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Accessing the courts to access public accommodations: PJC files Fourth Circuit brief in disability discrimination case

May 3, 2011: Congress enacted the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) with the hope of creating equal opportunities for individuals with disabilities. To ensure vigorous enforcement of this goal, Congress empowered any individual with a disability who experiences discrimination through an inaccessible public accommodation to bring suit under the ADA.

Yet a district court told Gilroy J. Daniels, Sr., that despite his experience of being unable to fully access Baltimore’s Lexington Market with his wheelchair, he could not enforce his rights under the ADA. The court, following a disturbing trend throughout the country, held that Mr. Daniels had to demonstrate a history of past patronage, definitive plans to return, frequent travel, and close proximity to Lexington Market to challenge the discrimination. Furthermore, the district court held that Mr. Daniels’s history of enforcing his rights under the ADA actually counted against him in determining whether he had standing to bring suit.

On May 3, 2011, Francis D. Murnaghan, Jr. Appellate Advocacy Fellow Jessica Weber filed an opening brief on behalf of Mr. Daniels in his appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in Daniels v. Arcade, L.P. The brief challenged the factors that the district court used in denying Mr. Daniels access to justice, arguing that factors such as a plaintiff’s litigation history and proximity to the discriminatory public accommodation are irrelevant and run contrary to the language and purpose of the ADA. Factors such as a plaintiff’s history of visiting the discriminatory location simply run afoul of common sense, as individuals are not likely to frequent locations that are inaccessible to them. Eve Hill and Gregory Care of Brown, Goldstein & Levy filed a supporting amicus brief on behalf of the National Federation of the Blind. The PJC hopes that the Fourth Circuit will reverse the district court’s decision and set powerful precedent safeguarding the rights of individuals with disabilities to access justice.

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