Today’s blog entry deals with the question of what happens when you have an individual with a progressive disability who becomes aware of inaccessibility of a public entity’s facilities. When he becomes aware of inaccessibility issues by the public entity, he files suit but then withdraws it because the accessibility issues are not a problem for him at that time. Some years go by, and his disability progresses to the point where those inaccessibility issues are now a real problem. He brings suit and the public entity claims that the statute of limitations has expired because he knew of the issues too many years before he actually brought the suit. The district court buys the argument and plaintiff appeals. These are exactly the facts in Karantsalis v. City of Miami Springs, Florida a published decision decided by the 11th Circuit on November 12, 2021, here. As usual, the blog entry is divided into categories and they are: facts; court’s reasoning; and thoughts/takeaways. Of course, the reader is free to focus on any or all of the categories.
Facts (Taken Directly from the Opinion)
Plaintiff-Appellant Theodore D. Karantsalis is a resident of the City of Miami Springs (the City). In 2008, following a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis (MS), Karantsalis sued the City alleging that it violated Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 by failing to make its facilities and infrastructure accessible to individuals with disabilities. He later voluntarily dismissed the lawsuit based on his belief that he lacked constitutional standing because his symptoms were mild and did not prevent him from accessing and using the City’s programs or services. At that time, Karantsalis was able to walk, stand, routinely bicycle and jog, and participate in races. Over a decade later, in 2019, Karantsalis’s MS and his symptoms had progressed dramatically. In 2017, he started falling, developed a limp, and needed a Florida disabled parking permit. By June 2019, his neurologist had prescribed a wheelchair. Also in 2019, he again sued the City under the ADA and Rehabilitation Act alleging the City’s sidewalks, municipal gymnasium, and parking at public facilities were inaccessible. The district court dismissed the case with prejudice, holding that it was “barred by the statute of limitations” because the statute of limitations was triggered before or during 2008 when Karantsalis became aware of the undisputed fact of his MS diagnosis. The mere fact of his MS diagnosis in 2008, the district court in effect ruled, triggered the accrual of his cause of action and the running of the four-year statute of limitations.
- The ADA does not contain a statute of limitations period. So, the federal courts will look to the most analogous state limitation period. In Florida and most states, the most analogous state limitations period comes from the personal injury actions, which is four years in Florida.
- Title II of the ADA prohibits discrimination by public entities against individuals with disabilities.
- In order to state an ADA claim under title II of the ADA or §504 of the Rehabilitation Act, a plaintiff has to show: 1) he or she is a qualified individual with a disability; 2) he or she was either excluded from participation in or denied the benefits of a public entity’s services, program, activities, or otherwise discriminated against by the public entity; and 3) the exclusion, denial of benefit, or discrimination was by reason of the plaintiff’s disability.
- A public entity must operate each service, program, or activity so that the service, program, or activity, when viewed in its entirety, is readily accessible to and usable by individuals with disabilities.
- The City is obligated to ensure that each service, program, or activity at its municipal facilities, when viewed in its entirety, is readily accessible to individuals with disabilities.
- A statute of limitations does not begin to run until the facts supporting the cause of action are apparent or should be apparent to a person with a reasonably prudent regard for his rights.
- Plaintiff’s injury did not occur until at least 2017 when his mobility decreased to the level that he could no longer readily access and use the City’s public services because of its ADA noncompliant facilities.
- Plaintiff’s ADA injury is the City’s denial of the benefits of the public services. In other words, plaintiff could not have sued the City before he lost his mobility and his ready access to and use of the City’s public services.
- To sue in federal court, the plaintiff must show that he had an injury. The difference between 2008 and 2017 was that the plaintiff in 2017, had now lost the mobility necessary to readily access the services in the ADA noncompliant facilities. It was only then that plaintiff suffered his injury. So, it was not until 2017 that plaintiff’s ADA cause of action accrued and he could sue.
- A plaintiff must know or have reason to know that he was injured to some extent. In this particular case, that did not occur until plaintiff’s disease had progressed sufficiently enough for him to know or have reason to know he personally was denied the benefits of the City’s public services.
