On August 23, 2006, the disability rights group Californians for Disability Rights, Inc. and two disabled individuals acting on behalf of themselves and all others similarly situated sued the California Department of Transportation ("Caltrans") and its director in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, seeking to remedy an alleged "systematic pattern and practice of discrimination being committed by Caltrans against people with mobility and vision disabilities." Represented by the public interest law office Disability Rights Advocates, the plaintiffs alleged that Caltrans, which provided an extensive network of facilities throughout the state including sidewalks, pedestrian crossings and a system of Park and Ride facilities, systematically failed to maintain pedestrian rights of way or provide accessible alternative routes in construction areas. The plaintiffs filed an amended complaint on September 19, 2006, adding as a plaintiff another disability rights group (California Council of the Blind) and alleging seven causes of action, four of which were based on state law and two of which were federal claims. The two federal claims arose under, respectively, the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (the "ADA"), 42 U.S.C. §§ 12101 to 12213, and § 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, 29 U.S.C. 794. The seventh cause of action requested declaratory relief "in order that each of the parties may know their respective rights and duties and act accordingly." Plaintiffs did not seek damages but, rather, an injunction to prevent Caltrans from continuing its alleged violations of state and federal law.
On September 20, 2007, Caltrans filed a motion for judgment on the pleadings, seeking dismissal of all claims except for the one based on the Rehabilitation Act. On October 23, 2007, plaintiffs filed their motion for class certification, seeking class certification for their federal law claims only. In her March 13, 2008, unpublished order, District Judge Saundra Brown Armstrong ruled on these motions, as follows:
She granted the plaintiffs' motion for class certification, defining the class as "All persons with mobility and/or vision disabilities who are allegedly being denied access under Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 due to barriers along sidewalks, cross-walks, pedestrian underpasses, pedestrian overpasses and any other outdoor designated pedestrian walkways throughout the state of California which are owned and/or maintained by the California Department of Transportation. For purposes of class certification, persons with mobility disabilities are those who use wheelchairs, scooters, crutches, walkers, canes or similar devices to assist their navigation along sidewalks. For purposes of class certification, persons with vision disabilities are those who due to a vision impairment use canes or service animals for navigation along sidewalks."
Judge Armstrong dismissed the plaintiffs' state law-based claims, without prejudice, given that the defendants contended her federal court lacked jurisdiction over them and the plaintiffs agreed to dismiss them. She refused to dismiss the ADA claim, since Caltrans had not shown that it was entitled to Eleventh Amendment sovereign immunity from ADA claims and since precedent allowed discrimination lawsuits against state officials. The judge agreed with the defendants, however, that no private right of action existed to enforce either the self-evaluation or transition plan federal regulations implementing Title II of the ADA. Thus, that component of the plaintiffs' claims was also dismissed. The ADA and Rehabilitation Act claims remained pending against the state.
On January 29, 2009, the defendants once again moved for judgment on the pleadings. On February 17, 2009, the plaintiffs filed a cross motion for summary judgment regarding defendants' obligations to make temporary pedestrian routes accessible. In an order filed on March 31, 2009, Judge Armstrong granted in part and denied in part the defendants' motion for judgment on the pleadings and granted in part and denied in part the plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment.
On June 4, 2009, the defendants filed a motion for summary judgment on (1) whether Caltrans' policies for design of pedestrian facilities complied with federal law and regulations, and (2) whether Caltrans had system-wide procedures to ensure that pedestrian facilities were designed and constructed pursuant to its design policies. Judge Armstrong denied this motion in an order filed on August 4, 2009, finding that a genuine issue of material fact existed as to whether Caltrans provided accessible pedestrian facilities to the disabled petitioners.
A court trial began on September 16, 2009. During the proceedings, however, the parties proposed temporarily suspending the trial to engage in settlement discussions before Magistrate Judge Elizabeth LaPorte. The parties reached an agreement and filed a joint motion for preliminary approval of settlement on December 22, 2009. On January 25, 2010, Judge Armstrong issued an order granting the motion for preliminary approval of the settlement.
On June 2, 2010, Judge Armstrong approved a proposed settlement agreement. The settlement agreement included (1) a funding commitment of $1.1 billion over the next thirty years to eliminate barriers and improve access for people with mobility and vision disabilities to 2,500 miles of sidewalk and Park and Ride facilities owned or maintained by Caltrans; (2) a monitoring procedure, which would include the hiring of an access consultant to oversee compliance for the first seven years, and mandatory annual reporting by Caltrans for the next thirty years; (3) a grievance procedure for public complaints relating to access issues and Caltrans responses thereto; and (4) payment of attorneys' fees for past work and future compliance services. All pending issues in the Class Action were then dismissed.
Additional information about the settlement is available from plaintiffs' counsel, Disability Rights Advocates, at http://www.dralegal.org/cases/public_entities/FAQ_Settlement.phpDavid Priddy - 07/19/2011