Judge Dismisses Case Of Threats by Cognitively Impaired Man

A federal judge in New Hampshire recently addressed a Solomon-like case involving the right of a town to protect its workplace from threats and intimidation by a severely cognitively impaired man.

The 20-year-old man, N.P., who has the cognitive ability of a six-year-0ld, was attending a municipal summer camp in 2019 in Meredith, NH, when he threatened to kill the camp director and two attendees.

Even though N.P. apparently lacked the ability to understand and carry out such threats, the camp director reported the threats to police and the next day N.P. was suspended.

N.P. originally was suspended indefinitely but town officials later limited the suspension to 60-days.

Americans With Disabilities Act

U.S. District Judge Steven J. McAuliffe recently dismissed a lawsuit filed by N.P.’s guardian after finding there was insufficient evidence to show the town violated N.P.’s rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Judge McAuliffe cited “well-supported” precedent that the ADA does not require others to tolerate or accommodate misconduct. “It is commonly accepted that threats to injure or kill others need not be tolerated in a civil society, and the ADA makes no exception for such conduct,” he writes.

Conceding that critics might call the town’s response inappropriate or excessive, Judge McAuliffe said the town relied on credible reports that N.P.’s threats were serious, inappropriate and inconsistent with the camp’s behavioral standards. “Challenging the exercise of [the town’s] judgment as an overreaction does not provide a basis upon which discriminatory animus can be found under federal law,” he said.

Judge McAuliffe said there was no evidence of discriminatory animus toward N.P. because of his impairment and no indication that a non-disabled camper would have been treated differently for similar conduct.

‘Prior’ Accommodation

A key to this case was N.P.’s guardian’s failure to make a request for an accommodation prior to the incident showing that N.P.’s cognitive disabilities might give rise to threatening utterances.

Judge McAuliffe said the camp might have been able to fashion a plan calling for N.P.’s immediate social correction, minor and appropriate sanctions, along with an opportunity to give staff and campers a full explanation of N.P.’s disability.

“But, multiple courts have held that ‘after the fact’ requests for accommodation are necessarily unreasonable,” writes Judge McAuliffe.

According to Judge McAuliffe: “Programs and activities operated by the town “need not countenance death threats against staff and their families, nor must Town officials hazard a guess about a threat’s credibility or the likelihood of actual future injury, before disciplining threatening behavior.”

The case is Angelika P. v. Town of Meredith, No. 19-cv-1114-SM (March 9, 2022).

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