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Disability Rights

On February 22, 1999, the California Office of the Attorney General and nine other state Attorneys General joined in a brief authored by the Attorneys General of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and the State of West Virginia in Vaughn Murphy v. United Parcel Service, Inc. before the United States Supreme Court. The brief supported plaintiff's position that, in determining whether someone is disabled for purposes of the Americans With Disabilities Act, ameliorative effects of medication, prosthetic devices, or other mitigating measures should not be considered. Unfortunately, the United States Supreme Court did not adopt this position.

In April 1999, Attorney General Lockyer withdrew amicus support previously given by his predecessor in Olmstead v. L.C. and E.W., a case then pending before the United States Supreme Court. The amicus brief had argued that the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) does not require states to place the mentally disabled in the most integrated environment, and that the Eleventh Amendment bars ADA suits against the states in federal court. In June, the United States Supreme Court ruled that the ADA, under certain circumstances, may require that states place the mentally disabled in the most integrated environment.

In Chabner v. United Mutual of Omaha, the Attorney General filed an amicus brief in support of the plaintiff who claims, and prevailed before the lower court, that the defendant insurance carrier violated the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), the Unruh Civil Rights Act, and the California Insurance Code by charging plaintiff a higher premium for life insurance because of plaintiff's disability. Attorney General Lockyer personally presented oral argument to the Ninth Circuit on February 8, 2000. On September 11, 2000, the Ninth Circuit ruled that the ADA did not apply to insurance policies. However, accepting the argument of the Attorney General, the Court held that the insurer's action violated California law.

In October 2000, the Office of the Attorney General concluded an investigation into allegations that improvements made to the Metropolitan Transit Authority's (MTA) East Portal facility at Los Angeles' Union Station did not comply with state disability access laws and regulations. Through a formal settlement agreement with the MTA, significant access improvements were subsequently made to the facility that makes it more accessible to and usable by persons with disabilities.

In April 2001, the Office of the Attorney General concluded an investigation into allegations that, after initially accepting a reservation, a luxury hotel canceled the room reservation of the parents of a little boy who requires 24-hour nursing care. The child was coming to California to see a specialist and to visit Disneyland. Allegedly, the hotel claimed that, by allowing medical staff and equipment in the hotel, it would be violating a City of Beverly Hills ordinance. Later, the hotel reversed itself, but the family had already canceled its travel plans. In a settlement that was just reached, the hotel has agreed to provide training on disability issues to all 300-plus hotel employees, and to adopt written policies respecting the hotel's treatment of persons with disabilities who seek to use its facilities.

Urging Better Local Compliance, pdf. On December 23, 2002, the Office of the Attorney General issued a letter to all District Attorneys, City Attorneys and County Counsel urging them to join him in a renewed and concerted effort to gain better compliance with and to improve enforcement of California disabled access laws.

Urging Reasonable Accommodation Ordinances, pdf. On May 15, 2001, the Office of the Attorney General issued a letter urging local governments to consider enacting an ordinance to provide a special procedure for processing "reasonable accommodation" applications made by persons with disabilities who seek relief from local land use and zoning laws in order to fully enjoy the use of housing accommodations. This letter was sent to the mayor of every incorporated city and the chair of every county board of supervisors in the State of California.

Reminder to Local Building Officials,pdf. On April 29, 2002, the Office of the Attorney General issued a letter to all local building officials in California that reminds these officials of their statutory obligation to enforce California's access laws and regulations, and urges them to vigorously enforce those laws and regulations.

Reminding Local Governments of Open Meetings Compliance, pdf. On April 23, 2002, the Office of the Attorney General issued a letter to all cities and counties that reminds them of their obligation under the Brown Open Meeting Act, Government Code section 54961 et seq., to hold their meetings in facilities that are accessible to all Californians.

railroad

On December 5, 2002, the Office of the Attorney General entered into a settlement agreement with Southern California Regional Rail Authority over disabled access violations involving Metrolink, the commuter rail network serving Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino and Ventura counties. The settlement means improvements in service to enable visually impaired Californians to more safely use Metrolink to get to work, to school and for everyday travel. Under the agreement, all 98 Metrolink ticket vending machines at all 51 stations will be retrofitted with raised lettering, Braille instructions and tactile graphics and trails to improve access for visually-impaired commuters.

On December 23, 2002, the Office of the Attorney General issued a letter to all District Attorneys, City Attorneys and County Counsel urging them to join him in a renewed and concerted effort to gain better compliance with and to improve enforcement of California disabled access laws.

