Next week, my daughter is on break. She has one of those schedules where they are on for six weeks and then off for one week. They do get two weeks for winter vacation. So, since my schedule is likely to be all over the place next week, I thought I would do another blog this week since the 11th Circuit came down with a very important decision on September 17, 2019. Previously, we have blogged twice on the case, here. The case involved the question of whether the Department of Justice has any authority to enforce title II of the ADA. In a 2-1 decision a panel of the 11th Circuit says that it does. The person writing the decision (published), Judge Boggs, was sitting by designation from the Sixth Circuit. So, the actual judges on the 11th Circuit split1-1. That leads one to wonder whether Florida will not petition for an en banc rehearing and may very well get it. The actual decision is 66 pages long, but it can be condensed considerably for our purposes. The facts aren’t really important as what was at issue is whether DOJ has the ability to enforce title II of the ADA through a court action. As usual, the blog entry is divided into categories and they are: what it comes down to; title VI of the Civil Rights Act; §504 of the Rehabilitation Act; title II of the ADA; dissent by Judge Branch; and takeaways. Of course, the reader is free to focus on any or all of the categories.

 

I

What It All Comes down to

  1. The entire case turns upon how 29 U.S.C. §794a(a)(2) gets interpreted. More specifically, that statute provides: “the remedies, procedures, and rights set forth in title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (42 U.S.C. §2000d et seq.) (and in subsection (e)(3) of §706 of such act (42 U.S.C. 2000e-5), apply to claims of discrimination in compensation) shall be available to any person (emphasis mine), aggrieved by any act or failure to act by any recipient of federal assistance or federal provider of such assistance under §794 of this title.
  2. The reason it comes down to the interpretation of the above paragraph is that through a series of interlocking cross-references starting with 42 U.S.C. §12133 remedies for violating title II of the ADA are linked to the remedies section for violating §504 of the Rehabilitation Act, which in turn links to title VI remedies of the Civil Rights Act.

II

Title VI of the Civil Rights Act

  1. The remedies for violating §504 of the Rehabilitation Act are tied into title VI of the Civil Rights Act.
  2. Where there is a violation of title VI of the Civil Rights Act, agencies enforcing the prohibition on discrimination can either terminate funding to the particular program violating the regulation or can take action by any other means authorized by law.
  3. Those feeling they have been subjected to discrimination in violation of title VI can file a written complaint. Upon receipt of that complaint, the Department is required to make a prompt investigation to determine whether recipient of federal funding has failed to comply with the antidiscrimination requirements. If that investigation demonstrates recipient is not in compliance, the Department must notify the recipient and attempt to resolve the matter by informal means if possible. Where informal means do not work, then the Department can take further action to induce compliance. Such action can include suspending, terminating, and refusing to grant or continue federal financial assistance, or “any other means authorized by law.”
  4. Over time, “by any other means” has been characterized by the Department of Justice as including appropriate proceedings brought by the Department to enforce any rights of the United States under any law of the United States. That action cannot be taken until it has been determined that it cannot secure voluntary compliance, the Atty. Gen. has approved the action, and the noncomplying party had been notified of its failure to comply and the action to be taken.
  5. 28 C.F.R. §50.3 talks about alternative courses of action and specifically states that compliance with the nondiscrimination mandate of title VI may often be obtained more promptly by appropriate court action than by hearings and termination of assistance.
  6. The phrase “any other means authorized by law,” shows that Congress intended to preserve other methods of enforcement, including the filing of suit. The court cites to various cases supporting that proposition.

