Tennessee v. Lane

High Court Upholds Rules in Disabilities Act In Previous Cases, the Court Has Limited the Effect of the ADA

The Associated Press
Monday, May 17, 2004; 10:30 AM

WASHINGTON -- The Supreme Court upheld the rights of disabled people under a national law meant to protect them, ruling Monday that a paraplegic who crawled up the steps of a small-town courthouse can sue over the lack of an elevator.

The 1990 Americans With Disabilities Act properly gives private citizens such as George Lane the right to seek money in court if a state fails to live up to the law's requirements, a 5-to-4 majority ruled.

In previous cases, the high court has repeatedly limited the effect of the ADA, so Monday's outcome was unexpected.

At issue in Lane's case was the right of private citizens to try to pursue alleged violations of the ADA in federal courts. Advocates for the disabled claimed that the fear of hefty damage awards was a powerful tool to force state governments to follow the requirements of the ADA.

"The unequal treatment of disabled persons in the administration of judicial services has a long history" that has persisted despite anti-discrimination laws, Justice John Paul Stevens wrote for himself and Justices Sandra Day O'Connor, David H. Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer.

The case began when Lane tried to sue the state of Tennessee for up to $100,000 for what he claimed was humiliating treatment that violated the ADA.

Lane crawled up the Polk County courthouse steps once for an appearance in a reckless driving case, but was arrested in 1996 for failing to appear in court when he refused to crawl a second time. Courthouse employees have said he also refused offers of help.

Tennessee did not dispute that the courthouse lacked an elevator, or that the state has a duty to make its services available to all. The state argued, however, that Lane's constitutional rights were not violated and that he had no right to take the state to court.

The state claimed that Congress went too far in writing the ADA, because the Constitution says a state government cannot be sued in federal court without its consent.

Read the Supreme Court's Opinion (PDF Format).
Read the Supreme Court Syllabus (PDF Format).

 

 

updated September 8, 2015