On July 22, 2005, a group of Arlington residents who have mobility impairments that require that they use motorized wheelchairs filed a lawsuit under Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), 42 U.S.C. §§ 12131 et seq., and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, 29 U.S.C. § 794. The plaintiffs, represented by private counsel, asked the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas for an injunction requiring the City to bring its curbs, sidewalks, and parking lots into ADA compliance. In their complaint, plaintiffs point to more than one hundred curbs and poorly maintained sidewalks in Arlington that they allege make their travel impossible or unsafe. They also point to at least three public facilities lacking adequate handicap parking.
In response to plaintiffs' Fourth Amended Complaint, defendant filed a motion to dismiss on April 30, 2007, arguing that the claim was out of time; that the plaintiffs lacked standing to invoke Title II or Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act; and that the alleged facts did not state a legal claim of discrimination (that an enforceable duty only arose when new construction or alteration triggered the duty). On March 31, 2008, Judge Terry R. Means granted defendants motion and dismissed plaintiffs' complaint on the basis that their claims were barred by the applicable two-year statute of limitations. Plaintiffs appealed.
On July 7, 2009, the Fifth Circuit issued an opinion finding that the ADA authorizes plaintiffs' claims because the City's curbs, sidewalks, and parking lots are a service, program, or activity within the meaning of Title II. The Court also held that, although the district court correctly held both that the plaintiffs' claims were subject to a two-year statute of limitations, and that they accrued on the date the City completed any noncompliant construction or alteration, it improperly burdened the plaintiffs with proving accrual within the two years preceding the filing of their complaint. The Court therefore vacated the district court's judgment of dismissal and remanded for further proceedings. Circuit Judge Prado dissented, arguing that the statute of limitations was triggered by the plaintiffs' encounters with, not the City's completion of, noncompliant sidewalks, curbs, or parking lots.
On August 23, 2010, the Fifth Circuit granted a petition for rehearing and withdrew its July 7, 2009 Opinion. On rehearing, the Court held that sidewalks, curbs, and parking lots are not Title II services, programs, or activities, and thus, plaintiffs lack a private right of action to enforce the regulations unless noncompliance has denied access to a service, program, or activity. Where a cause of action is established, the statute of limitations is triggered when the plaintiff knew or should have known that he or she was excluded from a city service, program, or activity. Again, the Court vacated the district court's judgment for improperly burdening plaintiffs with proving accrual within the two years preceding the filing of their complaint and remanded for further proceedings.
On January 26, 2011, the Fifth Circuit ordered that the case be reheard by the Court. On October 11, 2011, the Fifth Circuit issued its en banc decision, finding that the District Court had erred in granting the Defendant's Motion to Dismiss. The Court held that all public sidewalks that were built or modified after the passage of the ADA are covered by Title II, and that the plaintiffs here had a valid private right of action to challenge the inaccessible sidewalks. The court also held that the statute of limitations did not bar this claim because it begins to run only when plaintiffs knew or should have known about the violation (regardless of when the sidewalks were actually constructed).
Following this decision, the City petitioned the United States Supreme Court to hear the case, but the Supreme Court denied certiorari review in February 2012.
In October 2012, the City Council approved a Settlement Agreement to resolve the plaintiffs' claims rather than proceed to trial. Through this agreement, the City has promised to remedy specific sidewalk violations over a period of 25 months. The City will also engage in efforts to proactively comply with ADA requirements going forward, and will hire an ADA coordinator. The City also agreed to pay the plaintiffs' attorney's fees. - 11/27/2012