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YESKEY v. PENNSYLVANIA

December 14, 1999

RONALD R. YESKEY, PLAINTIFF,
v.
COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Caldwell, District Judge.

MEMORANDUM

I. Introduction.

This case presents the question whether the physical exercise required by a penal boot camp program is a "major life activity" under the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA). 42 U.S.C. § 12131-12165.

The plaintiff, Ronald R. Yeskey, sued under Title II of the ADA, claiming that Pennsylvania prison officials violated the Act when they disqualified him from participating in Pennsylvania's boot camp program on the basis of high blood pressure, thereby preventing him from significantly shortening his period of incarceration.

The defendants are: the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Department of Corrections (Department); Joseph D. Lehman, former secretary of the Department; Jeffrey A. Beard, former superintendent of the State Correctional Institution at Camp Hill (SCI-Camp Hill); and Jeffrey K. Ditty, director of the Central Diagnostic and Classification Center, Unit No. 2 at SCI-Camp Hill.

By way of some procedural background, we had previously dismissed this case, ruling that the ADA did not apply to state prisons. The Third Circuit reversed, 118 F.3d 168 (3d Cir. 1997), and the Supreme Court affirmed the Third Circuit's decision. 524 U.S. 206, 118 S.Ct. 1952, 141 L.Ed.2d 215 (1998).

We are considering the defendants' motion for summary judgment, which among other things, argues that the plaintiff has no ADA claim because the physical exercise required by the boot camp program is not a major life activity under the Act. Since boot camp exercise is not a "major life activity," an essential element of an ADA claim, the plaintiff has no cause of action for his exclusion from the boot camp program, a cause of action based on the plaintiff's belief that the defendants regarded his high blood pressure as substantially limiting the major life activity of exercise.

We will examine the motion under the well-established standard. See Showalter v. University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, 190 F.3d 231, 234 (3d Cir. 1999).

II. Background.

Based on the parties' submissions, the following is the background to this litigation. In June 1992, the Department began operating a boot camp pursuant to Pennsylvania's Motivational Boot Camp Act. See 61 P.S. §§ 1121-1129 (Purdon 1999). The boot camp program requires a qualifying inmate to complete a six-month program of rigorous physical activity, intensive regimentation and discipline. See 61 P.S. § 1123. The inmate also does manual labor on public projects in a wilderness area around the boot camp. In return for successfully completing the program, the inmate is guaranteed parole at the end of the six months, regardless of any minimum sentence imposed. 61 P.S. § 1127. Acceptance into the program thus has an obvious benefit for an inmate.

As the name of the program makes clear, it imitates a military boot camp. The inmates are awakened at 5:30 a.m. to a heavily regimented day, which includes physical exercises taken from the United States Army and the United States Marine Corps manuals on physical fitness. The inmates also attend school and drug and alcohol therapy sessions.

Led by a trained physical fitness drill instructor, the physical-exercise sessions are conducted twice a day, seven days a week, for about one hour to a hour and 15 minutes each time. Typical exercises are jumping jacks, squat thrusts, mountain climbers and push-ups in multiple repetitions. For variety, the boot camp manual suggests "grass drills" as alternative exercises but cautions that there should be a 10 to 15 minute time limit on these drills since they are so strenuous. There is also instruction for marching in formation, but that takes up very little of each session's time compared to the exercises. Each session is followed by a minimum two-mile run in a military "double-time" formation, a pace of an eight and one-half minute mile for each mile run. An inmate is expected to improve on the two-mile distance as the training progresses.

Inmates are also assigned to work crews five days a week. The work crews are assigned manual labor jobs in wilderness areas surrounding the boot camp. Examples are stream restoration projects creating dams that involve cutting down large trees with nonpower saws, clearing plots of scrubs and small trees for elk feeder plots, and hauling stone and sand in wheel barrels.

On May 20, 1994, plaintiff began serving an 18 to 36 month sentence at SCI-Pittsburgh, with a recommendation from the sentencing judge that he be assigned to the boot camp program. Upon arrival at the prison, he was given a physical examination. His blood pressure reading was 140/96, considered high. On May 25, 1994, his blood pressure was taken again and read 145/100. After this second reading, a doctor ...


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