Class Action Status Denied In Tennessee Courthouse Case
By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
August 24, 2004
NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE--A federal judge last week denied class action status to Lane v. Tennessee, ruling that individuals would have to file separately if they want to sue over access problems at county courthouses.
U.S. District Judge Todd Campbell said on August 17 that the six plaintiffs cannot represent the estimated 250,000 Tennesseans that might have grievances with courthouses.
In his ruling, Campbell wrote that the question of whether defendant counties complied with the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act "is a courthouse-by-courthouse basis."
"Even if the issue of liability were common to all defendants, the issue of injunctive relief would be different," he said.
The Associated Press reported that the lead attorney for the plaintiffs, William Brown, was not overly concerned about the decision.
''Everything is on the table," he said.
"It doesn't say George Lane and the other five plaintiffs can't bring these claims in their own name," Brown said of Campbell's decision. "We're still 100 percent committed to the proposition that the courthouses in this state should be made accessible."
Thomas Donnell Jr., attorney for 14 of the 25 counties named in the suit, said he and his clients were "obviously very pleased".
George Lane, an amputee who uses a wheelchair, is suing the state for $100,000 for violating his federal right to equal access to Polk County Courthouse. He had been arrested in 1996 for failing to appear in a second-floor courtroom for a pre-trial hearing on misdemeanor traffic charges. Lane was charged with failure to appear after refusing to crawl up the stairs or to be carried by court employees.
Beverly Jones, a court reporter who uses a wheelchair, joined the suit, claiming that the state's failure to make county courthouses accessible created a hardship and limited the jobs available to her. Jones said she was unable to enter four county courthouses where lawyers had hired her to record court proceedings. She listed another 19 Tennessee counties with inaccessible courthouses.
Four other people with similar complaints joined the suit.
The state challenged the legality of Lane's suit, claiming that Congress overstepped its Constitutional bounds by allowing people to sue states for monetary damages.
On May 17 of this year, the U.S. Supreme Court found that states must follow Title II of the ADA -- which guarantees access to public facilities and services -- when it comes to the courts, or face potential lawsuits from individuals. The Court sent the case back to Tennessee.
Lane v. Tennessee is set for trial beginning March 15 of next year.
"High Court Upholds Access To State Courts: State of Tennessee v. Lane et al" (Inclusion Daily Express Archives)