University of Michigan Law School
Civil Rights Litigation Clearinghouse
new search
page permalink
Case Name American Council of the Blind v. O'Neill DR-DC-0001
Docket / Court 1:02-cv-00864-JR ( D.D.C. )
State/Territory District of Columbia
Case Type(s) Disability Rights-Pub. Accom.
Case Summary
In 2002, the American Council of the Blind and two individuals with visual impairments filed this suit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. The plaintiffs sued the Secretary of the Treasury and the Treasurer of the United States under § 504 of the Rehabilitation Act ... read more >
In 2002, the American Council of the Blind and two individuals with visual impairments filed this suit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. The plaintiffs sued the Secretary of the Treasury and the Treasurer of the United States under § 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. Represented by private counsel, the plaintiffs challenged the Treasury Department's failure to make paper banknotes that are independently usable by persons who are blind or visually impaired and sought declaratory and injunctive relief. The plaintiffs alleged that the Treasury knew about the need to make banknotes accessible for blind and visually impaired people, but had failed to take any steps to make any notes accessible in line with a 1995 National Academy of Sciences report the Department had commissioned.

Specifically, the plaintiffs argued that the 1995 NAS report had recommended changes to banknotes, including making bills different sizes based on value, enlarging the value of the bill to at least one-half of the height of the bill, printing in high-contrast ink, and changing the color of the bills based on value. These kinds of features are present in the banknotes of at least 120 countries. Despite the 1995 NAS report, the Treasury redesigned banknotes in the late 1990s in ways that did not address any of the recommended accessibility features. The plaintiffs advocated for changes to the size of bills to help blind people independently use U.S. bills. Color changes, high-contrast ink, and the size of the number on the bill were all supported as changes for people with visual impairments.

On August 30, 2002, the defendants filed a motion for summary judgment. Judge James Robertson denied the motion on March 31, 2003, noting that the court lacked a factual record on which to base a decision so early in the case. The defendants then filed a motion to dismiss, arguing that the relief requested was inappropriate because the Secretary had total discretion over currency design, the currency did not discriminate against visually impaired people, and the plaintiffs had not exhausted administrative remedies. Judge Robertson denied the defendant’s motion on March 31, 2004, but did dismiss the Treasurer as a party. 311 F. Supp. 2d 86. On November 23, 2005, the plaintiffs amended their complaint to only list the Secretary as a defendant and to expand their claims. Under the amended complaint, the lack of each different kind of accessibility feature was an independent violation of the Rehabilitation Act.

On November 28, 2006, the court held that the U.S. Treasury Department had failed to design, produce and issue paper currency that is readily distinguishable to blind and visually impaired people, violating §504 of the Rehabilitation Act. Judge Robertson granted declaratory relief to the plaintiffs, but did not give them the requested injunction. 2006 WL 3423799 (amended on December 1, 2006, 463 F. Supp. 2d 51). The government appealed the declaratory judgment decision, but the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia affirmed Judge Robertson's decision and sent the case back to him for a ruling on the request for an injunction. 525 F.3d 1256.

The defendant argued that an injunction was inappropriate because the Department was already planning to make banknotes more accessible and because the design of banknotes is a matter of discretion for the Secretary. On October 3, 2008, Judge Robertson rejected both arguments and ordered the government to come up with a plan to make paper money readily accessible. 581 F. Supp. 2d 1. The judge did not give any specific instructions how to accomplish this, but ordered that appropriate changes in each type of paper bill (except the $1 bill, which is specially protected) must be made before any redesign of that denomination is approved by the Secretary of the Treasury. While Judge Robertson acknowledged the plaintiffs’ concern that the Department would use the broad language of the injunction to just give external bill readers to the visually impaired instead of redesigning currency, he did not foreclose that as an option for the Department to come into compliance with the law. On December 11, 2008, the parties settled on the question of attorneys fees and costs, with the Department agreeing to wire almost $700,000 as a one-time payment of such fees. Articles published about the injunction can be found here and here.

