The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday declined to hear an Americans with Disabilities Act-related case against the city of Trinidad, meaning that the decision in favor of the plaintiff by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit stands.
In Hamer v. City of Trinidad, the question was how narrowly to interpret the two-year statute of limitations for which a plaintiff could sue a government entity for violations of the ADA.
Stephen Hamer is a Trinidad resident who uses a motorized scooter due to ankle problems. He first told the City Council at an April 2014 meeting that he counted 79 sidewalks in the city not in compliance with the ADA. The 1990 federal law prohibits anyone with a disability from being “excluded from participation in or be denied the benefits of the services, programs or activities of a public entity."
Hamer filed a formal complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice and continued to speak up at council meetings. Even though the city began to repair some of its sidewalk infrastructure, Hamer filed suit in October 2016.
Initially, 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. To Hamer, because he suffered from the non-compliant sidewalks every day, he interpreted the statute to mean that his claim could apply to any violations encountered in the two years preceding the suit.
The Tenth Circuit, in a May 15 decision, agreed with him. A government entity, the court wrote, 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 attorney, Andrew Bizer, of the New Orleans-based firm Bizer & DeReus, called the outcome a “win” for municipalities with ADA violations because broadly construing the statute of limitations would give an incentive for disabled residents to work with their municipalities, rather than trying to sue at their first encounter.
“Citizens who encounter barriers will not rush to file lawsuits and will have the opportunity to effect change as Mr. Hamer has done — with litigation only as a last resort,” Bizer said.