ANTHONY E. SINAPI, Plaintiff, Appellee, Cross-Appellant,
RHODE ISLAND BOARD OF BAR EXAMINERS; DAVID A. WOLLIN, individually and in his official capacity as member of the RI Board of Bar Examiners; MELLISSA K. BURNETT TESTA, individuallyand in her official capacity as member of the RI Board of BarExaminers; MARC B. DECOF, individually and in his officialcapacity as member of the RI Board of Bar Examiners; THOMASDICKINSON, individually and in his official capacity as memberof the RI Board of Bar Examiners; CARLY B. IAFRATE, individuallyand in her official capacity as member of the RI Board of BarExaminers; DEBORAH M. TATE, individually and in her officialcapacity as member of the RI Board of Bar Examiners; ADAM M.RAMOS, individually and in his official capacity as member of the RI Board of Bar Examiners; MICHAEL A. ST. PIERRE, individually and in his official capacity as member of the RI Board of Bar Examiners; MICHAEL A. URSILLO, individually and inhis official capacity as member of the RI Board of BarExaminers; CYNTHIA WILSON-FRIAS, individually and in herofficial capacity as member of the RI Board of Bar Examiners, Defendants, Appellants, Cross-Appellees, C. LEONARD O'BRIEN, individually and in his official capacity as member of the RI Board of Bar Examiners, Defendant.
APPEALS FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE
DISTRICT OF RHODE ISLAND Hon. John J. McConnell, Jr., U.S.
Michael W. Field, Assistant Attorney General, with whom
Rebecca Tedford Partington, Assistant Attorney General, was
on brief, for appellant/cross-appellee.
Richard A. Sinapi for appellee/cross-appellant.
Lynch and Lipez, Circuit Judges, and Ponsor,
District Judge [*]
PONSOR, DISTRICT JUDGE.
Sinapi, an individual with attention deficit/hyperactivity
disorder (ADHD) and anxiety, sought certain accommodations to
assist him in taking the Rhode Island bar exam. The Rhode
Island Board of Bar Examiners (the Board) denied his request
and, on review, the Chief Justice of the Rhode Island Supreme
Court denied his petition for reversal of the Board's
decision. Immediately following this denial, Sinapi filed
suit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Rhode
Island against the members of the Board. The district
court issued a temporary restraining order (TRO) requiring
the Board to permit Sinapi the requested accommodations. In
further proceedings, Sinapi filed an amended complaint, which
the court ultimately dismissed, and a motion for
attorneys' fees, which the court allowed.
cross appeals followed. The Board seeks reversal of the
attorneys' fees award; Sinapi objects to the district
court's dismissal of his amended complaint. For the
reasons set forth below, we reverse the award of
attorneys' fees and affirm the dismissal of the amended
parties do not dispute the relevant facts and procedural
history. Anthony E. Sinapi suffers from ADHD and anxiety.
During college and law school he received certain testing
accommodations, such as extra time and low-distraction
examination environments. As Sinapi prepared to take the bar
exams in Massachusetts and Rhode Island, he sought similar
accommodations, specifically fifty percent extra time, a
distraction-reduced testing environment, and permission to
take prescribed medication in the testing room.
Massachusetts Board of Bar Examiners initially denied
Sinapi's request but relented and approved the
accommodations after Sinapi submitted additional materials.
The Rhode Island Board submitted Sinapi's request for
accommodations to an impartial medical examiner for
evaluation and, on July 16, 2015, notified Sinapi by letter
that his request for accommodations was denied. The
Board's reason, the letter stated, was that Sinapi's
request "was not supported by the medical documentation
4(b) of the Rhode Island Board of Bar Examiners Rules of
Practice Governing Admission on Examination states that
requests for reconsideration of Board decisions are
"discouraged." Instead, disappointed applicants are
directed to file a petition for review with the Rhode Island
Supreme Court within thirty days of receiving the denial.
