DETROIT – Civil rights pioneer Rosa Parks (search) has dementia and should not be forced to answer questions in her lawsuit against a rap group, her doctor has told a federal magistrate.
Parks, 91, rarely has been seen in public since 2001, when she canceled a meeting with President Bush (search).
Her lawyers said this summer that she has been in frail health, but Monday's court filing is the first public description of her health problems.
Parks lawyer Gregory Reed confirmed that she has dementia, or severe mental impairment.
"It comes and goes," Reed said. He said Parks is well cared for and receives care at her Detroit home.
Parks' lawsuit says that the 1998 song "Rosa Parks" by OutKast (search) violated her publicity and trademark rights and defamed her. It also says that OutKast and record company BMG exploited her name for commercial purposes. OutKast has been dismissed as a defendant.
Lawyers for the defense have asked to interview Parks to explain her claims that she suffered emotional and mental distress because of the song.
Defense lawyers will be able to question Parks' doctor Joel Steinberg about her medical condition in early October.
In an Aug. 16 letter, Steinberg's lawyer said the doctor believes Parks "cannot testify or participate in any court proceeding" and referred to six pages of supporting medical records, including three medical visits by Parks in 2002 and late 2003.
"Page 1 is a transfer note, undated, which sets forth a number of diagnoses and makes specific reference to the dementia," lawyer Richard Gianino wrote.
Parks was 42 when she refused to give up her seat on a city bus in Montgomery, Ala., in 1955. She was jailed and fined $14. Her arrest triggered a 381-day boycott of the bus system organized by a then little-known minister, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. She became known as "the mother of the civil rights movement."