme Court's decision to grant certiorari earlier this week, it may not be long for this world.

The police responded to a call from a social worker who said that his client, Teresa Sheehan, was a schizophrenic who was off her medications and had attacked him with a knife. Police officers responded, and properly entered her room for a welfare check, but she refused to turn over the knife. They left, summoned backup, and then returned without waiting for the backup because they claimed to be worried that she might have other weapons or otherwise be a danger in the interim.

Long story short: they shot her multiple times after a struggle and she somehow survived. After criminal charges against her were dismissed (thanks to a deadlocked jury and a partial acquittal), she sued the City of San Francisco.

Ninth Circuit: ADA Applies to Arrestees, Trial Should Proceed

Back in February, the Ninth Circuit allowed Sheehan's suit to proceed, holding that it may have been unreasonable for the police officers to re-enter her room instead of waiting for backup. The court revived her claims of excessive force, civil rights violations, and most oddly, her ADA claims, reports Courthouse News Service.

The panel ordered the district court, on remand, to determine "whether the officers failed to reasonably accommodate Sheehan's disability when they forced their way back into her room without taking her mental illness into account or employing generally accepted police practices for peaceably resolving a confrontation with a person with mental illness."

It was an issue of first impression for the Ninth Circuit, and should make for an interesting Supreme Court case as well.

SCOTUS Grant With a Breyer Abstention

Yesterday, the Supreme Court granted certiorari in an unelaborated order (as is typical of the Court's orders). However, there was one interesting note: Justice Stephen Breyer took no part in the decision.

Why? It turns out his brother, U.S. District Court Judge Charles Breyer, was the judge who initially dismissed Sheehan's lawsuit, reports the San Francisco Chronicle.

Oral arguments were heard March 23, before the Supreme Court.

Editor's Note, March 23, 2015: This post was first published in November 2014. It has since been updated.

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