On Monday, Dec. 9, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear Hamer vs. City of Trinidad, an Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)-related case against the city, meaning the decision in favor of the plaintiff by the U.S. Court of Appeals, for the Tenth Circuit, stands.
The high court denied the city’s petition for a “writ of certiorari,” an order from a higher court to a lower court to force the review of a case for any irregularities.
The question brought before the court was how narrowly the two-year statute of limitations, for which a plaintiff could sue a government entity for violations of the ADA, could be interpreted.
Stephen Hamer has been a vocal ADA advocate since living in Trinidad and operates the Facebook page All Things 81082. Hamer first told Trinidad City Council in April, 2014, that he had counted 79 sidewalks in the city that he believed were not in compliance with ADA. At that time, Hamer used a motorized scooter due to ankle problems. An expert for Hamer in his lawsuit said 67 percent of sidewalk cutouts in Trinidad are non-compliant with ADA.
Hamer filed a formal complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice and filed suit in October 2016.
In the first ruling, the district court ruled in the city’s favor, deciding that the two-year statute of limitations likely began around April 2014, when Hamer first informed the city of his concerns.
The Tenth Circuit, on May 15 overruled that decision and wrote that a government entity violates the ADA “each day that it fails to remedy a non-compliant service, program or activity.” Persons with disabilities are excluded from participating in the public service — of which sidewalks are one — “each day that she is deterred from utilizing it due to its non-compliance.”
The city, in attempting to appeal to the Supreme Court, cited conflicting interpretations of the statute of limitations and the “confusion” the Tenth Circuit’s ruling creates.
Hamer’s lawsuit seeks “injunctive relief requiring City officials to remedy the City’s non-compliant sidewalks and curb cuts, monetary damages, attorneys’ fees, and costs.”
The city maintains allowing lawsuits after the statute of limitations would make defense of ADA claims “extremely difficult” stating the complexity of ADA “all but ensures that public entities cannot maintain perfection in every aspect of their compliance obligations.”
Furthermore, the city brought forth concerns of not being able to budget appropriately to address ADA compliance issues due to potentially “jumping from one untimely ADA suit to the next, lacking any ability to draft a cohesive approach to ADA repairs.”
Attorneys for Hamer counterargue that the Tenth Circuit ruling does not eliminate the statute of limitations, nor allow repeated lawsuits; rather it protects a plaintiff’s ability to sue for “injuries experienced within the limitations period.”