|VOLUME 4, ISSUE 2||SUMMER 2014|
Even though the ADA Amendments Act (ADAAA) amended the ADA to discourage extensive analysis on whether a plaintiff has a disability, courts are still making this analysis for cases where the alleged discrimination occurred before the ADA's effective date. In Wegner v. Upstate Farms Co-op, the 2nd Circuit analyzed a truck driver's ability to lift objects and affirmed the lower court's decision that he was not disabled under the original version of the ADA. However, it recognized that he may still be able to sue under New York state law since disability is considered more broadly there.
An applicant for a technician's job sued Federal Express (FedEx) after it determined that he could not be certified to drive a vehicle under Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSR) because of his diabetes in Samson v. Federal Express Corp.. Technicians sometimes test drive the cars that they fixed, and the job offer was contingent on this certification. The Eleventh Circuit ruled that a jury should determine whether driving was an essential function of the job. FedEx argued that FMCSR required this certification for the position but the court determined that the FMCSR did not apply to test driving since the technicians are not transporting property or passengers in interstate commerce.
In Sheehan v. City and County of San Francisco, the court decided that Title II claims apply to arrests by police officers. Plaintiff, Sheehan has a psychiatric disability, lived in a group home in which she had a private room and had stopped taking her medication, eating and had not changed clothes in some time. A social worker called the police department to have Sheehan committed for emergency psychiatric treatment and evaluation. The officers initially entered Sheehan's room and were met with threats of force, after which the officers retreated. The officers entered a second time at which point Sheehan was shot several times. Sheehan brought claims against the police department for violations of the Fourth Amendment, Title II of the ADA, and several state law claims. The court held that there was a triable issue as to whether the second entry was reasonable under the circumstances. More importantly, the court held that Title II of the ADA applies to arrests. The court broadly interpreted the term "services, programs, or activities" as "anything a public entity does." Moreover, the court noted that "exigent circumstances inform the reasonableness analysis under the ADA." Specifically, the court held that a jury could find that "the officers failed to reasonably accommodate her disability by forcing their way back into her room without taking her mental illness into account and without employing tactics that would have been likely to resolve the situation without injury to herself or others."
The interplay between the IDEA's Exhaustion Clause and the ADA; and when it preempts ADA claims is unsettled and unclear. In Pollack and Quirion ex rel. B.P. v. Regional Sch. Unit 75, the court attempted to articulate such a standard. Plaintiffs encountered resistance from the School District when they requested accommodations and school records related to their son. Plaintiffs filed various claims against defendant under the First, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendments, Title II of the ADA, the IDEA, and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. The court analyzed the IDEA's Exhaustion Clause and reasoned that "where a claim is independently available through other sources of law, the IDEA does not preempt that claim." The court held that plaintiff's retaliation claims under the First Amendment and the Rehabilitation Act are not preempted by the IDEA since the retaliation claims require different proof than the IDEA claim. The court made the same determination for the failure to modify claims under the ADA and the Rehabilitation Act.
On the other hand, in EF by Fry v. Napoleon Cmty. Schs., the court dismissed the plaintiffs' claims because they had not exhausted the administrative remedies under the IDEA. The school district and school administrators, the defendants, denied plaintiff's requests to use her service dog, Wonder, at school. "The IEP team concluded that EF was successful in the school environment without Wonder, and that all of her 'physical and academic' needs were being met by the IEP program and services in place." The plaintiffs filed suit under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and Title II of the ADA; and the defendants countered by filing a motion to dismiss contending that the plaintiffs failed to exhaust their administrative remedies under the IDEA. The plaintiffs argued that the exhaustion clause of the IDEA did not apply because they did not file a claim under the IDEA or claim the denial of the use of a service dog impacted E.F.'s FAPE. Moreover, the plaintiffs contented that defendants discriminated against E.F. under Title II, Section 504, and state law and were requesting money damages not available under the IDEA. The court held in the defendants' favor, reasoning that the presence of a service animal would in some way impact E.F.'s IEP, thus triggering the exhaustion requirements of the IDEA. The court explained, "it appears conceivable that EF's IEP would undergo some modification, for example, to accommodate the 'concerns of allergic students and teachers and to diminish the distractions [Wonder's] presence would engender.'"
In Hurley v. Loma Linda University Medical Center, the court held that a place of public accommodation cannot ask to see a service dog's documentation. Plaintiff, Hurley is a person with a disability who uses a trained service dog. Two family members and she visited her grandfather at Loma Linda University Medical Center. At her grandfather's hospital room, Hurley and her two relatives encountered another family member and the group got into a dispute. Eventually the security officers were called to remedy the situation. One of the officers, Casey, saw Hurley and her service dog and asked to see documentation verifying the service dog's status. Hurley refused to provide the documentation and the officers asked Hurley to leave. The trial court found that Casey violated the ADA and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act by asking to see the service animal's documentation.
A plaintiff may be successful in a suit seeking barrier removal from a place of public accommodation even if the plaintiff lives a considerable distance from the place of public accommodation. For example, in Berthiaume v. Yellow Submarine , the court granted the plaintiff's motion for a permanent injunction for barrier removal in a restaurant. Berthiaume, plaintiff, is a person with a disability who uses a walker. He attempted to access Defendant's restaurant but was unable to because of steps in the front and side entrance. After plaintiff filed suit under Title III of the ADA, defendant did not respond to the Complaint or summons, and did not file an answer or any other documentation. Plaintiff sought a default judgment for the removal of barriers to the entrance and minor renovation of a bathroom. The court granted plaintiff's motion for a permanent injunction despite the fact that he lives 120 miles away from the restaurant because he would have to visit and inspect several locations for his job; all of which are within less than 10 miles from the restaurant. The court held that removal of the barriers would be readily achievable because the cost would be less than 1% of defendant's net revenue for one year; even though defendant provided proof that the business was financially distressed.
Welcome to the Summer 2014 edition of the ADA Case Law Digest. The digest features recent additions to the ADA Case Law Database. 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
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Southwest ADA Center
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Phone: (713) 520-0232 (V/TTY)
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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