On September 15, 2003, the Office of the Attorney General secured the first ever court order to compel a local jurisdiction to meets its mandatory duty to enforce California's disabled access laws and regulations. The Attorney General simultaneously filed a complaint and petition for writ of mandate, stipulation for entry of judgment and stipulated judgment in this case to resolve his investigation into the County of Marin's alleged failure to meet its statutory duty to enforce state disabled access laws and regulations. The case is titled People of the State of California ex rel. Lockyer v. County of Marin Board of Supervisors. Under the terms of the judgment, the County is enjoined to submit the following plans for the Attorney General's approval and, following his approval, implement: 1) a procedure to timely investigate and resolve citizen complaints; 2) a procedure for processing applications for exceptions to state disabled access laws and regulations; 3) a plan for training those county officials responsible for access law enforcement; and 4) a plan to systematically evaluate and audit the County's enforcement of these laws and regulations. These plans and procedures must be submitted within 120 days. The judgment also orders the County to correct all access violations alleged in the complaint within six months, to pay the cost of a consultant retained by the Attorney General in monitoring the County's compliance with the judgment, and to pay $40,000 for costs and attorney's fees incurred in the Attorney General's investigation. The injunction is to remain in effect for three years, but may be extended for good cause shown by the Attorney General.

On November 25, 2003, the Attorney General filed a petition for writ of mandate, stipulation for entry of judgment and stipulated judgment to resolve his investigation into the City of Del Mar's failure to meet its statutory duty to enforce State disabled access laws and regulations. Under the terms of the judgment entered in this case, People of the State of California ex rel. Lockyer v. City of Del Mar City Council, the City of Del Mar is enjoined to submit the following plans to the Attorney General for approval and, following that approval, implement them: 1) a procedure to timely investigate and resolve disability access complaints from citizens; 2) a procedure for processing applications for exceptions to state disabled access laws and regulations; 3) a plan to train those responsible for access law enforcement; and 4) a plan to systematically evaluate and audit the City's enforcement of these laws and regulations. The City is also enjoined, within six months of entry of judgment, to either establish a building department or contract for the services of a building official to enforce state disabled access laws and regulations, and correct all access violations alleged in the Attorney General's petition. The City is also required to pay the cost of a consultant (capped at $40,000 for a two-year period) who will assist the Attorney General in monitoring the City's compliance with the judgment, and pay $15,000 to reimburse this office's costs and attorney's fees incurred in our investigation. The injunction is to remain in effect for two years, but may be extended for good cause shown by the Attorney General.

On January 26, 2004, the Office of the Attorney General filed a complaint and petition for writ of mandate to enjoin the Mill Valley City Council and its building department to meet their mandatory duty to enforce state disabled access laws and regulations. The filing of this action, People of the State of California, ex rel Lockyer v. City Council of Mill Valley, follows a lengthy investigation which documented numerous disabled access violations at both publicly owned buildings and facilities and privately owned public accommodations located in Mill Valley. It is alleged in the petition and complaint that the defendants' failure to meet their mandatory duty to enforce state disabled access laws and regulations is due to defective or inadequate policies, practices and procedures for preventing and correcting violations, and the failure to provide adequate training on these laws to employees who are charged with enforcing them. It is further alleged that citizen complaints alleging access violations are not adequately investigated by the City, and that the City does not take action to correct confirmed violations within 90 days as required by state law. On March 2, 2004, the Attorney General secured a Stipulated Judgment ordering relief similar to that obtained in the Marin County and City of Del Mar cases noted above.

On August 25, 2004, the Office of the Attorney General entered into a settlement agreement with the University of Southern California following an investigation into the allegation that none of the University's vans, buses or other vehicles which it operates are equipped with wheelchair lifts. The Attorney General concluded that some elements of the University's transportation services did not comply with state and federal accessibility laws and regulations. Under the agreement, the University was required to: (1) meet a time-table to ensure that its entire fleet of 17 on-campus trams be equipped with wheelchair lifts or ramps; (2) to acquire a wheelchair accessible vehicle by September 2004 for its Campus Cruiser program which escorts students, faculty and staff to various on-campus locations during the evening hours; and (3) to promptly acquire a wheelchair accessible van for its commuter van pool program when an individual with a disability applies to participate in and is eligible for the program. The settlement also required the University to advertise, on its website and in other written materials, the accessibility of these transportation systems, the options available to individuals with disabilities, and where complaints about the accessibility of these systems can be lodged. Further, the University was required to pay the Attorney General the sum of $20,000 for attorney's fees.

On September 28, 2004, the Office of the Attorney General entered into a settlement agreement with the County of Sacramento to improve the accessibility of its parking lot shuttle bus service at Sacramento International Airport. An investigation that preceded the settlement concluded that bus lifts often did not function properly and that there was a pattern of serious neglect in getting non-functioning lifts repaired. The regular failure of lifts seriously impacted the ability of persons who use wheelchairs to access the buses. Under the terms of the settlement, the County was required to take specified actions to ensure that passengers with disabilities have full and equal access to the parking-shuttle buses. The County also was required to pay for a monitor who will oversee the County's compliance with the agreement, and to reimburse the Attorney General for the cost of this investigation.

In December 2004, the California Office of the Attorney General joined in an amicus brief filed by the Attorney General of Texas, and joined in by the States of Arizona, California, Illinois, Massachusetts, Missouri, Utah and Washington in the case entitled Spector v. Norwegian Cruise Line, Ltd. In this case, the amici States urge the United States Supreme Court to hold that Title III of the Americans With Disabilities Act applies to foreign-flag cruise ships who sail into U.S. waters, dock at American ports, and pick up American passengers.

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