University of Michigan Law School
Civil Rights Litigation Clearinghouse
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Case Name American Council of the Blind v. Astrue DR-CA-0003
Docket / Court 3:05-cv-04696 ( N.D. Cal. )
State/Territory California
Case Type(s) Disability Rights-Pub. Accom.
Attorney Organization NDRN/Protection & Advocacy Organizations
Case Summary
On November 16, 2005, a group of visually impaired recipients of Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") and/or Social Security Disability Insurance ("SSDI"), along with a national nonprofit comprised of the visually impaired, filed a class action lawsuit under the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the ... read more >
On November 16, 2005, a group of visually impaired recipients of Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") and/or Social Security Disability Insurance ("SSDI"), along with a national nonprofit comprised of the visually impaired, filed a class action lawsuit under the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the due process clause of the Fifth Amendment against the Social Security Administration ("SSA") in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, San Francisco Division. The plaintiff, represented by private counsel, sought declaratory and injunctive relief, claiming that the SSA consistently refused to communicate with visually impaired beneficiaries through reasonably accessible means. Specifically, plaintiffs claimed that such conduct deprived blind people of equal access to information necessary to maintaining benefits and therefore constituted unlawful discrimination.

On April 23, 2008, the Court (Judge William Alsup) denied defendants' motion to dismiss and requested further briefing regarding how the court should proceed. Holding that §504 of the Rehabilitation Act trumped the special-notice provisions, the order stated that Congress intended to improve notice to blind recipients when it passed the special notice provision. Both parties requested to continue litigating the claims on a class-wide basis, as opposed to staying the case to give the SSA time to amend its rules and policies to conform with that holding.

On September 11, 2008, the Court certified two classes. Though both of these classes consisted of individuals with visual impairments who needed materials in an accessible format to participate in Social Security programs, one class was comprised of applicants and beneficiaries, and the other was comprised of representative payees.

On October 20, 2009, the Court granted declaratory and injunctive relief to the plaintiffs after a bench trial, finding that while the plaintiffs had not proven a class-wide violation of due process, they had proven a class-wide violation of the Rehabilitation Act's §504 and §85.51. Because the SSA had earlier spurned the opportunity for a stay pending rulemaking, the Court found that the agency had effectively consented to resolve the case by litigating on a class-wide basis and therefore ordered a class-wide injunction. This order mandated that SSA develop and offer a Braille and a navigable Microsoft Word CD alternative, notify all known visually impaired recipients of these new alternatives, announce these alternatives on their website, train employees to orally communicate this news to the blind, comply in good faith with §85.51 requirements regarding further individual accommodations, and cease limiting benefits to visually impaired recipients without first providing the notice prescribed above. The Court retained jurisdiction to enforce this order.

On January 22, 2010, the Court amended the compliance schedule to allow the SSA more time to implement the aforementioned order.

On April 16, 2012, the Court informed both parties' counsel that it had received a lengthy letter from a class member regarding alleged violations of the 2009 order; the Court ordered counsel to meet, confer, and advise on how the letter should be addressed. On April 30, 2012, counsel submitted a joint statement identifying most of the class member's complaints as outside the scope of the Court's order or outside the Court's jurisdiction, excepting one standard-print letter that should have been sent in Braille. The SSA agreed to resend that particular letter in Braille, and the class member was instructed to inform class counsel if further violations of the Court's order occur.

Timothy Shoffner - 06/01/2012

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Issues and Causes of Action
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Access to public accommodations - governmental
Government Services (specify)
Reasonable Accommodations
Plaintiff Type
Private Plaintiff
Causes of Action Section 504 (Rehabilitation Act), 29 U.S.C. § 701
Defendant(s) Social Security Administration
Plaintiff Description Recipients of Supplemental Social Security Income payments from Social Security whose visual impairment substantially limits their ability to see such that they need materials to be in an accessible format in order to participate in these programs.
Indexed Lawyer Organizations NDRN/Protection & Advocacy Organizations
Class action status sought Yes
Class action status granted Yes
Prevailing Party Plaintiff
Public Int. Lawyer Yes
Nature of Relief Injunction / Injunctive-like Settlement
Source of Relief Litigation
Form of Settlement None on record
Order Duration 2010 - n/a
Case Closing Year n/a
Case Ongoing Yes
3:05−cv−04696 (N.D. Cal.) 05/01/2012
DR-CA-0003-9000 PDF | Detail
PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
General Documents
Order: (1) Denying Motions to Dismiss in Part and (2) Requesting Further Briefing 04/23/2008 (2008 WL 1858928) (N.D. Cal.)
DR-CA-0003-0001 PDF | WESTLAW | Detail
Document Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Second Amended Complaint for Declaratory and Injunctive Relief 06/18/2008
DR-CA-0003-0002 PDF | Detail
Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law After Bench Trial 10/20/2009 (2009 WL 3400686) (N.D. Cal.)
DR-CA-0003-0003 PDF | WESTLAW | Detail
Document Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Judges Alsup, William Haskell (N.D. Cal.)
DR-CA-0003-0001 | DR-CA-0003-0003 | DR-CA-0003-9000
Chen, Edward Milton (N.D. Cal.) [Magistrate]
Monitors/Masters None on record
Plaintiff's Lawyers Brand, Esta Lynne (California)
DR-CA-0003-0002 | DR-CA-0003-9000
Cardoso, Denise Marieiro (California)
Crosby, Peter J. (California)
DR-CA-0003-0002 | DR-CA-0003-9000
Cummings, Larisa M. (California)
DR-CA-0003-0002 | DR-CA-0003-9000
Finberg, Jeanne (California)
Foster, Jacob Nathaniel (California)
DR-CA-0003-0002 | DR-CA-0003-9000
Haq, Adil (California)
DR-CA-0003-0002 | DR-CA-0003-9000
Jenkins, Sara E. (California)
Kumar, Ruhi (California)
Lanvers, Charlotte L. (District of Columbia)
Lu, Jennifer C. (California)
Mayerson, Arlene Brynne (California)
DR-CA-0003-0002 | DR-CA-0003-9000
McIntyre, Gerald Andrew (California)
Miller, Ann Kathleen (California)
Rosen, Catherine Picard (California)
Russell, Wondie (California)
DR-CA-0003-0002 | DR-CA-0003-9000
Su, Henry C. (District of Columbia)
Wang, Marilee Chan (California)
Wilde, Kathleen L. (Oregon)
Yee, Silvia (California)
DR-CA-0003-0002 | DR-CA-0003-9000
Defendant's Lawyers Edney, Marsha S. (District of Columbia)
La Morte, Tara Marie (District of Columbia)
Riess, Daniel Martin (District of Columbia)
Risner, Scott (District of Columbia)
Other Lawyers None on record

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