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UM’s Delay in Renovating Building Didn’t Violate ADA, Judge Decides

The University of Maryland, College Park did not violate the Americans with Disabilities Act by failing to make its faculty club accessible to individuals in wheelchairs for 10 years, a federal judge in Baltimore has ruled.Attorney Andrew D. Levy, who uses a wheelchair for mobility, brought the suit last October after he was unable to attend a bar association meeting at the university’s Rossborough Inn, the historic structure that houses the faculty club.“[T]he ADA claims asserted by plaintiff Levy are hardly of major, justiciable proportions,” Senior U.S. District Judge Alexander Harvey II wrote Monday in granting the university’s motion for summary judgment. Levy’s lawsuit spurred the university to begin renovating the inn, even as it mounted a multilevel defense.“It’s all fixed, it’s going to be accessible, and that’s the best part of all this,” said Assistant Attorney General Dawna M. Cobb, who represented the school. “I hope [Levy] makes use of the club now,” she added. “He’ll be able to make full use of it, and I hope he will.”The university has installed a temporary wheelchair ramp and what it believes to be an accessible restroom at the Rossborough Inn. Installation of a permanent wheelchair ramp is scheduled to begin after July 28, when the inn closes for three weeks. The university also has repaved the curb area next to the disabled parking spaces and made them van accessible, and taken other steps to improve access.To Levy (who is a member of this paper’s editorial advisory board), the efforts are little enough — and a decade late.“The ADA has been the law for 10 years now,” he said yesterday. “They ought to be ashamed of themselves.”Cobb said yesterday that, to her knowledge, Levy’s suit was the first time anyone had complained about access to the inn.“The incident occurred on Oct. 6, and he filed suit on Oct. 12,” she said. “The university hadn’t been given any opportunity to address the issue prior to receiving the complaint.” The decision to renovate came soon after that, she said, and was implemented in January.But the university fought the suit anyway on several grounds, challenging Levy’s standing to sue and the harm he claimed he suffered or would imminently suffer, as well as claiming that it was in compliance with the ADA because its 13 other dining and meeting venues were accessible.“I thought the university’s position was outrageous, and I’m sorry that Judge Harvey found legal merit in it,” Levy summed up.Harvey found that the university’s dining facility was in compliance with the ADA when viewed “in its entirety.” Levy, who joined the faculty club after the university challenged his standing to sue as a visitor to the dining facility, argued that the only venue at issue was the inn, since that is where the club is located. The judge rejected that claim, and added that Levy had not shown any threat of imminent harm, since he has not tried to use the club since the renovations were made.In addition, the judge questioned “whether this experienced litigator, who is regularly subjected to the stresses of trials and other aspects of a busy trial practice, was emotionally damaged to the extent claimed when he was unable to attend a lawyers’ meeting.”Proximate causeHe also noted that any injury to Levy was proximately caused by Bob Dean, the head of the bar section that was holding the meeting, who reserved the university’s only inaccessible facility with full knowledge of its limitations.Levy disputed the legal significance of that fact.“The university is obligated to follow the law, regardless of what Bob Dean does,” he said.Cobb, however, praised Harvey’s ruling yesterday.“It’s a very good decision for many reasons — particularly the discussion of the injunctive standard, and what happens when you’re not in full compliance but on the way to compliance,” she said. “It offers much guidance in what can be a very complicated area of the law.”The opinion is available as RecordFax #0-0711-40 (22 pages).