- Determining whether an injury occurred is a highly fact specific determination and at the motion to dismiss stage, a court reviews the allegations in the light most favorable to the plaintiff.
- When a plaintiff’s ADA claim accrues is a question of federal law and not state law.
- Since the function of title II of the ADA is to ensure the accessibility of public services for people with disabilities, it naturally follows that a person does not suffer an injury (and therefore does not have standing to sue), in a title II ADA access case unless they were unable to access a public service because of their disability.
- The injury is not the diagnosis. Rather, the injury is the plaintiff’s inability to readily access the City’s facilities and the resulting denial of the benefits of the City’s public services, which did not occur until 2017.
- Plaintiff’s current suit even involves some facilities that he did not include in his 2008 case and some facilities that were altered as late as 2016.
- The district court erroneously focused on the timing of plaintiff’s diagnosis rather than on plaintiff’s injury. Although plaintiff had multiple sclerosis in both 2008 and 2017, the district court failed to establish that he was similarly injured in both 2008 and 2017 before finding his suit time-barred.
- Since plaintiff actually experienced his injury only in 2017, his ADA claim against the City was not barred by the statute of limitations when he filed a complaint in 2019.
- In order to have standing under title III of the ADA, the following is required: 1) injury in fact; 2) a causal connection between the asserted injury in fact and the challenged action of the defendant; and 3) the injury would be redressed by a favorable decision. Plaintiff has standing because he was not actually injured until at least 2017 when he could no longer access the public services in the City’s ADA noncompliant facilities.
- In a footnote, the court notes that they are not saying that the accrual date and every ADA access case dovetails with the standing requirements. Rather, the court is saying that the plaintiff’s ADA claim, whether it be for damages or injunctive relief, did not accrue until at least 2017 because plaintiff did not suffer an ADA injury until then.
- If the key to figuring out statute of limitations was a person’s diagnosis, then anyone diagnosed with a progressive illness would have to assume his or her condition would progress to the worst possible outcome at some point down the road and sue within the statutory period from the time the person was diagnosed with the condition even if he or she showed no symptoms at the time. Not only would such an individual lack standing at that time, but the law does not require a person with a disability to foresee the future.
- When a statute of limitation begins to run for ADA claims is something we have discussed before, such as here. Also, keep in mind that the particular statute of limitations that a court looks to can vary from state to state. In most situations, the analogous statute of limitations is the personal injury statute of limitations but that isn’t always true. Also, most of the personal injury actions statute of limitations are at least two years, but three or four years does happen from time to time. Whenever you are dealing with an ADA case, you do need to know what is the most analogous statute of limitations and what that statute of limitations is. For example, in Virginia, it is one year because they look to the Virginia disability nondiscrimination statute.
- The reasoning of the court appears sound to me. People with disabilities, even those with progressive disabilities, can vary radically in terms of how those disabilities progress. Also, the ADA requires an individualized analysis at the current time. So, this decision is perfectly consistent with all of that.
- The case study brings up a critical point, which is a plaintiff should stay away from notice pleadings. Instead, adopt a fact-notice pleadings hybrid approach whereby you put the defendant on notice with enough facts so that they can’t possibly question whether the person has a disability at that moment in time the complaint is filed.
- I see little likelihood of a Circuit Court split developing on this question.
- It is a published decision and so binding precedent in the 11th Circuit and persuasive and citable authority everywhere else.
- Title II of the ADA focuses on program accessibility. However, §504 the Rehabilitation Act goes much further than the ADA by requiring all operations of many kinds of vanity be meaningfully accessible to persons with disabilities. See 29 U.S.C. §794(b).
- Federal law determines when a cause of action accrues and not state law.
- In ADA cases, it is important to not get hung up on the diagnosis, especially after the amendments to the ADA. The key is whether any of the definitions of disability found in 42 U.S.C. §12102 are satisfied and not the diagnosis.
- If a facility is altered, then those alterations in the path of travel to those alterations must be done in accordance with the applicable ADAAG guidelines. We discussed what an alteration was here.