this direction, Sinapi contacted the Board's Bar
Administrator on July 16, 2015, to request reconsideration of
the no-accommodation decision. The next day, July 17, 2015,
the Board's counsel contacted Sinapi by phone. In the
conversation that followed, Sinapi pressed for clarification
of the reasons supporting the Board's decision and
pointed to the contrary decision of the Massachusetts Board.
letter dated Monday, July 20, 2015, the Board's counsel
advised Sinapi that he could petition the Rhode Island
Supreme Court for a review of the Board's denial. In
addition, the letter advised Sinapi that, with submission of
a valid prescription, he could bring his medication into the
22, 2015, six days before the Rhode Island bar exam, Sinapi
filed an Emergency Petition for Review and Summary Reversal
of Denial of Testing Accommodations and Access to
Documentation in Support of Denial, with the Rhode Island
Supreme Court. The following day, July 23, 2015, Chief
Justice Paul A. Suttell heard the petition. On July 24, 2015,
Chief Justice Suttell granted Sinapi's request for access
to the basis for the Board's rejection of the request for
accommodation (the medical evaluation), but otherwise denied
the petition. His order, dated July 24, 2015, stated as
This matter came before the Duty Justice on an emergency
petition seeking review and summary reversal of a decision of
the Board of Bar Examiners (the Board) denying the petitioner
special testing accommodations for the July 2015 Rhode Island
bar examination and access to the Board's independent
medical evaluation of his requested accommodation. After
carefully considering the arguments of counsel, the Duty
Justice hereby directs that the following Order shall enter:
1. The petitioner's request for emergency relief is
hereby denied. 2. The petitioner's request for access to
the independent medical evaluation is hereby granted.
same day, Friday, July 24, 2015, Sinapi filed this suit
against the Board in the U.S. District Court for the District
of Rhode Island. He sought both monetary damages for
disability discrimination under federal law and a TRO
compelling the Board to permit him certain bar exam
accommodations, including a reduced margin of twenty-five
percent additional time and a testing environment with
limited distractions. In his request for the TRO, Sinapi
emphasized equitable considerations, most prominently the
lack of harm to the Board and the corresponding severe harm
he would suffer if he were compelled to sit for the imminent
exam without the requested accommodations. Sinapi even
offered to stipulate that he would retake the exam if he
passed it with the requested accommodations but was found not
to be entitled to these accommodations in subsequent
proceedings on the merits of his claims.
following Sinapi's July 24, 2015, filing moved at a
headlong pace. The Board filed its opposition on Sunday, July
26. On Monday, July 27, Sinapi filed a reply. The district
court held a hearing later that day, with the bar exam
looming on the 28th.
hearing argument, the district court granted Sinapi's
motion for a TRO and ordered that he be permitted to sit for
the bar exam the following day with the accommodations he
sought. The district court's decision emphasized the harm
to Sinapi and the balance of harm weighing in favor of him as
compared to the Board. In finding that Sinapi "certainly
would be irreparably harmed" without the accommodations,
the TRO noted that because Sinapi had registered to sit for
the multistate portion of the bar exam in Rhode Island, with
his score being applicable both in Rhode Island and in
Massachusetts, the denial of accommodations in Rhode Island
would undermine his chances for success in both states.
addition to irreparable harm, the district court also found
"based on the limited record before it" that Sinapi
had demonstrated a likelihood of success on the merits. In
making this finding, the court identified particularly the
failure of the Board to consider the accommodations afforded
to Sinapi in Massachusetts.
28, 2015, Sinapi sat for the Rhode Island bar exam with the
accommodations of twenty-five percent extra time and a
distraction-reduced testing environment.
August 27, 2015, the Board filed an appeal of the grant of
the TRO with this court, arguing among other things that the
district court lacked jurisdiction to enter the TRO. On
October 13, 2015, this court dismissed the Board's appeal
as moot because Sinapi had by then already sat for the Rhode
Island bar exam with accommodations, and thus the district
court's order "ha[d] been irrevocably
executed." We added, "Even assuming that we ...