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Crawford v. Hinds County

United States District Court, S.D. Mississippi, Northern Division

October 8, 2019

SCOTT CRAWFORD PLAINTIFF
v.
HINDS COUNTY, MISSISSIPPI DEFENDANT

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          TOM S. LEE UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Plaintiff Scott Crawford is a disabled individual who uses a motorized wheelchair. He brought the present action against Hinds County under Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. § 12131 et seq. (ADA), as well as the Rehabilitation Act, 29 U.S.C. § 794 et seq., charging that the Hinds County Courthouse is not readily accessible to the disabled because of numerous mobility-related architectural barriers throughout the courthouse. In his complaint, plaintiff requested injunctive relief, monetary damages, as well as attorneys' fees and costs.

         Previously in this cause, the court denied a motion by Hinds County for summary judgment and granted, in part, plaintiff's cross-motion for partial summary judgment. The County asserted in its motion, among other arguments, that plaintiff's complaint was due to be dismissed on the basis that he lacked standing under Article III of the United States Constitution. In its order, the court found that plaintiff has standing to pursue his claims in this case. That was true as to his claim for damages, but that claim was settled between the parties. In the course of evaluating evidence presented at the trial of the case, the court has reexamined the issue of standing[1] and become convinced that he has no standing to obtain an injunction. His claim for injunctive relief must therefore be dismissed.

         ADA Title II/Rehabilitation Act

         The ADA, passed by Congress in 1992 to address discrimination against disabled individuals, contains three separate titles which prohibit discrimination, respectively, in employment (Title I), public services and transportation (Title II), and public accommodations (Title III). Plaintiff's complaint involves Title II, which states:

no qualified individual with a disability shall, by reason of such disability, be excluded from participation in, or be denied the benefits of services, programs, or activities of a public entity, or be subjected to discrimination by any public entity.

42 U.S.C. § 12132.

         Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, which applies to recipients of federal funding, provides, like Title II, that no qualified individual with a disability “shall, solely by reason of her or his disability, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.” The ADA and the Rehabilitation Act generally are interpreted in pari materia. Frame v. City of Arlington, 657 F.3d 215, 223 (5th Cir. 2011). While the ADA does not define the “services, programs, or activities of a public entity”, the Rehabilitation Act's definition of a “program or activity” as “all of the operations of ... a local government” applies under the ADA. Id. at 225.

         The parties agree that plaintiff is a “qualified individual with a disability” and that Hinds County is a “public entity” subject to the requirements of Title II. It is further undisputed that Hinds County is a recipient of federal funds and subject to § 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.

         The ADA's implementing regulations state that “no qualified individual with a disability shall, because a public entity's facilities are inaccessible to or unusable by individuals with disabilities, be excluded from participation in, or be denied the benefits of the services, programs, or activities of a public entity, or be subjected to discrimination by any public entity.” 28 C.F.R. § 35.149. A public entity is required to “operate each service, program, or activity so that the service, program, or activity, when viewed in its entirety, is readily accessible to and usable by individuals with disabilities.” 28 C.F.R. § 35.150(a). While this means that a public entity must take reasonable measures to remove architectural and other barriers to accessibility, “Title II does not require [a public entity] to employ any and all means to make [its programs, services and activities] accessible to persons with disabilities... It requires only ‘reasonable modifications' that would not fundamentally alter the nature of the service provided....” Tennessee v. Lane, 541 U.S. 509, 511, 124 S.Ct. 1978, 1981, 158 L.Ed.2d 820 (2004). Standards for determining compliance with this obligation differ based on whether the facility was built and/or altered before or after the ADA took effect in January 1992. See Greer v. Richardson Indep. Sch. Dist., 472 Fed.Appx. 287, 295 (5th Cir. 2012). For facilities built or altered after 1992, ADA regulations require compliance with specific architectural accessibility standards, known as the Americans with Disabilities Act Accessibility Guidelines for Buildings and Facilities (ADAAG), 28 C.F.R. Ch. 1, Pt. 36, App. A. Tennessee v. Lane, 541 U.S. at 531-32, 124 S.Ct. 1978 (citing 28 CFR § 35.151 (2003)).[2] However, in recognition of the reality that in the case of existing facilities, a public entity would have difficulty meeting all of the technical requirements of the ADAAG, the ADA's implementing regulations provide “less stringent and more flexible” accessibility requirements for existing facilities than for new facilities. Greer, 472 Fed.Appx. at 291. In summary,

in the case of older facilities, for which structural change is likely to be more difficult, a public entity may comply with Title II by adopting a variety of less costly measures, including relocating services to alternative, accessible sites and assigning aides to assist persons with disabilities in accessing services. § 35.150(b)(1). Only if these measures are ineffective in achieving accessibility is the public entity required to make reasonable structural changes. Ibid. And in no event is the entity required to undertake measures that would impose an undue financial or administrative burden, threaten historic preservation interests, or effect a fundamental alteration in the nature of the service. §§ 35.150(a)(2), (a)(3).

Lane, 541 U.S. at 532, 124 S.Ct. 1978. In all events, though, a public entity has a duty to “ensure that individuals with disabilities receive the benefits or services provided by the public entity” and thus to ensure that each service, program, or activity at its courthouse, “when viewed in its entirety, ” is readily accessible to individuals with disabilities. Shotz v. Cates, 256 F.3d 1077, 1080 (11th Cir. 2001).

         Plaintiff's Experiences at the Hinds County Courthouse

         Plaintiff has multiple sclerosis. Because of the symptoms caused by this disease, he relies on a motorized wheelchair for mobility. In December 2006, as his symptoms began progressing, plaintiff, who was living in Florida at the time, decided to move back to Mississippi so that he could have help from his family in Mississippi. Promptly upon returning to Mississippi, plaintiff went to the Hinds County Courthouse (the courthouse) to register to vote. He found that he could not enter the main entrance at the front of the building because of multiple steps leading to the entrance. There was no sign directing him to an accessible entrance, but after looking around, he found a floor-level entrance on the east side of the building. However, he required assistance to enter the building because the doors were heavy and the door handles were of a type ...


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