On March 3, 2003, Disabled in Action of Pennsylvania (DIA) brought this action against the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) alleging that SEPTA violated the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. § 12101 (ADA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, 29 U.S.C. § 794 (RA) after it completed two construction projects on its public transit facilities in Philadelphia and did not make the facilities sufficiently accessible to people with disabilities.
DIA, represented by attorneys from the Disability Law Project and a private disability rights firm, asked the court for injunctive relief requiring SEPTA to make the stations accessible to persons who use wheelchairs by constructing elevators at the City Hall Station and the 15th Street Courtyard, which provides access to the 15th Street Station.
Specifically, DIA alleged that SEPTA replaced an existing stairway at the 15th Street Courtyard without making the entrance accessible to persons in wheelchairs, and that SEPTA replaced an existing escalator at the City Hall Station Broad Street entrance but did not make the entrance accessible to persons using wheelchairs.
DIA's fourth amended complaint alleged that SEPTA violated the ADA and RA by making "alterations" to the 15th Street Courtyard and the City Hall Station without also making the affected portions of the facilities accessible to individuals with disabilities. Additionally, DIA alleged that the 15th Street Station and City Hall Station were "key stations" under the ADA and RA. Therefore, SEPTA was required to make those stations handicapped accessible.
On May 15, 2003, the United States District Court Eastern District of Pennsylvania (Judge Clifford Scott Green) granted SEPTA's motion to dismiss under Federal Rules of Civil Procedure R. 19(b) for DIA's failure to join the City of Philadelphia as a defendant. SEPTA argued that joinder of the City of Philadelphia was required, because the property at issue was owned by the City. On June 4, 2003 the District Court (Judge Green) granted DIA's motion vacating the May 15, 2003 order granting dismissal. On June 12, 2003, DIA filed an amended complaint, which included the City of Philadelphia as a defendant.
DIA reached a settlement agreement with the City of Philadelphia on August 16, 2004. The terms of the agreement provided that the City encouraged and would permit SEPTA to construct ADA-compliant elevators at the City Hall Station and the 15th Street Courtyard. On August 19, 2004, the case was reassigned and on November 30, 2004, the Court (Judge Gene E.K. Pratter) granted DIA's motion to dismiss the City of Philadelphia pursuant to the settlement agreement.
On January 7, 2004, DIA filed its third amended complaint, adding the "key station" claim. On December 23, 2004, the District Court (Judge Pratter) granted in part and denied in part SEPTA's motion to dismiss and motion to strike portions of DIA's third amended complaint. Specifically, the District Court (Judge Pratter) denied SEPTA's motion to strike DIA's allegations that SEPTA violated the "key station" provisions of Title II of the ADA, but DIA was ordered to strike allegations relating to an alleged agreement SEPTA made to construct elevators at City Hall in lieu of construction of an elevator at the 15th Street Station.
On February 15, 2005, DIA filed a fourth amended complaint, and alleged that SEPTA's renovations to both the 15th Street Courtyard and City Hall Station constituted "alterations" that triggered ADA and RA accessibility obligations.
The parties filed cross motions for summary judgment on April 5, 2006. On November 17, 2006, the Court (Judge Pratter) granted SEPTA's motion for summary judgment regarding all of DIA's claims. Disabled in Action of Pa. v. Southeastern Pa. Transp. Auth., No. 03-CV-1577, 2006 WL 3392733 (E.D. Pa. Nov. 17, 2006). The Court (Judge Pratter) held that DIA's claims were barred by the two-year statute of limitations, because the claims accrued when DIA knew, or had reason to know, that SEPTA's renovations would not include elevators. DIA filed its claims more than two years after those dates. DIA subsequently appealed.
On March 27, 2007, the United States filed an amicus curiae brief in support of DIA urging a reversal of the Court's summary judgment in favor of SEPTA.
On August 19, 2008, the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit (Judge Michael D. Fisher; Judge Thomas M. Hardiman, Judge Walter King Stapleton) reversed the District Court and remanded the case. Disabled in Action of Pa. v. Southeastern Pa. Transp. Auth., 539 F.3d 199 (3rd Cir. 2008). The Third Circuit (Judges Fisher, Hardiman, Stapleton) held that the accrual date of a discrimination claim depends on when the discrimination occurred and that discrimination did not occur until the construction was completed. Therefore, DIA's claims were not barred by the statute of limitations.
On November 04, 2008, DIA filed its motion for summary judgment. On January 16, 2009, SEPTA filed its motion for summary judgment. On September 11, 2009, the United States District Court Eastern District of Pennsylvania (Judge Pratter) granted DIA's motion for summary judgment. Disabled in Action of Pa. v. Southeastern Pa. Transp. Auth., 655 F. Supp. 2d 553 (E.D.Pa. 2009). The Court (Judge Pratter) held that SEPTA's construction work at both the 15th Street Courtyard and City Hall Station were "alterations" under the ADA and RA. Therefore, the ADA and RA required SEPTA to make both locations readily accessible to individuals with disabilities.
SEPTA appealed the District Court decision. On February 16, 2011, the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit (Judge Julio M. Fuentes, Judge Kent A. Jordan, Judge Anthony Joseph Scirica) affirmed the District Court's decision granting summary judgment in favor of DIA Disabled in Action of Pa. v. Southeastern Pa. Transp. Auth., No. 09-3964, 2011 WL 522947 (3rd Cir. Feb. 16, 2011). The Third Circuit held that the ADA must be interpreted liberally to provide equal access for disabled persons to public facilities. The court concluded that the City Hall Station and 15th Street Courtyard construction projects were "alterations" under the ADA, even though they were not "major structural alterations." Additionally, the court held that the ADA required SEPTA to make the alterations "to the maximum extent feasible" regardless of their cost, because "feasible" referred to technical matters and not economic costs. Furthermore, the court held that the 15th Street and the City Hall stations were not already "readily accessible" merely because there were disabled accessible elevators at other portions of the underground concourse connecting the 15th Street, City Hall, and Suburban Station.
On remand, the case finally settled; a consent decree was entered September 16, 2011, approved by Judge Pratter. The decree provided that SEPTA would install several elevators at the relevant stations, make fare lines accessible, and pay attorneys fees of about $500,000. It also required SEPTA to provide status reports to plaintiffs counsel, quarterly.Joe Reiter - 08/29/2011