III

§504 of the Rehabilitation Act

  1. Congress amended the Rehabilitation Act in 1974. Legislative history from that amendment reveals that Congress intended §504, 29 U.S.C. §794, to lead to an implementation of a compliance program similar to title VI of the Civil Rights Act.
  2. The Department of Health Education and Welfare procedures for carrying out the Rehabilitation Act were identical to those adopted by the DOJ in implementing title VI of the Civil Rights Act.
  3. In 1978, the Department of Justice’s regulations for enforcement of §504 of the Rehabilitation Act became the same as those promulgated by the Department of Health Education and Welfare.
  4. The enforcement scheme allows for both individual complaints and agency oversight leading to investigations ending with federal enforcement actions.
  5. The United States has brought suit to ensure compliance with the Rehabilitation Act after the relevant agency has received the complaint and investigated.
  6. Congress was fully aware of the administrative system when it passed the 1978 amendment to §504 and §505 of the Rehabilitation Act since those amendments codified existing administrative practice of using title VI procedures.

IV

Title II of the ADA

 

  1. Just because individuals have a private right of action, does not automatically lead to the conclusion that government enforcement is impermissible. Ensuring that public entities subject to federal statute comply with those statutes ultimately vindicates individual personal rights. However, that doesn’t mean Congress’s decision to enact the statutory scheme permitting governmental enforcement of title II should be ignored.
  2. 42 U.S.C. §12134(b) states that regulations implementing title II of the ADA have to be consistent and in coordination with regulation issued by the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare on January 13, 1978. This requirement leads to the conclusion that Congress intended the Atty. Gen.’s title II regulations to adopt Rehabilitation Act’s title VI type enforcement procedures because title II’s enforcement procedures use the Rehabilitation Act’s enforcement structure.
  3. DOJ regulations implementing title II of the ADA set up an administrative scheme similar to the ones available for the Rehabilitation Act and title VI of the Civil Rights Act.
  4. Congress expressly authorized the Atty. Gen. to make rules with the force of law interpreting and implementing title II of the ADA. Further, those regulations are reasonably related to the legislative purpose of the ADA and are consistent with the remedial structure Congress selected for title II. Accordingly, those regulations get deference as they are not arbitrary, capricious, or plainly contrary to the statute.
  5. Congress chose to use §505(a)(2) the Rehabilitation Act as the enforcement mechanism for title II of the ADA with full knowledge those provisions established administrative enforcement and oversight in accordance with title VI. They also knew that by adopting that provision they incorporated title VI’s “any other means authorized by law,” provision.
  6. If Congress intended to create a private right of action under title II as the only possibility for enforcement, then its decision to cross reference §505 of the Rehabilitation Act, 29 U.S.C. §794a, which expressly incorporates title VI, including its administrative enforcement scheme, would be mystifying, especially since Congress directed the Atty. Gen. to develop regulations consistent with the Rehabilitation Act enforcement procedures that included title VI enforcement.
  7. When Congress enacted title II of the ADA, it drew upon two other statutes creating remedies, rights, and procedures available for enforcement with the full knowledge of those other statutes. Those other statutes were enforceable by federal agencies through funding termination or “any other means authorized by law.” Congress then told the Atty. Gen. to make regulations implementing title II of the ADA that were consistent with a set of regulations tracing directly back to the regulations implementing title VI of the Civil Rights Act. Congress was quite clear that title V the Rehabilitation Act and its accompanying regulations must be construed as the minimum standard for the ADA. Congress knew that both title VI and the Rehabilitation Act had been enforced through DOJ litigation when it enacted the ADA, especially since §12133 ultimately relates back to “any other means authorized by law.”
  8. “Any other means authorized by law,” is a phrase courts have interpreted to permit referral to DOJ for further legal action.
  9. Legislative history is not against having both a private right of action and with allowing DOJ to pursue enforcement actions.
  10. Various courts have concluded that the Atty. Gen. has the power to enforce title II in federal court.
  11. Unlike the Rehabilitation Act, the ADA is not spending clause legislation. Accordingly, there is a broad scope of potential federal enforcement under title II of the ADA.
  12. Since title II enforcement provision cascades back to §602 of the Civil Rights Act authorizing the Atty. Gen. to enforce compliance of title VI of the Civil Rights Act by filing suit in federal court, the Atty. Gen. also can bring suit to enforce other statutes adhering to same enforcement scheme.
  13. States are public entities under title II of the ADA and are explicitly subject to suit by the United States for violation of title II of the ADA.
  14. States do not retain sovereign immunity from suits brought by the federal government.

