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PJC wins disability discrimination case before the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals

April 24, 2012: When Gilroy J. Daniels, Sr., couldn’t fully access Baltimore’s Lexington Market using his wheelchair, he filed suit under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). But the trial court ruled that he could not enforce his rights under the ADA. After former Francis D. Murnaghan, Jr. Appellate Advocacy Fellow and current PJC volunteer Jessica Weber argued on behalf of Mr. Daniels in his appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit on March 20, the Fourth Circuit issued a favorable decision in Daniels v. Arcade, L.P. on April 24, reversing the lower court’s ruling and allowing the case to go forward. 

Congress enacted the Americans with Disabilities Act 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 the trial court held, adopting a novel and disturbing line of reasoning from another federal district court, 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 trial 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.
 
In 2011, Francis D. Murnaghan, Jr. Appellate Advocacy Fellow Jessica Weber briefed the case on behalf of Mr. Daniels in his appeal. Eve Hill and Gregory Care of Brown, Goldstein & Levy filed a supporting amicus brief on behalf of the National Federation of the Blind. Continuing as a PJC volunteer after her Murnaghan Fellowship had concluded and she had joined Brown, Goldstein & Levy, Ms. Weber argued the case before the court on March 20, 2012. In her argument, she challenged the factors that the district court used in denying Mr. Daniels access to justice, showing 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. 
 
On April 24, 2012, the Fourth Circuit issued a decision reversing the district court’s ruling and allowing Mr. Daniels to proceed with his case. The Fourth Circuit clearly rejected the lower court’s overly restrictive analysis and agreed that Mr. Daniels has standing to enforce his rights under the ADA. The appellate court’s decision is an important achievement in squelching a growing trend against plaintiffs in disability discrimination cases and promoting access to justice for all individuals with disabilities. 
 


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