N.D. Ind: Permits claims for prospective relief but not damages challenging lack of accessible courthouse parking

In a lawsuit challenging the lack of handicapped-accessible parking spots near a courthouse, a district court held that plaintiffs defending against pending lawsuits have standing to seek prospective relief under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”). However, the court held that these plaintiffs did not have standing to pursue damages.  The court also dismissed claims challenging the lack of parking by a plaintiff who had filed an unrelated suit in district court that had been dismissed.  Means v. St. Joseph County Bd. of Comm’rs, No. 3:10-CV-003 JD, 2011 WL 4452244 (N.D. Ind. Sept. 26, 2011). Jon E. Deguilio, an Obama nominee, wrote the opinion.  The plaintiffs are represented by Indiana Legal Services.

Ms. Means and Ms. Matney, both Plaintiffs in this case, use wheelchairs. They were both sued in an unrelated lawsuit in the Small Claims Division of the St. Joseph Superior Court. As of January 2011, the lawsuit against them was still pending but subject to an indefinite continuance. The other Plaintiff, Mr. Hummel, also uses a wheelchair. In 2006, he and his wife initiated a lawsuit in St. Joseph Superior Court. In 2009, the case was decided against them, and they did not appeal the decision.

In January 2010, the three Plaintiffs filed a separate lawsuit against the St. Joseph Superior Court, the County Board of Commissioners, and the City of South Bend, alleging violations of Title II of the ADA, Section 5 of the Rehabilitation Act, and the Indiana and federal Constitutions. The Plaintiffs claimed that the County Board of Commissioners and the City provided an insufficient number of handicapped-accessible parking spots near the St. Joseph Superior Court. According to the Plaintiffs, of the eighty five parking spaces in the four block vicinity of the Courthouse, there are at least seven that are designated as handicapped, and four of the seven handicapped spots are two-hour parking spots.  During Plaintiff Hummel’s litigation in the Courthouse, he was forced to park three blocks away from the courthouse to avoid receiving a ticket. Plaintiffs Means and Matney, however, were not affected by the parking situation during their litigation. The City moved for summary judgment.

The court began its opinion by noting that the Plaintiffs made two sets of distinct claims: claims for damages based on past injuries and claims for prospective relief based on continuing violations. Focusing first on the claims for damages by Plaintiffs Means and Matney, the court concluded that they lack standing because they failed to allege that they were injured by the lack of handicapped-accessible parking spots. The court went on to state that even if the lack of accessible parking spots violates the ADA, the fact that Plaintiffs Means and Matney failed to allege that they were harmed by the violations precludes them from seeking damages for the violations.

Moving on to Plaintiff Hummel’s claim for damages, the court first concluded that he has standing because he alleged that he and his late wife were personally affected by the lack of handicapped-accessible parking spots. Nonetheless, the court dismissed his claims for damages because it found that the record did not support his contention that the City’s alleged failure to provide a sufficient number of accessible parking spots violates the ADA. First, to the extent that Hummel’s claim was based on the relative lack of accessible spots, the court found that the ratio of handicapped-accessible to non-accessible spots near the courthouse –  8.2%  or 11.8%, depending on how the surrounding area is measured – exceeds the minimum ratio (roughly between 4 and 6%) that the ADA Accessibility Guidelines require for parking lots. See ADA Accessibility Guidelines for Buildings and Facilities, § 4.1.2(5)(a). The court did point out that the Guidelines are not controlling (since the issue here is the availability of street parking, not accessible parking spots in parking lots), but found them useful since they are “the only guidance even marginally relevant.” The court added that even if the ADA requires a higher ratio for on-street spaces than required by the Accessibility Guidelines, no reasonable jury could find an ADA violation in the instant case, since the City dedicated greater than 10% of the on-street parking exclusively for the use of individuals with disabilities.

Relatedly, the court also found that the City was not required to provide Hummel with accessible parking that was close to the courthouse. Although the court acknowledged that the ADA requires public entities to reasonably accommodate individuals with disabilities, the court also stated that “the ADA does not entitle those individuals to special parking access not available to the general public.” See Jones v. City of Monroe, 341 F.3d 474, 479 (6th Cir. 2003). Consequently, the court reasoned, the City did not violate the ADA because “Hummel had the same parking options as anyone else: short-term on-street parking near the Courthouse, long term parking in garages or lots for a fee, or free on-street parking several blocks farther away from the Courthouse.”

Moving on to the claims for prospective relief, the court first held that Hummel lacked standing to pursue prospective relief because his lawsuit is no longer pending and he did not allege that he has any intention of returning to the Courthouse. Conversely, the court held that Plaintiffs Means and Matney have standing to pursue their claims for prospective relief provided that their lawsuit in the Courthouse is still pending. In the court’s view, the fact that Plaintiffs Means and Matney may return to the courthouse is sufficient to give them standing to seek prospective relief.  The court noted that the city had not put forth any argument or evidence with regard to “future-oriented claims.” Nevertheless, the court’s dismissal of Hummel’s damages claim on the merits does not bode well for Means and Matney’s claim for prospective relief, which remains alive in the litigation.

–Scott Herrig, University of California, Berkeley-School of Law 2012

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