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Forsgren Fisher wins Ninth Circuit reversal in civil-rights case

On April 18, 2022, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed in part a case-ending district-court order in Downey v. Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office and remanded the case for further proceedings. The Ninth Circuit’s reversal, which came less than two weeks after Ginny McCalmont argued the case to a three-judge panel, was a significant vindication of the rights of Forsgren Fisher client Dylan Downey.

Mr. Downey, who lost one of his legs in a motorcycle accident, was repeatedly denied access to accommodations for his physical disability while housed as a pretrial detainee at the Snohomish County Jail in Washington state. While still in jail, Mr. Downey filed a pro se complaint alleging that his treatment violated federal law. After the district court rejected his claims and entered summary judgment in favor of the defendants, Mr. Downey appealed. The Ninth Circuit appointed Forsgren Fisher partners McCalmont and Caitlinrose Fisher to represent him.

Before the Ninth Circuit, Fisher and McCalmont argued that the district court had overlooked significant record evidence that supported Mr. Downey’s claims and had improperly drawn key inferences in favor of the defendants. In a unanimous ruling, the Ninth Circuit agreed and sent Mr. Downey’s claims under the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act back to the district court for trial.

“When Dylan Downey was housed in jail facilities that were not equipped to accommodate his physical disability, he was deprived of some of life’s most basic necessities—like the ability to shower,” said McCalmont. “Courts have repeatedly noted that such deprivations have no place in a civilized society. We’re thrilled that Mr. Downey will have the chance to present his claims to a jury. We can’t wait for trial.”

“The legal deck is stacked against folks like Mr. Downey,” said Forsgren Fisher managing partner Bob Gilbertson. “We are building a successful civil-rights practice right alongside a thriving practice representing large corporations because we believe to our core that everyone deserves equal access to the justice system. It is a privilege to be able to fight for that principle every day.”