V

Dissent by Judge Branch

  1. The dissent is much more simple in its approach. Basically, what it says is that the section of 42 U.S.C. §12133 talking about the remedies being available to any person alleging discrimination means that the Atty. Gen. has no title II enforcement authority because “any person,” modifies the prior language talking about the remedies.
  2. Everyone agrees that the Atty. Gen. is not a person for purposes of federal statutes.
  3. Title I and title III explicitly references federal enforcement powers while title II of the ADA does not.

VI

Takeaways

  1. Basically, the difference between the majority opinion and the dissenting opinion is that the majority opinion believes the title II remedy section creates an either or situation by referring back to a bunch of statutes and then subsequently referencing “a person,” later on in that same section. On the other hand, the dissenting opinion believes the “to any person,” language modifies the remedy section referenced earlier on in that same statute.
  2. The 11th Circuit Judges split 1-1 on this decision. So, look for an en banc rehearing petition in order for the full 11th Circuit to make a determination.
  3. This decision has a huge impact on accessing governmental entities. For now, the DOJ has title II enforcement powers. I can tell you that I get contacted by so many different people that simply can’t afford a private attorney. Also, many plaintiff firms are in essence mom-and-pop shops. It can be very useful to bring in DOJ as leverage when taking on governmental entities, especially since the standard for getting damages under title II of the ADA, which we have discussed here, is higher than what you see under title I of the ADA.
  4. I don’t know where the full 11th Circuit goes with this case if they grant an en banc rehearing. As I have said several times before, the 11th Circuit has become very progressive when it comes to the rights of people with disabilities. On a policy level, DOJ having title II enforcement authority makes a great deal of sense. However, the argument supporting that authority is a bit complicated and involves saying that a statute creates an either or situation. On the other hand, the dissenting argument is much more straightforward by saying “to any person,” modifies the rest of the statute. Also, in title I and title III, separate explicit statutory provisions exist for federal enforcement, which is not the case under title II.
  5. If the 11th Circuit grants a petition to rehear the case en banc, the time for the final decision will be down the road. Further, if the decision of the full 11th Circuit, assuming it decides to hear the case, supports DOJ enforcement of title II, I would look for an appeal to the United States Supreme Court. That would mean that the 2020 elections would become critical because regardless of what the United States Supreme Court says (this one could go either way), a Democratic Congress could amend the ADA so as to specifically include DOJ enforcement authority in title II of the ADA. Even assuming Congress remains split between the parties, with a Democratic president, assuming that happens, and it may not, and a Democratic House, it is possible that the ADA could be amended that way. Everything I am reading says that a takeover of the Senate by Democrats is extremely unlikely, but one never knows. Ground Zero will be right here in Georgia with two Senate seats up due to the resignation of Senator Isaacson.
  6. Maybe amending the ADA, especially if the Supreme Court decides in favor of DOJ title II enforcement, is a bad idea since HR 620, which we discussed here, would also get put in play.
  7. I have said many times that the ADA does not provide for individual liability. However, as noted by the 11th Circuit in the decision we are discussing in this entry, that isn’t the case in the 11th Circuit when it comes to retaliation as a result of this case.
  8. We have discussed sovereign immunity many times, but this case makes the important point that States do not get sovereign immunity from suits brought by the federal government.
  9. I wonder if DOJ will continue to advocate for it title II enforcement as this case proceeds or if it will switch sides. For those on the plaintiff side, it may be heartening to see that the Department of Education recently came up with a document supporting students with disabilities with respect to dual enrollment. Perhaps, that is a sign that the DOJ will stick to its position.

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