Beginning on February 27, 2009, the defendants began to file a status report every six months. The reports indicated that progress was ongoing as the government developed the technology necessary to create accessible bills that would also be secure against counterfeiting risks. After Judge Robertson’s retirement, the case was randomly reassigned to Judge Beryl A. Howell on March 21, 2012. On August 15, 2012, Judge Howell denied the plaintiff’s first motion to amend the injunction to require a firmer deadline on making banknotes accessible. Judge Howell required the defendant to continue making semiannual reports, but required the defendant to be specific about expected timetables for the redesigns.

The Bureau of Engraving and Printing's (BEP's) description of its accessibility program can be found here. The BEP started testing tactile features in 2015. On April 28, 2016, the National Council on Disability sent a letter to the Secretary, requesting that tactile features be incorporated into banknotes. After reports that rolling out accessible banknotes could be delayed until 2026, the American Council for the Blind sent a letter to Treasury expressing concern about the delays.

On June 6, 2016, the plaintiffs moved to modify the court's 2008 order to adjust the timeframe so that all bills would be made accessible by the end of 2026 and the $10 would be made accessible by the end of 2020. The defendant initially indicated that redesigns of the $5, $10, $20, and $50 bills would be complete by 2018. The defendant then revised the time estimates, saying the redesign of the $10 would take at least until 2026 and not indicating when the other denominations would be done. The Department had also distributed iBill bill readers to visually impaired people, but the plaintiffs argued that these devices should not allow the defendant to delay redesigns. The bill reader required two hands to operate and was too inconvenient to use in public settings because of how long it took to read bills. The court denied the order on Jan. 6, 2017, holding that delays in making accessible bills did not constitute a significant public interest problem to warrant the court imposing a timeframe where it had intentionally avoided one in in 2008. 2017 WL 6271264. Specifically, Judge Howell worried that decoupling anti-counterfeiting design changes from accessibility-improving design changes for the sake of meeting hard deadlines could result in inefficient double-work for the Department.

The plaintiffs appealed this order on Jan. 23, 2017. On December 26, 2017, the D.C. Circuit held that Judge Howell had not based her decision not to amend the injunction to impose hard deadlines on a sufficient factual record. 878 F.3d 360. The lack of sufficient evidence constituted an abuse of discretion, and the case was remanded for Judge Howell to expand the record on the costs of imposing strict deadlines and decide the plaintiff’s motion again. The Court of Appeals rejected the plaintiffs’ argument that it was improper for the court to consider the projected costs of meeting the proposed deadlines at all. But the Court of Appeals also rejected the defendant’s argument that supplying bill readers like the iBill was sufficient to bring the Government into compliance with the Rehabilitation Act. The plaintiffs renewed their motion to modify the injunction on May 4, 2018.

On January 4, 2019, Judge Howell directed the plaintiffs to submit a list of defense witnesses to testify as to the costs of meeting the proposed deadlines and what questions the plaintiffs intended to ask those witnesses. On the same day, the defendant moved to stay the proceedings due to a lapse of appropriations. On January 9, 2019, Judge Howell denied the motion to stay and, instead of requiring witnesses, directed both parties to submit written answers to a combined 28 questions proposed by the court. 2019 WL 503450.

After receiving the parties responses, Judge Howell issued a 77-page order on August 22, 2019, denying the plaintiff’s third motion to modify the injunction. 396 F. Supp. 3d 147. Judge Howell acknowledged that the Department was not in compliance with the injunction and had been significantly delayed, but said that the Department was consistently working to come into compliance. While further acknowledging that circumstances had changed since the injunction was issued in 2008, Judge Howell considered the plaintiffs’ proposed deadlines to be too short and infeasible. The Department was working to incorporate Raised Tactile Features (RTF) into banknotes, but would not be ready to debut the RTF notes by the end of 2026 because of unexpected design problems. Judge Howell found that modifying the injunction as proposed by the plaintiffs would not be in the public interest and that the proposed changes would not resolve the problems the plaintiffs identified.

