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Castle v. Eurofresh, Inc.

United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit

September 24, 2013

William W. CASTLE, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
EUROFRESH, INC., aka Eurofresh Farms; Arizona Department of Corrections, an agency of the State of Arizona; Dora B. Schriro, Warden, former Director, Arizona Department of Corrections; Charles L. Ryan, Director, Arizona Department of Corrections; State of Arizona, Defendants-Appellees.

Argued and Submitted April 11, 2013.

Page 902

Candace Carroll and certified law students Sara Belvill (argued), Austin Berger, Allison Capozzoli, and Lauren Presser, University of San Diego Legal Clinics, San Diego, CA, for Plaintiff-Appellant.

Jeffrey Willis and Melissa A. Marcus (argued), Snell & Wilmer L.L.P., Tuscon, AZ, for Defendant-Appellee Eurofresh Inc. Joseph D. Estes, Assistant Attorney General, and Katherine E. Watanabe (argued), Arizona Attorney General's Office, Phoenix, AZ, for Defendants-Appellees

Page 903

State of Arizona, Arizona Department of Corrections, Dora Schriro and Charles Ryan.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Arizona, John W. Sedwick, District Judge, Presiding. D.C. No. 3:09-cv-08114-JWS.

Before MARSHA S. BERZON, RICHARD C. TALLMAN, and MILAN D. SMITH, JR., Circuit Judges.

Opinion by Judge MILAN D. SMITH, JR.; Concurrence by Judge BERZON.

OPINION

M. SMITH, Circuit Judge:

William Castle, formerly an Arizona state prisoner,[1] appeals the district court's entry of judgment in favor of defendants Eurofresh Inc., the State of Arizona (the State), the Arizona Department of Corrections (ADC), and certain officials of the ADC.[2] Castle alleges that the defendants violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), 42 U.S.C. §§ 12131-12134, and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (RA), 29 U.S.C. § 794, by failing to reasonably accommodate his disability. We conclude that Castle's claims against Eurofresh were properly dismissed. Castle was not Eurofresh's " employee" under Title I of the ADA, and Eurofresh does not receive federal financial assistance, as it must in order to subject it to the requirements of the RA. However, we reverse the judgment in favor of the State Defendants, because those defendants may be held liable for acts of disability discrimination committed by one of their contractors. We therefore remand Castle's claims against the State Defendants for further proceedings required by this opinion.

BACKGROUND

Castle was convicted of theft and perpetuating a scheme or artifice to defraud in violation of Ariz.Rev.Stat. §§ 13-1802, 13-2310. He was sentenced to a ten-year prison term and placed in the custody of the ADC.

Arizona law requires all able-bodied inmates in ADC's custody to " engage in hard labor for not less than forty hours per week." Ariz.Rev.Stat. § 31-251(A). Most inmates satisfy this requirement by participating in the ADC's Work Incentive Pay Program (WIPP). Inmate wages under the WIPP range from ten to fifty cents per hour, although inmates can earn raises for good performance. Some inmates, however, receive significantly more remunerative work assignments through a separate convict labor program run by Arizona Correctional Industries (ACI).[3] See Ariz.Rev.Stat. §§ 41-1621-1630. ACI contracts with private companies to provide them with a convict labor force. One company that contracts with ACI is Eurofresh, which describes itself as " America's largest greenhouse operation," capable of

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growing 200 million pounds of " hydroponic tomatoes" each year.

Castle began picking tomatoes for Eurofresh in July 2008 at a greenhouse located approximately sixty miles from the prison where he was incarcerated. The job was physically strenuous— Castle was required to be on his feet for his entire seven hour shift and often had to push a 600 pound tomato cart. Toward the end of August 2008, Castle began experiencing " intolerable pain and swelling" in his left ankle after working for two or more hours at Eurofresh. Castle had seriously injured his ankle decades earlier during a parachute accident that occurred while Castle attended the United States Army Airborne School.[4]

Because of his pain, Castle asked a Eurofresh supervisor if he could take short breaks during the work day to rest his ankle. According to Castle, the supervisor indicated that Castle would be fired if he insisted on taking breaks. Castle continued working at Eurofresh, but sought medical treatment for his injury from the ADC. One of Castle's medical providers suggested that he ask for a job change or accommodation.

In October 2008, Castle sent certified letters to both ACI and Eurofresh informing them that he could not walk or stand for long periods without experiencing extreme pain. He asked to be provided with a position at Eurofresh " that does not require walking for long periods of time, as well as pushing heavy carts." Castle later met with representatives of both Eurofresh and ACI to discuss his disability. He again suggested that he be reassigned to a different job, such as operating box or label machinery in the " pack house." A Eurofresh manager responded that there were no other positions available to inmate laborers,[5] but that Eurofresh and ACI would take Castle's request " under advisement." Castle claims that he was later informed that no accommodation would be made, and that his only option was to quit his position at Eurofresh. Defendants claim that Eurofresh offered to promote Castle to a " de-leafer" position,[6] but that Castle refused the offer. No party disputes, however, that the ADC eventually reassigned Castle to a WIPP job in the prison motor pool. Castle's new job paid 50 cents per hour. Castle had been receiving more than $2.25 per hour picking tomatoes at Eurofresh.

After pursuing a grievance with the ADC, Castle filed a discrimination claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). After the EEOC issued Castle a Notice of Suit Rights letter, Castle brought suit against Eurofresh and the State Defendants.

In his initial complaint, Castle alleged that Eurofresh and the State Defendants violated his rights under Titles I and II of the ADA, Section 504 of the RA, and the Arizona Civil Rights Act, by failing to reasonably accommodate his disability. Castle

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also claimed that Eurofresh had breached its contractual obligations with the State, which required that Eurofresh comply with all applicable federal and state employment laws.[7] Castle sought money damages but did not request reinstatement at Eurofresh.

The district court dismissed Castle's Title I claim against Eurofresh with prejudice. The court found that Castle lacked standing to sue under the ADA because, as a prisoner, he did not have an employment relationship with Eurofresh. The district court also dismissed Castle's RA claim against Eurofresh, reasoning that Castle had not adequately alleged that Eurofresh is the direct or indirect recipient of federal financial assistance. Castle was given leave to amend his RA claim against Eurofresh.

In the same order, the district court also dismissed Castle's ADA and RA claims against the State Defendants. The court concluded that Castle could not state a claim under either statute because " plaintiff's own evidence shows that he was given a different work assignment [in the motor pool]— one that does not require prolonged standing ...


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