Two minors and their mother and their mother sued the Colorado Department of Motor Vehicles. Colorado law required that a teenager log a certain amount of hours driving under the supervision of a licensed parent or guardian. Because the mother is blind, she was unable to supervise her daughters' driving. The girls' father did not have custody and lived out of state, leaving no qualified adult to supervise them in completeing the requirements for a driver's license.
The plaintiffs claimed that the defendants failed to make a reasonable modification of Colorado law, which violated Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq., and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, 29 U.S.C. § 794.
The plaintiffs sought a declaration that the defendants had violated the federal statutes, an injunction against the defendants' further discrimination, monetary compensation, attorney's fees and costs, and other equitable relief.
Under Colorado law, individuals who are 16 can apply for a minor's driver's license provided they have logged 50 hours of driving experience with their learner's permit, under the supervision of a qualified adult. C.R.S. §§ 42-2-104(1)(c) & 106(1)(a). Another statute, C.R.S. § 42-2-106(b) (2004), restricts minors with learners' permits to driving under the supervision of "a parent, stepparent, or guardian with a valid driver's license."
On May 27, 2005, the legislature amended § 42-2-106(b) (2004) to include grandparents with powers of attorney as acceptable supervisory drivers, but the mother stated she would not relinquish her parental rights to her daughters' grandfather. Thus again, under the amended statute there was no eligible driver for supervision. On August 10, 2005 the DMV allowed the mother to sign a "designation" giving the grandfather permission to supervise but indicating that she was "in no way relinquishing any parental rights."
On October 17, 2005, in an unpublished order, the District Court dismissed the individual claims of the minor named plaintiffs because they were not themselves disabled. Although they had an association with their mother, who is disabled, there was no employment relationship with the defendant, which is required for "associational disability" claims. The court permitted the organizational plaintiffs and the mother to continue the lawsuit.
On January 04, 2006, the court granted the plaintiffs' motion to reconsider its previous opinion and reinstated the minors as named plaintiffs. The court held that a party, although not herself disabled, may assert claims under Title II of the ADA and under the Rehabilitation Act for discrimination against a disabled person that directly injures that party.
The older daughter obtained her driver's license on November 14, 2005, two months after she turned 16. She claimed compensatory damages because of the two-month delay and because she had not been able to experience driving under different road conditions over the previous year, having compressed her entire learning experience into two months.
On July 1, 2006, the legislature further amended the statute to allow the appointment of an alternate permit supervisor who holds a valid Colorado driver's license and is twenty-one years or older, without any relinquishing of parental rights or power of attorney over the child. Nonetheless, the plaintiffs continued the lawsuit.
On May 14, 2007, the court granted the defendants' motion for summary judgment in an unpublished opinion, 2007 WL 1430103. The court found that after the amended statute mooted the claims for equitable relief, the only remaining claim was for compensatory damages under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, 29 U.S.C. § 794. However, because the plaintiffs could not prove that the defendants acted intentionally -- i.e. with "deliberate indifference to the strong likelihood that pursuit of its questioned policies will likely result in a violation of federally protected rights," they could not sustain a claim for damages. The court denied the plaintiffs' motion to reconsider in an unpublished opinion on June 21, 2007. Appeal
In a published opinion on April 15, 2009, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court order granting summary judgment to the defendants. Barber v. Colorado, Dept. of Revenue, 562 F.3d 1222 (9th Cir. 2009). The Ninth Circuit agreed that the plaintiffs failed to prove intent as the Rehabilitation Act required. Especially relevant were the facts that the DMV offered reasonable accommodation by allowing the mother to designate the grandfather as a supervisor and that the DMV was aware the state legislature was progressing towards amendment. The Court of Appeals' mandate on is the final entry on the district court docket, on May 7, 2009.Eric Weiler - 05/18/2010