Supreme Court to Hear Disabilities Act Title 2 Case from Tennessee
June 24, 2003 -- The U. S. Supreme Court has agreed to take a case in which Tennessee argues that states have immunity from claims brought under Title 2 of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
"The justices' decision to accept the case was almost a foregone conclusion," wrote the New York Times' Linda Greenhouse in her June 24. story. "Three times before, including this term, the court had accepted a case that raised the same question. But in two cases, the parties dismissed the case before the court could rule, and in the other, the justices failed to resolve the question."
Last July, ruling in the case State of Tennessee v. George Lane and Beverly Jones, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals said that the state was not immune from damages claims under Title 2 of the Americans with Disabilities Act. In February, 2001, the Court had ruled in University of Alabama v. Garrett that states were immune from damages claims under Title I of the law. This case would ask the Court to issue a similar decision for Title 2 of the Act.
The case, filed in 1998, concerns George Lane and Beverly Jones on behalf of disabled Tennesseeans who could not access county courthouses due to architectural barriers. Title 2 of the ADA requires state and local goverment services to be accessible.
Lane, wrote Greenhouse, "crawled up two flights of stairs for his arraignment on misdemeanor traffic charges, and was later arrested for 'failure to appear' and jailed when he refused to repeat the ordeal when it came time for a pretrial hearing.
"The other plaintiff, Beverly Jones, is a certified court reporter who needs access to courtrooms to do her job. She was unable to enter four county courthouses where lawyers had hired her to record the proceedings. Her legal complaint listed 23 Tennessee counties with inaccessible courthouses despite the requirement of Title II of the Americans With Disabilities Act that public 'services, programs or activities' be made accessible to people with disabilities."
The question before the Court is: Did Congress have the constitutional authority to require states to pay money damages for violations of Title 2 of the ADA? "A negative ruling might suggest that Congress did not have the power to enact many of the core provisions of Title 2," says ADA Watch.
"California advocates, following their success in stopping the Hason appeal, have volunteered to help the Tennessee community implement a campaign similar to the one that led to their victory," says ADA Watch's Jim Ward. ADAWatch is urging Tennessee's disability community to contact the state's governor, attorney general and solictor general "and ask that they withdraw this appeal and support our civil rights," says Ward.
Lane became an amputee in 1996 as the result of a traffic accident. When he was was cited later for driving with a revoked license, he arrived at the Polk County Courthouse only to find he couldn't get up the stairs.
"The deputies and other personnel just kind of stood there and watched him as he crawled up to the courtroom," Lane's attorney William J. Brown told reporters in Aug, 1998, when Lane and paraplegic court reporter Beverly Jones filed suit against Polk Co., Tenn. and two dozen other Tennessee counties under Title 2 of the Americans with Disabilities Act for failing to make courthouses accessible.
"Every time I'm carried up the steps, I lose my independence, and I'm not being treated equally," Jones told reporters when the suit was filed. A freelance court reporter with two teen-age children, Jones said that in order to work in Clay County, she had to be carried up an old, steep staircase. In Jackson County, Jones said she is scared her "ride" will slip and fall.
"Most of Tennessee's counties use courthouses built more than a century ago, when few architects considered the needs of people with disabilities," reported the Associated Press.Read the Sixth Circuit opinion.
For more background or sources on this topic, contact:
From the Disability and Business Technical Assistance Centers:
Supreme Court ADA decisions: