Decision Date29 June 1981
Docket NumberCiv. A. No. 80-182 Erie.
Citation516 F. Supp. 1265
PartiesSibyle HUTCHINGS, Plaintiff, v. ERIE CITY AND COUNTY LIBRARY BOARD OF DIRECTORS of the Erie City and County Library Elizabeth Beckman, Dr. Joseph Scottino, Martha C. Anderson, John Enders, David P. Spalding, Tyrone Moore, Richard DeLuca, Helen Nowak, Kenneth Sivulich, Michele Ridge, Erie County, Russell D. Robison, Board of Education of the City of Erie, Walter Piotrowicz, John N. Petrus, Edmond T. Giovanelli, Thomas R. Brown, Leonard L. Locastro, Jr., Harold Shields, Anthony E. Narducci, Ed Sparaga, Geraldine Zurn, Harry Edwards, Richard Hilinski, Thomas O'Rourke, Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — Eastern District of Pennsylvania

Marilyn Wollery, Erie, Pa., for plaintiff.

John W. Beatty, Sol. for the School Dist. of the City of Erie, Richard W. Perhacs, Asst. County Sol., Will J. Schaaf, Erie, Pa., for defendants.


WEBER, Chief Judge.

This is a civil rights action brought by a handicapped employee of the Erie City and County Library under § 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, 29 U.S.C. § 794, and the Civil Rights Act of 1866, 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The plaintiff, Sibyle Hutchings, is a Reference Librarian currently assigned to work at the main branch of the Erie City and County Library. Mrs. Hutchings suffers from dormant multiple sclerosis. As a result of this illness she is able to walk only with the assistance of leg braces and a walker. The main branch of the City and County Library is housed in a classic palazzo structure which is approximately 75 years old. As originally designed, this structure was not easily accessible to the handicapped, nor was it equipped with facilities designed specifically to accommodate the handicapped. Entry into the building could only be gained by climbing several steps, both in its portico and then to the main floor rotunda. Many of the library's facilities are located either in the basement or on the second floor of the building. These facilities were also only accessible through stairways. Plaintiff can only climb or descend the stairways with great effort and at slow speed.

On November 12, 1980, plaintiff filed a complaint with this court. In this complaint plaintiff alleged that she had been subjected to continuing discrimination at the hands of the defendants since approximately April of 1978. According to the plaintiff this discrimination took many forms, including: forcing her to work in a building which did not contain facilities designed for the handicapped; demotion of the plaintiff because of her handicap; transfer of the plaintiff to a job she was not physically capable of performing; reprimands of the plaintiff when she protested working conditions at the library; refusal by the defendants to install handicapped facilities in the library until forced to do so by the threatened withdrawal of federal funding; and harassment of the plaintiff when she filed complaints with various administrative agencies protesting library policy. In her complaint the plaintiff asks for injunctive relief; compensatory damages for emotional distress and exacerbation of her pre-existing medical condition; and punitive damages. At all times she has continued to work at the library.

The defendants in this action have filed a consolidated motion for summary judgment. In this motion the defendants contend: (1) that the plaintiff's remedies in this case must be limited to monetary damages; (2) that Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 does not provide for a private right of action for damages; (3) that the plaintiff has failed to state any cause of action under the Civil Rights Act of 1866, 42 U.S.C. § 1983; (4) that some of the plaintiff's claims are barred by Pennsylvania's 2 year statute of limitation; (5) that the defendants are entitled as a matter of law to a good faith immunity defense; (6) that any pendant tort claims raised by the plaintiff are barred by Pennsylvania's Workmen's Compensation Act.

For the reasons set forth below we are convinced that none of these contentions, singly or combined, justifies summary judgment dismissal of the plaintiff's complaint at this time. Therefore, we deny this motion.



At the outset the defendants argue that the relief available to the plaintiff in this case should be limited exclusively to monetary damages. According to the defendants the plaintiff's prayer for injunctive relief is now moot, since steps have been taken to remodel the main library facilities and make them accessible to the handicapped. We do not feel, however, that this action by the library necessarily renders the plaintiff's claim for injunctive relief moot. We, therefore, will not bar the plaintiff from seeking both equitable relief and monetary damages in this action.1

As we understand the plaintiff's complaint it contains two central allegations against the defendants. First it contends that the library discriminated against the plaintiff by not providing adequate physical facilities for handicapped individuals. Second, it alleges that defendants engaged in ongoing discriminatory harassment of the plaintiff solely because of her handicap. Clearly the current renovation of the main library building, when completed, will remedy some of the plaintiff's complaints regarding the lack of facilities for the handicapped. However, even if these renovations completely satisfy the complaints regarding the lack of handicapped facilities we would still allow the plaintiff to seek injunctive relief in this case. In her complaint the plaintiff alleges that she has been subjected to discriminatory harassment by her superiors. According to the plaintiff this harassment has included attempts to transfer and demote her because of her handicap. This court clearly has the authority to enjoin this type of discrimination against the handicapped. Moreover, the renovation of the library building itself in no way corrects this discriminatory conduct. Therefore, these renovations do not render moot the plaintiff's request for injunctive relief and we will allow the plaintiff to continue to seek that relief.



§ 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, 29 U.S.C. § 794, provides that:

No otherwise qualified handicapped individual in the United States ... shall, solely by reason of his handicap be excluded from the participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving federal financial assistance...".

Although the Supreme Court has never directly addressed this issue, lower federal courts have generally concluded that this section creates an implied private right of action on behalf of the handicapped. See, e. g. NAACP v. Medical Center Inc., 599 F.2d 1247 (3d Cir. 1977); Lloyd v. Regional Transportation Authority, 548 F.2d 1277 (7th Cir. 1977); Kampmeier v. Nyquist, 553 F.2d 296 (2nd Cir. 1977); United Handicap Federation v. Andre, 558 F.2d 413 (8th Cir. 1977). Accordingly it is conceded by all of the parties in this case that the plaintiff does possess a private right of action under Section 504. The defendants, however, contend that this private right of action is strictly limited to actions for injunctive relief. Therefore, the defendants argue that we must bar all claims for damages brought by the plaintiff under the Rehabilitation Act.

We disagree. In our view, the private right of action created by Section 504 encompasses both actions for injunctive relief and actions for monetary damages. Therefore we will permit the plaintiff to pursue a damages action under this act.

In considering the defendants' position on this issue we note at the outset that the Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit has never ruled on this precise question. See NAACP v. Medical Center, Inc., supra, at 1248, n. 1. However, several district courts in this circuit have, without discussion, allowed private damage actions to proceed under Section 504. See, Stubbs v. Kline, 463 F.Supp. 110 (W.D.Pa.1978); Drennon v. Phila. General Hospital, 428 F.Supp. 809 (E.D.Pa.1977). Moreover, recently several district court decisions have expressly held that Section 504 creates a private right of action for damages. See, Patton v. Dumpson, 498 F.Supp. 933 (S.D.N.Y.1980); Poole v. South Plainfield Board of Education, 490 F.Supp. 948 (D.N.J.1980). We find the rationale underlying these decisions to be persuasive. Accordingly, we adopt that rationale and hold that damages are recoverable under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.

In this case we can see no sound reason for distinguishing between private actions for damages and private actions for injunctive relief. In fact, we note that such a distinction seems inconsistent with prior case law in this area. Historically, private damages actions have been recognized as an accepted remedy for civil rights violations. Such private damages actions have been permitted in civil rights cases as a remedy for constitutional infractions; See, e. g. Paton v. Laprade, 524 F.2d 862, 869 (3rd Cir. 1975) (First Amendment); Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, 403 U.S. 388, 91 S.Ct. 1999, 29 L.Ed.2d 619 (1971) (Fourth Amendment); United States ex rel. Moore v. Koelzer, 457 F.2d 892 (3d Cir. 1972) (Fifth Amendment); Berlin Democratic Club v. Rumsfeld, 410 F.Supp. 144, 161 (D.D.C.1976) (Sixth Amendment), and for violations of a wide range of statutorily created rights, See, e. g. Runyon v. McCrary, 427 U.S. 160, 96 S.Ct. 2586, 49 L.Ed.2d 415 (1976) (Suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1981); Sullivan v. Little Hunting Park Inc., 396 U.S. 229, 90 S.Ct. 400, 24 L.Ed.2d 386 (1969) (Suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1982); Gilliam v. City of Omaha, 388 F.Supp. 842, 847 (D.Neb.) aff'd 524 F.2d 1013 (8th Cir. 1975) (Suit under Title VI); Williams v. Matthews Co., 499 F.2d 819, 829 (8th Cir.); cert. den. 419 U.S. 1021, 95 S.Ct....

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