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Welcome to the first ADA Case Law Digest where we feature recent cases added to ADA Case Law Database each month. The database is a comprehensive search tool that allows the user to find significant court cases, settlement agreements, and consent decrees that help interpret the Americans with Disabilities Act. The database and the digests are produced through the collaboration of the Great Lakes ADA Center and the Southwest ADA Center.

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Great Lakes ADA Center
Great Lakes ADA Center
University of Illinois Chicago
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Chicago, IL 60608
800-949-4232(V/TTY)
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Southwest ADA Center
Independent Living Research Utilization
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Houston, Texas 77019
Phone: (713) 520-0232 (V/TTY)
Fax: (713) 520-5785

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  VOLUME 1, ISSUE 1 FALL 2011 

Title I

The majority of ADA cases on the federal docket are employment cases under Title I of the ADA. Prior to the ADA Amendments Act of 2008 (ADAAA), the majority of those employment cases focused on whether an employee was disabled enough to pursue litigation under the ADA. Defendant attorneys were quick to use this defense as a first resort to have the courts throw these cases out. So instead of finding out whether the employers have met their obligations under the ADA, courts were analyzing the extent of a person’s disability.

Even though the ADAAA became effective in 2009, courts are still doing this analysis for cases that arise from disputes before 2009. For example, a foreman for a plumbing company had a workplace injury which detached a retina, left him with double or triple vision post-surgery, and yet was not considered disabled in Knight v. Engert Plumbing & Heating, Inc. Even in cases involving disputes after the ADAAA became effective, courts are still looking at whether the plaintiff was disabled. In Hagan v. Solideal Tire, Inc., the court dismissed the case involving a tire salesman who was terminated after being injured on the job because he had not provided enough evidence that he was disabled. He had only presented evidence that he was “injured”, not on how his injury limited him.

Meanwhile, a factory worker with who injured his elbow on the job in Jones v. Nissan North America, Inc. had more success clearing the “disability” hurdle. After his surgery, he returned to work without any limitations but a worker’s compensation hearing revealed that he was experiencing discomfort and his use of “vibratory tools” and lifting should be limited. Nissan interpreted this finding to mean that he couldn’t use any tools or do any lifting, removed him from his job, and ultimately fired him. The court understood this to mean that Nissan regarded him as substantially limited in the major life activities of lifting and performing manual tasks. Nissan had failed to do a proper individualized inquiry in removing the worker from his job by relying on the worker’s compensation report.

Title II

The majority of Title II cases and complaints against government entities come from guests of the penal system. Given that prisoners and jail inmates have free time on their hands and file these lawsuits without the assistance of an attorney, courts often must wade through their pleadings and arguments in trying to separate the non-frivolous from the frivolous. In Wiley v. American Zurich Insurance Company, a court had to dismiss a Title II case against a private insurance company because it was not a government entity. In Powell v. Buncich, the court had to deny an injunction for a prisoner to go to the hospital for a CAT scan to check for brain bleeding after a fall in the shower the previous month. It was because he already had neurological assessments when he went to the hospital twice after the fall for unrelated medical reasons.

The Fifth Circuit took three cracks at a sidewalks case in Frame v. City of Arlington. A wheelchair user had sued a suburb of the Dallas-Fort Worth for its inaccessible sidewalks and parking. The first time around, a panel of the Fifth Circuit considered constructing sidewalks to be a city program subject to the ADA but that the statute of limitations to sue started running when the construction was finished, not when a person encountered the barrier. That meant that if the wheelchair user had discovered something was inaccessible two years after it was built in Texas, he could not sue. On a rehearing, the Fifth Circuit decided that these sidewalks and parking lots were not a program in and of itself but was merely infrastructure for other city programs and services. So if the inaccessible sidewalks or parking did not prevent the plaintiff from participating in a city program or service like going to the library, he could not sue. The third time, involving all of the circuit judges, the Fifth Circuit finally acknowledged that construction was a city program and that the statute of limitations runs when the person discovered the barrier.

Title III

The Department of Justice has been active in enforcing the ADA against public accommodations. It obtained a consent decree against the test administrators of the LSAT, the law school admissions exams, in United States v Law School Admission Council, Inc. The administrators had denied a test taker with learning disabilities the reasonable accommodations he had requested even though he had properly submitted documentation. The Department of Justice also went after a medical center in United States v. Cheshire Medical Center for failing to provide interpreters to their deaf patients and improperly relying on the patient’s family members to interpret for them.  The federal government had also sued a New York City hotel in United States v. GPH Management, LLC for not building the correct number of accessible rooms across the various room amenities classes the hotel offered and for various other physical barriers.

On the private front, a federal court allowed a patron to sue a motel that he had visited four times in Norkunas v. Seahorse NB, LLC due to various physical barriers he had encountered while visiting the hotel bar. However the court found that the hotel did not have to make their beach dune walkover accessible because there were no guidelines available for beach access walkways. The court also dismissed his claims over the barriers found in two “accessible” hotel rooms since the plaintiff never did stay in those rooms.



Other Disability Law Websites
These cases represent an excerpt of the additions to the database. If you would like to learn more about these cases and others, please visit the ADA Case Law Database at http://www.adacaselaw.org