Kirola v. City and County of San Francisco, No. 14-17521 (9th Cir. 2017)Annotate this Case
Plaintiff filed a putative class action under Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. 12132, alleging that the City had systematically failed to comply with federal and state disability access laws, seeking declarative and injunctive relief. Specifically, plaintiff alleged that the City's public right-of-way, pools, libraries, parks, and recreation facilities were not readily accessible to and usable by mobility-impaired individuals. The Ninth Circuit held that the plaintiff class has standing for claims related to all facilities challenged at trial; the district court’s credibility determinations were based on legal errors and its interpretation of the Disabilities Act Accessibility Guidelines (ADAAG) was erroneous; and the district court properly rejected plaintiff's program access claims. Accordingly, the panel affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded for reevaluation of the extent of ADAAG noncompliance.
Court Description: Americans with Disabilities Act. The panel affirmed in part and reversed in part the district court’s judgment, after a bench trial, in favor of the City and County of San Francisco in a class action brought under Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act, alleging that San Francisco’s public right-of-way, pools, libraries, parks, and recreation facilities were not readily accessible to and usable by mobility-impaired individuals. Reversing in part, the panel held that the plaintiff established Article III standing to pursue injunctive relief by showing that she suffered in injury in fact through evidence that she encountered an access barrier and either intended to return or was deterred from returning to the facility in question. The panel held that to establish standing, the plaintiff did not need to show that she was deprived of meaningful access to a challenged service, program, or activity in its entirety; rather, this was the standard for relief on the merits. The panel held that the plaintiff also KIROLA V. CITY & CTY. OF SAN FRANCISCO 3 established causation and redressability, and therefore established standing to challenge barriers at the facilities that she visited. The panel held that, in addition, the certified class had standing to challenge the facilities that the plaintiff did not personally visit. On the merits of claims related to newly constructed or altered facilities, the panel explained that the Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board (“Access Board”) produces the Americans with Disabilities Act Accessibility Guidelines (“ADAAG”), which set a baseline of nonbinding requirements. The Department of Justice (“DOJ”) then adopts binding regulations that are consistent with the minimum standards put out by the Access Board. DOJ’s 2010 standards set a timetable allowing public entities to choose to comply either with the original 1991 ADAAG standards or with other federal standards, and San Francisco chose to comply with the 1991 ADAAG standards. These standards include detailed design guidelines for particular features of facilities, as well as facility-specific requirements. The district court found that the plaintiff had proven that the City’s new or altered facilities departed from ADAAG in only a few isolated instances. The panel held that, in making this finding, the district court erred by concluding that none of the plaintiff’s experts was reliable and then concluding that all of the City’s experts were reliable. The district court’s analysis relied on several regulatory misinterpretations, including its conclusion that ADAAG did not apply to San Francisco’s public right-of-way, parks, and playground facilities. The panel held that, even though ADAAG did not include facility-specific guidelines particular to those types of facilities, ADAAG’s feature-specific requirements applied. Because the district court’s approach to the plaintiff’s 4 KIROLA V. CITY & CTY. OF SAN FRANCISCO experts’ credibility was based on legal errors, the panel remanded for reevaluation of the extent of ADAAG noncompliance. On the merits of claims related to existing facilities, the panel affirmed the district court’s finding that the City’s public right-of-way and “RecPark” programs were accessible when viewed in their entirety. The panel affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded with instructions for the district court to apply ADAAG as the panel had interpreted it, reevaluate the extent of ADAAG noncompliance, and then revisit the question of whether injunctive relief should be granted.