MULLINS v. MILLER et al
ORDER ON QUALIFIED IMMUNITY - Defendants Miller and Nauth therefore are not entitled to qualified immunity. SEE ORDER. Signed by Judge James Patrick Hanlon on 11/13/2023.(AAS)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF INDIANA
DAVID M. MULLINS,
STATE OF INDIANA,
ORDER ON QUALIFIED IMMUNITY
The individual defendants, Mike Miller and David Nauth, argue that
they're entitled to qualified immunity on Mr. Mullins's equal protection claim
"because disability is not a suspect class under the Equal Protection Clause."
Dkt. 112; dkt. 155. Mr. Mullins responds that the equal protection right to be
free from disability discrimination has been clearly established for more than
twenty years. Dkt. 151. Defendants confirmed at the final pretrial conference
that this argument raises an issue of law that does not turn on the facts of this
case, so it's ripe for ruling before trial.
"[Q]ualified immunity shields officials from civil liability so long as their
conduct 'does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights
of which a reasonable person would have known.'" Mullenix v. Luna, 577 U.S.
7, 11 (2015) (quoting Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 232 (2009)). This
"clearly established" standard ensures "that officials can 'reasonably . . .
anticipate when their conduct may give rise to liability for damages.'" Reichle v.
Howards, 566 U.S. 658, 664 (2012) (quoting Anderson v. Creighton, 483 U.S.
635, 646 (1987)). Qualified immunity thus "balances two important interests—
the need to hold public officials accountable when they exercise power
irresponsibly and the need to shield officers from harassment, distraction, and
liability when they perform their duties reasonably." Pearson, 555 U.S. at 231.
"Disabled individuals, like any class, are protected by the Equal
Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment." Stevens v. Ill. Dept. of
Transp., 210 F.3d 732, 737–38 (7th Cir. 2000). So "it is a violation of the
Fourteenth Amendment for the State to discriminate against disabled persons
in an irrational manner or for an illegitimate reason." Id. The Supreme Court
held the next year that "States are not required by the Fourteenth Amendment
to make special accommodations for the disabled, so long as their actions
toward such individuals are rational." Bd. of Tr. of Univ. of Ala. v. Garrett, 531
U.S. 356, 367 (2001). While these cases show the high bar that equal
protection plaintiffs face—since only irrational actions can be a violation—they
clearly establish that it violates the Equal Protection Clause to discriminate
based on disability without a rational purpose. Accord Ostrowski v. Lake
County, 33 F.4th 960, 966 (7th Cir. 2022) (explaining that a disability-based
equal protection challenge to pension-plan offerings "qualifies . . . for rational
While Defendants cite two district court opinions granting qualified
immunity on similar claims, Principe v. Vill. of Melrose Park, No. 20-cv-1545,
2022 WL 488937 at *11 n.27 (N.D. Ill. Feb. 17, 2022); Jaromin v. Town of
Yorktown, No. 1:22-cv-320-JMS-MJD, 2023 WL 6622972 at *24–25 (S.D. Ind.
Oct. 11, 2023), other courts have held the opposite, e.g. Schopmeyer v.
Plainfield Juvenile Corr. Facility, IP 00-1029 C H/F, 2002 WL 31255466 at *10
(S.D. Ind. Sept. 17, 2002) (Hamilton, J.) (holding that the equal protection right
to be free from irrational disability discrimination was clearly established).
Regardless, Seventh Circuit and Supreme Court authority—not district court
precedent—clearly establishes rights, Boyd v. Owen, 482 F.3d 520, 527 (7th
Cir. 2007), and here Stevens and Garrett agree that discrimination based on
disability without a rational purpose violates the Equal Protection Clause.
That's enough to clearly establish the right at issue. See Taylor v. Ways, 999
F.3d 478, 490 (7th Cir. 2021).
Defendants Miller and Nauth therefore are not entitled to qualified
All electronically registered counsel
The Court therefore does not address Mr. Mullins's argument that Defendants Miller
and Nauth waived the qualified immunity defense. Dkt. 151 at 9.
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