City of San Francisco v. Sheehan, Amicus Brief, U.S. Supreme Court, American Civil Liberties Union, et al, (2015)

Pleadings and Briefs

This is one of two amicus briefs submitted to the U.S. Supreme Court on behalf of several disability rights and mental health advocacy organizations in the case San Francisco v. Sheehan. The central issue in San Francisco v. Sheehan is how the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which requires government agencies to make reasonable accommodations for disabled individuals, applies to police conduct toward a mentally ill person who may be violent.

In 2008, police were summoned to carry out an involuntary psychiatric commitment when Sheehan, who is schizophrenic, threatened her social worker with a knife in a group home. Two police officers arrived and called for backup when Sheehan also threatened them with the knife. Before backup arrived, the officers broke down the door to Sheehan’s room, pepper-sprayed her, and shot her several times. Sheehan was seriously injured, but survived the shooting and sued for damages under the ADA.

A district court judge granted the City of San Francisco’s request for summary judgment and dismissed the case. The ruling was overturned by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. The City of San Francisco has appealed the circuit court ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The American Civil Liberties Union amicus brief asks the U.S. Supreme Court to affirm the Ninth Circuit’s reversal of the district court’s ruling. They argue that the Court is being asked to carve out an exception to the ADA for police in which life-saving crisis intervention and related techniques are assumed to not be reasonable if the person with the disability is armed or violent. The brief further argues that the City of San Francisco explicitly conceded that the ADA applies to arrests and detention, as the Ninth Circuit held in its ruling, and that the remaining issues are questions of fact that should rightly be heard by a trail court.

An additional amicus brief in this case was filed by the The American Psychiatric Association.

Oral arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court are scheduled for March 23, 2015.