Patten v. District of Columbia, No. 19-7074 (D.C. Cir. 2021)Annotate this Case
The Randolph-Sheppard Act (RSA) gives licensed blind individuals priority to operate vending facilities on federal property, 20 U.S.C. 107(b). The Secretary of Education promulgates implementing regulations and designates state agencies to administer the program. The RSA includes a grievance scheme for vendors to challenge a state’s operation of its Randolph-Sheppard program through the state licensing agency. A licensee dissatisfied with the results of the state’s hearing may seek further review before the Secretary, who must “convene a panel to arbitrate the dispute.” In the District of Columbia, the designated licensing agency is the Rehabilitation Services Administration.
The plaintiffs, current and former vendors in the District’s Randolph-Sheppard program, claim that the District discriminated against them, based on their blindness, specifically by discriminatory inspections of vending facilities and failing to provide aids such as human or electronic readers. The plaintiffs did not pursue the Randolph-Sheppard grievance procedure but filed a lawsuit, claiming disability-based discrimination under Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act, section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, and the District of Columbia Human Rights Act. The district court dismissed the case for failure to exhaust administrative remedies. The D.C. Circuit affirmed. The plaintiffs had to proceed through the RSA grievance procedure before pursuing their discrimination claims in court; no futility exception could apply here.