Law, Regulation and Confusion in the ADA

Tea-Leaves-In-CupThis week two ADA writers I follow, Marc Dubin and William Goren, looked at the problem of telling just what the ADA requires. Both concluded that in some respect the only way to know was to  look at the latest private settlements between the Department of Justice and various businesses it investigates. You can know the statute, you can know the regulations, you can read the various guidances, but if you don’t keep track of what the DOJ is doing when it settles its private investigations you really don’t know what to do in many cases. The National Association of the Deaf, an advocacy group, recently wrote on the requirement of closed captioning in audio and audiovisual presentations (nad.org). With a few exceptions governed by statutes other than the ADA the best the N.A.D. could say was that closed captioning “may” be required or that the situation is uncertain.

This uncertainty is great for lawyers and consultants. Like most folks in the ADA and FHA consulting business Marc, William and I follow the DOJ and HUD press releases that announce their settlements, and receive updates on their regulatory initiatives. For businesses, on the other hand, it stinks. Not only is a business required to constantly pay consultants to help it comply with the ADA, it will frequently be told by the consultant that the only answer comes from reading the tea leaves and guessing what the DOJ’s position will be when and if it finally publishes a definitive regulation. Even that guess comes with a warning: the DOJ’s position in a private settlement is not binding on private litigants or the courts, so doing what DOJ appears to want won’t help a business that is sued by a disabled individual.

This uncertainty comes in part because of a regulatory process that seems hopelessly bogged down. Web accessibility regulations have been in the making for years, but the issue is still being studied. The current 2010 Standards for accessibility were originally published in the 1990′s and parts were not in effect until 2013. Haste is never good when faced with complex problems of accessibility, but when the wheels of justice grind too slowly one has to ask whether there is a systemic problem.

More important, every time the Department of Justice delays the promulgation or implementation of a regulation it creates uncertainty and expense for business. Remember, the requirements of the ADA statute apply regardless of the existence of regulations, and when the DOJ does not act private litigants have free reign to argue that it means whatever appears in their interest. DOJ itself has the same freedom, for it can change its own policies for prosecution and settlement without any oversight by the courts.

Why the DOJ has decided to act through private settlements rather than regulation is an interesting subject for speculation, but there is little doubt that the only people who benefit are lawyers and consultants. The disabled suffer the delay in promulgation and implementation of regulations that may benefit them while businesses suffer the uncertainty and expense that come from never knowing quite how to spend their money on accessibility. Although it may be impossible given the bureaucratic love of delay found in most government agencies, reform should be on the agenda for both Congress and the Executive branches.

 

 

Endless liability under the Fair Housing Act — and let’s make it personal

Endless liability under the Fair Housing ActI often remind my clients that when it comes to the Fair Housing Act and Americans with Disabilities Act the adage “ignorance is bliss” does not apply. Last week’s decision from the Southern District of Mississippi, U.S. v. Dawn Properties, Inc. et al 2014 WL 5775324 (S.D. Miss. Nov. 6, 2014) is a reminder that ignorance may turn corporate liability into personal liability for managers or owners, and that time may not be enough to insure safety.

The underlying business deals were common in the real estate development business. An LLC, Ridgeland Construction One LLC, was created to develop an apartment complex. Construction was finished in 2000 and the LLC was merged into a Delaware LLC of the same name. It was then sold to a new group of investors. In 2006 the property was sold and, two years later, the LLC was dissolved. No one involved suspected that there might be FHA accessibility violations although it appears no survey was ever conducted to make sure. Continue reading

ADA and the Internet – you need a nerd, not a lawyer.

gornunivacx250I was surprised last month to see a major national law firm suggest, in its ADA blog, that internet businesses are legally required by the ADA to create accessible websites, and need to consult a lawyer about that requirement. While it is undoubtedly true that creating an accessible web site is good public relations, it is uncertain whether it is required by the ADA. Here is a brief look at where things stand, and a recommendation about who you need to consult.

The courts will ultimately decide what the ADA requires in terms of internet access. Right now we have a very clear decision from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals holding that a web site is not a place of public accommodation and is therefore not subject to the ADA. Recent district court decisions in the Ninth Circuit follow this precedent, and the Ninth Circuit remains the highest federal court to address the issue. Continue reading

Is it all Uber for ride-sharing businesses that don’t comply with the ADA?

car-cramming-renaultUber Technologies, maker and promoter of the Uber app for ride sharing, has seen a good deal of litigation in the last two years, most of it brought by former Uber drivers or taxi-cab regulators. Two recent cases, one in Texas and one in California, (Salovitz v. Uber Technologies, Inc. in Texas and UFB of California v. Uber Technologies, Inc. in California), add a new dimension to the problems Uber may face. Uber may find that it is responsible for the failure of its drivers to comply with the requirements of the ADA. Continue reading

Fido Frenzy Revisited – reasonableness is the key.

chien mechant2When a Court refers to the case before it as a “sad commentary on the litigious nature of our society” you can be fairly sure that one party or the other is going to do badly. In Sabal Palm Condominiums of Pine Island Ridge Ass’n, Inc. v. Fischer,  2014 WL 988767 (S.D.Fla. 2014) it was the owner of a condominium development who decided to rely on superficially clever lawyering instead of common sense. The disabled individual who sought a service dog didn’t fare well either, but was, in the end, the winner. The case should be helpful to property owners and managers as they sort through what they can and cannot ask about when confronted with a reasonable accommodation request. Continue reading

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Accessibility Defense

Richard Hunt Talks About ADA and FHA Litigation.

Richard Hunt Talks About ADA and FHA Litigation.

Richard Hunt Talks About ADA and FHA Litigation.

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