On October 21, 2019, the plaintiffs appealed Judge Howell’s denial of their third motion to modify the injunction. As of December 5, 2019, the appeal is ongoing and no oral argument has been scheduled.

Denise Heberle - 01/11/2010
Virginia Weeks - 11/06/2017
Olivia Wheeling - 12/05/2019


compress summary

- click to show/hide ALL -
Issues and Causes of Action
click to show/hide detail
Issues
Content of Injunction
Discrimination Prohibition
Reasonable Accommodation
Reporting
Required disclosure
Defendant-type
Jurisdiction-wide
Disability
Visual impairment
Discrimination-basis
Disability (inc. reasonable accommodations)
General
Currency
Government Services (specify)
Screen readers and similar accessibility devices
Plaintiff Type
Private Plaintiff
Causes of Action Declaratory Judgment Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2201
Section 504 (Rehabilitation Act), 29 U.S.C. § 701
Defendant(s) Department of the Treasury
Plaintiff Description A national membership organization of people who are blind or have vision impairments and two individuals who are blind or have vision impairments.
Class action status sought No
Class action status granted No
Filed Pro Se No
Prevailing Party Plaintiff
Public Int. Lawyer No
Nature of Relief Declaratory Judgment
Attorneys fees
Injunction / Injunctive-like Settlement
Source of Relief Litigation
Settlement
Form of Settlement Private Settlement Agreement
Order Duration 2008 - n/a
Filed 2002
Case Ongoing Yes
Additional Resources
click to show/hide detail
  See this case at CourtListener.com (May provide additional documents and, for active cases, real-time alerts)
Docket(s)
1:02-cv-00864-JR (D.D.C.)
DR-DC-0001-9000.pdf | Detail
Date: 10/25/2019
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
General Documents
Complaint for Declaratory and Injunctive Relief [ECF# 1]
DR-DC-0001-0002.pdf | Detail
Date: 05/03/2002
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment [ECF# 8-1]
DR-DC-0001-0008.pdf | Detail
Date: 08/30/2002
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Reply Memorandum In Opposition to Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment [ECF# 10]
DR-DC-0001-0010.pdf | Detail
Date: 10/30/2002
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Reply Memorandum in Support of Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment [ECF# 12]
DR-DC-0001-0014.pdf | Detail
Date: 11/12/2002
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Memorandum Order [ECF# 14] (D.D.C.)
DR-DC-0001-0009.pdf | Detail
Date: 03/31/2003
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Defendants' Motion to Dismiss [ECF# 15]
DR-DC-0001-0003.pdf | Detail
Date: 05/28/2003
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Memorandum in Opposition to Defendant's Motion To Dismiss [ECF# 17]
DR-DC-0001-0004.pdf | Detail
Date: 08/12/2003
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Reply Memorandum in Support of Defendant's Motion to Dismiss [ECF# 18]
DR-DC-0001-0006.pdf | Detail
Date: 09/10/2003
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Memorandum Order [ECF# 19] (311 F.Supp.2d 86) (D.D.C.)
DR-DC-0001-0005.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Date: 03/31/2004
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Defendant's Renewed Motion to Dismiss or for Summary Judgment [ECF# 33-1]
DR-DC-0001-0013.pdf | Detail
Date: 08/31/2005
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment [ECF# 35-1]
DR-DC-0001-0012.pdf | Detail
Date: 08/31/2005
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
First Amended Complaint for Declaratory and Injunctive Relief [ECF# 53]
DR-DC-0001-0001.pdf | Detail
Date: 11/23/2005
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Plaintiff's Supplemental Memorandum [ECF# 68]
DR-DC-0001-0015.pdf | Detail
Date: 05/09/2006
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Response to Plaintiff's Supplemental Memorandum [ECF# 69]
