Title II under ADA Applicable to Public Rights-of-Way, Parks and Other Recreation Areas

Plaintiff Ivana Kirola, who suffers from cerebral palsy, sued the City and County of San Francisco, in a class action contending certain public areas, including rights-of-way, pools, parks and other recreation areas, did not meet the mandate of Title II of the American With Disabilities Act (Kirola v. City and County of San Francisco, 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, No. 14-17521, 2017 DJDAR 5982). Title II provides that no qualified individual with a disability “shall, by reason of such disability, be excluded from participation in or be denied the benefits of the services, programs, or activities of a public entity, or be subjected to discrimination by any such entity.”

Title II’s implementing regulations mandate that each facility constructed after January 26, 1992 be “readily accessible to and usable by individuals with disabilities.” And, for each facility “altered after January 26, 1992,” the altered portion must, “to the maximum extent feasible,” be likewise accessible. The Federal Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board creates nonbinding Americans With Disabilities Act Accessibility Guidelines (ADAAG) to ensure compliance with Title II, and that the Department of Justice (DOJ) adopt its own binding regulations, consistent with the ADAAG standards. Here, the District Court interpreted ADAAG standards as not applying to public rights-of-way, parks, and playground facilities. The District Court concluded that none of Kirola’s experts were reliable in their interpretation of the standards and how the standards applied to the public rights-of-way, etc. Conversely, the District Court concluded that all of the city’s experts were reliable. It thus disregarded and discarded every ADAAG violation identified by Kirola’s experts, accepting only the small number of violations identified by the city’s experts.

The matter was reversed in part, and remanded with instructions. In the appellate court’s view, the ADAAG standards do apply to such facilities, as DOJ policy and ADAAG language suggest. Because ADAAG standards apply to public rights-of-way, parks and playgrounds, the District Court erred in concluding Kirola’s experts’ application of ADAAG to those facilities made them unreliable.

This case is important because it emphasizes that municipalities need to be aware that Title II of the Americans With Disabilities Act is applicable to the municipalities’ public rights-of-way, parks and playgrounds.

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June 23, 2017