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Lawyer fails to convince federal judge that a policy that required masks in state courts was the same as waterboarding

A federal judge has tossed a Concord lawyer's suit against the state court system, which he claimed was trying to torture him, in violation of the United Nations Convention Against Torture, by making him don a face mask to enter state courthouses in the days after the courts reopened and before Covid-19 vaccination became widespread.

Robert N. Meltzer said the requirement was so onerous - a potential precursor to Alzheimer's, even - that it was preventing him from "participating in social activity and regular life activity" and that the guy in charge of the state court system didn't know what the hell he was doing, because offers by court officials to let him make appearances via Zoom or to take unmasked breaks during in-person appearances were a burden at best, an invitation to in-court suffocation at worst.

In his ruling dismissing the case, US District Court Chief Judge F. Dennis Saylor cut Meltzer's arguments to shreds.

For starters, Saylor said that Meltzer's complaint, filed in February, never specified just what disability he had that would invoke the federal Americans with Disabilities Act:

Ostensibly, the subject of the complaint is disability discrimination. Nonetheless, it says next to nothing about plaintiff’s claimed disability. Instead, it consists almost entirely of a rambling and hyperbolic tirade against the state court system generally and the mask requirement specifically.

Meltzer did not hire an attorney to handle his case, and federal judges are required to grant considerable leeway to arguments by pro se plaintiffs, but there are limits, Saylor continued:

[H]ere the plaintiff is a lawyer - and a trial lawyer at that. There is no obvious reason why the Court should be indulgent in the face of plaintiff's apparent unwillingness to draft a complaint that specifically alleges the disability from which he purports to suffer. And while the standard for pleading an ADA claim is not demanding, neither is it non-existent. At a bare minimum, an ADA plaintiff must allege that he or she has an impairment - otherwise the statute does not apply - and identify what that impairment is - otherwise the defendant cannot fairly defend itself. The failure of the complaint here to identify plaintiff's impairment here is sufficient reason to grant the motion to dismiss.

But the judge did not stop there.

Saylor ruled he did not buy Meltzer's argument in general that he only suffered a disability when wearing a mask, or that a requirement he wear one in court somehow ruined his life outside one, especially since Meltzer said at one point he had consistently refused to wear a mask at all, so there was no evidence he had ever directly suffered by putting on a mask:

It is therefore unclear, to say the least, how his purported impairment, which is induced only by wearing a mask, affected his "social activity and regular life activity" - particularly when those activities, by definition, do not occur in the courthouse.

In any event, the only life activity of plaintiff that is allegedly impaired by his disability is working - more precisely, that portion of his occupation that requires him to appear as a lawyer in a state courthouse. But the complaint fails entirely to allege a plausible basis for a claim of a "substantial" limitation on his ability to work as a lawyer, compared to other lawyers who have comparable training, skills, and abilities.

To begin, the great majority of the work of a lawyer with a litigation practice involves reading, writing, meeting with clients and witnesses, and other activities that occur outside the courthouse. The complaint does not allege any condition that impairs plaintiff's work outside of the courtroom. As for legal work that occurs in court, the complaint does not allege that his effectiveness as an advocate has been impaired by his alleged exclusion from the courthouse, compared to other lawyers who do not share his "disability." During the pandemic, it became commonplace for lawyers to appear by video for court hearings, and the complaint does not allege that lawyers who do so are at a disadvantage compared to those who appear in person with masks. In fact, the complaint does not even allege that the mask mandate put plaintiff at a relative disadvantage to other lawyers; to the contrary, it alleges that the mandate placed all lawyers at the same disadvantage. ... In other words, according to the complaint, the mask mandate did not impose a "substantial limitation" on plaintiff's ability to perform work as a lawyer, compared to other lawyers who have similar training, skills, and abilities. See Mancini, 909 F.3d at 42 n.6. Instead, it treated all lawyers the same. And that is simply not a plausible basis for a claim of "disability," much less a claim of unlawful discrimination. In summary, and taken in its entirety, the complaint fails to allege a cognizable "disability" under the ADA.

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PDF icon Meltzer's complaint316.18 KB
PDF icon Saylor's ruling268.45 KB


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worked through the pandemic. The courts re-opened a few months after the start of the pandemic for limited in person business (this was pre-vaccine) and then continued to gradually open up more as people became vaccinated.

For those who were unable or chose not to participate in-person, phone-in (and ultimately zoom) technology was adopted. BTW, this was big, as it was a fast shift for the judiciary which is a generally conservative part of our government.

To this day, many civil matters and some criminal hearings can be done virtually. So if that makes you feel persecuted, well, sorry??


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Perhaps the lawyer should have provided a demonstration for the court.

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