DR-DC-0001-0016.pdf | Detail
Date: 05/15/2006
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Memorandum Order [ECF# 71] (D.D.C.)
DR-DC-0001-0007.pdf | Detail
Date: 11/28/2006
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Memorandum Order (Amended) [ECF# 72] (463 F.Supp.2d 51) (D.D.C.)
DR-DC-0001-0019.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Date: 12/01/2006
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Opinion (2007 U.S.App.LEXIS 6680)
DR-DC-0001-0023.pdf | LEXIS | Detail
Date: 02/27/2007
Source: LexisNexis
[Appellate Opinion] (525 F.3d 1256)
DR-DC-0001-0017.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Date: 05/20/2008
Source: U.S. Court of Appeals website
Defendant's Memorandum of Points and Authorities Regarding Final Order and Judgment [ECF# 88]
DR-DC-0001-0020.pdf | Detail
Date: 09/15/2008
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Plaintiffs Response to Defendant's Memorandum of Points and Authorities Regarding Final Judgment [ECF# 89]
DR-DC-0001-0011.pdf | Detail
Date: 09/21/2008
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Memorandum [ECF# 95] (581 F.Supp.2d 1) (D.D.C.)
DR-DC-0001-0022.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Date: 10/03/2008
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Order and Judgment [ECF# 96] (D.D.C.)
DR-DC-0001-0021.pdf | Detail
Date: 10/03/2008
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Stipulation of Compromise and Settlement of Plaintiffs' Claim for Attorney Fees and Costs and Proposed Order Thereon (signed) [ECF# 101]
DR-DC-0001-0018.pdf | Detail
Date: 12/11/2008
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Order [ECF# 152 878 F.3d 360] (878 F.3d 360) (D.D.C.)
DR-DC-0001-0024.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Date: 01/06/2017
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Order [ECF# 175] (2019 WL 503450) (D.D.C.)
DR-DC-0001-0025.pdf | WESTLAW | Detail
Date: 01/09/2019
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Memorandum Opinion [ECF# 192] (396 F.Supp.3d 147) (D.D.C.)
DR-DC-0001-0026.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Date: 04/22/2019
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
show all people docs
Judges Garland, Merrick B. (D.C. Circuit) show/hide docs
DR-DC-0001-0023
Howell, Beryl Alaine (D.D.C.) show/hide docs
DR-DC-0001-0024 | DR-DC-0001-0025 | DR-DC-0001-0026 | DR-DC-0001-9000
Robertson, James (D.D.C.) show/hide docs
DR-DC-0001-0005 | DR-DC-0001-0007 | DR-DC-0001-0009 | DR-DC-0001-0018 | DR-DC-0001-0019 | DR-DC-0001-0021 | DR-DC-0001-0022 | DR-DC-0001-9000
Rogers, Judith Ann Wilson (D.C. Circuit) show/hide docs
DR-DC-0001-0017 | DR-DC-0001-0023
Sentelle, David Bryan (W.D.N.C., D.C. Circuit) show/hide docs
DR-DC-0001-0023
Plaintiff's Lawyers Lovitky, Jeffrey A. (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
DR-DC-0001-0001 | DR-DC-0001-0002 | DR-DC-0001-0004 | DR-DC-0001-0010 | DR-DC-0001-0011 | DR-DC-0001-0012 | DR-DC-0001-0015 | DR-DC-0001-0017 | DR-DC-0001-0018 | DR-DC-0001-9000
Defendant's Lawyers Azar, Henry A. Jr. (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
DR-DC-0001-0006
Cohn, Jonathan F. (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
DR-DC-0001-0017
Katsas, Gregory George (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
DR-DC-0001-0018
Lobue, Joseph W. (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
DR-DC-0001-0018
Simpson, W. Scott (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
DR-DC-0001-0003 | DR-DC-0001-0006 | DR-DC-0001-0008 | DR-DC-0001-0013 | DR-DC-0001-0014 | DR-DC-0001-0016 | DR-DC-0001-0018 | DR-DC-0001-0020 | DR-DC-0001-9000
Taylor, Jeff (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
DR-DC-0001-0018
Other Lawyers Deese, Charles Michael (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
DR-DC-0001-9000

- click to show/hide ALL -

new search
page permalink

- top of page -