Mote v. City of Chelsea

Decision Date03 July 2019
Docket NumberCase Number 16-11546
Citation391 F.Supp.3d 720
Parties Shauna M. MOTE, Deborah Clark, Carlos Gray-Lion, Brenda Baraniak, Karen Street, Merlyn Street, Lee Benton, by his next friends Ronald M. Benton and Marion Benton, J.N., a minor, by his next friends Daniel and Mary Jane Nelson, Ann Arbor Center for Independent Living, Inc., and Jennifer Kundak, Plaintiffs, v. CITY OF CHELSEA, Chelsea Downtown Development Authority, and Washtenaw County Road Commission, Defendants, and City of Chelsea, Third-party plaintiff, v. Washtenaw County Road Commission, Third-party defendant.
CourtU.S. District Court — Eastern District of Michigan

Denise M. Heberle, John Mark Finnegan, Heberle & Finnegan, Ann Arbor, MI, for Plaintiffs Shauna M. Mote, Deborah Clark, Carlos Gray-Lion, Brenda Baraniak, Karen Street, Merlyn Street, Lee Benton, A Minor, Ann Arbor Center for Independent Living, Inc., Jennifer Kundak, Daniel Nelson, Mary Jane Nelson.

Thomas H. Derderian, Wendy S. Hardt, Michael R. Kluck Assoc., Okemos, MI, for Plaintiff/Third-Party Defendant Washtenaw County Road Commission.

Jeffrey D. Alber, Peter C. Flintoft, Chelsea, MI, Mariah E. Fink, Fink Law, PLLC, Dexter, MI, for Defendant/Third-Party Plaintiff City of Chelsea.

Peter C. Flintoft, Chelsea, MI, for Defendant Chelsea Downtown Development Authority.

Thomas H. Derderian, Wendy S. Hardt, Michael R. Kluck Assoc., Okemos, MI, for Defendant Washtenaw County Road Commission 555 North Zeeb Road Ann Arbor, MI 48103 7347611500.

OPINION AFTER TRIAL

DAVID M. LAWSON, United States District Judge This case concerns the sidewalks, curbs, and intersections in the City of Chelsea, Michigan, and their accessibility to persons with disabilities. In a second amended complaint, the plaintiffsShauna Mote and several other disabled individuals, joined by the Ann Arbor Center for Independent Living — allege violations of the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), the Rehabilitation Act, and Michigan's Persons With Disabilities Civil Rights Act, based primarily on the condition of certain sidewalk curb ramps within the City of Chelsea. The individual plaintiffs are disabled persons who live, work, or frequently travel to and within the City of Chelsea, Michigan, and who each require the use of a wheelchair, braces, cane, or other assistive devices in order to get around. Plaintiff Ann Arbor Center for Independent Living is an association that represents disabled persons such as the plaintiffs throughout southeastern Michigan, including in Chelsea. They contend in their second amended complaint that the public streets and sidewalks in the City of Chelsea recently have become less than fully accessible to them due to City approvals of renovations by private businesses adjacent to public sidewalks and streets making those facilities inaccessible. They allege that the City of Chelsea and its Downtown Development Authority (DDA), along with the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) and the Washtenaw County Road Commission (WCRC), have created or facilitated violations of the ADA within certain public pedestrian areas in the City by allowing businesses to renovate storefronts without including appropriate accessibility measures, and by removing previously constructed physical accommodations for wheelchair users, such as curb ramps at some intersections.

On May 22, 2017, the plaintiffs filed their second amended complaint, alleging violations of ADA Title II (Count I) and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Count II) against the City of Chelsea, the City's Downtown Development Authority, and MDOT. The complaint also raises a congruent claim against the City of Chelsea only under Michigan's Persons With Disabilities Civil Rights Act (PWDCRA). With leave granted, the City of Chelsea filed a third-party complaint against the WCRC, which the City contends has exclusive control over and responsibility for certain roadways within its city limits. The plaintiffs later entered into a consent decree with the City of Chelsea, and they filed their second amended complaint naming WCRC as a principal defendant.

After motion practice resulted in the dismissal of the case against the MDOT, realigned the parties, and narrowed the issues, the case came on for trial on May 29, 2018 before the Court sitting without a jury. Fourteen witnesses testified (four by deposition) and the Court received 73 exhibits. Afterward, the parties submitted proposed findings of fact and conclusions of law.

The disputed trial issues concerned the construction of the curb ramps installed at six intersections along a stretch of Old US-12 in the southern part of Chelsea, with the main focus on four of those intersections. The parties's exhibits throughout the case have included drawings and diagrams of the intersections, which use a "Ramp Location Index." That index identifies each intersection's potential ramp location with ordinal numbers "1" through "8," beginning with the northwest corner of an intersection — ramp "1" is the south-facing location — then proceeding clockwise until the southwest corner, with "8" being the north-facing location. (In the case of a "T" intersection, at least two of the ordinal locations would be inapplicable.). The Court will continue to use those designation here.

The following constitutes the Court's findings of fact under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 52(a)(1), based on the record evidence, followed by its application of the governing law.

I. Factual Findings
A. The Plaintiffs

Shauna Mote, a 35-year Chelsea resident, lost both legs in an automobile accident in February 2005. She uses a wheelchair and a scooter. She rarely uses her prosthetics to ambulate. For transportation, Ms. Mote is able to use a van by transferring from the wheelchair to the vehicle, for which she must maintain her upper body strength.

Ms. Mote described her experiences going to events in Chelsea and navigating the sidewalks and intersections along Old US-12. When she attended parades in 2016, she parked in a handicap-accessible lot, passing through the parking lot to the south side of Old US-12 to cross over at Manchester Street. She described the curb ramp at the Manchester Street intersection as steep with a large crack at the bottom and a big asphalt "lip" where the ramp joins the street. The ramp has a cross-slope, causing difficulty proceeding straight down. There is a pothole in the crosswalk. On a different day, her front caster became lodged in a crack in the sidewalk ramp.

On another occasion, her companion, Debra Clark, also wheelchair bound, encountered accessibility difficulty when her power wheelchair became mired in the mud and grass at one of the ramps at the intersection of Old US-12 and Taylor Street. She described similar debris and growing grass at the Lane Street intersection ramp, which she characterized as "steep." Her husband had to help her traverse that ramp. At Arthur Street, there was grass growing in the ramp. Once she and her companions reached their destination, rain began and lasted for about 20 minutes. When she tried to return to her van, there was standing water that obscured the ramps and the transitions to the asphalt. She was unable to access the ramps without her husband's help. She said that all the ramps on Old US-12 were littered with debris.

Brenda Baraniak lived in Chelsea for seven years. She suffered a spinal cord injury

, leaving her paralyzed from the waist down. She uses a manual wheel chair for mobility, and she transfers to a van for transportation.

Ms. Baraniak described her experience in August 2014 when she took her granddaughter to the Chelsea Fair. She parked at a mall across from the Fairgrounds and used the curb ramp to cross Manchester Road at Old US-12. She said the ramp leaned one way and there was a "lip" at the bottom where the curb ramp met the asphalt. She could not proceed on her own and needed help getting back in the crosswalk. Her daughter had to help her up the ramp on the opposite side of the intersection because of the slant on one side of the ramp. There was water, sand, dirt, and stones on the detectable warning of the ramp and the Silver Maples Road intersection with Old US-12. She identified photographs that depicted the hazards she described in her testimony.

Karen Street testified that she has been paralyzed in her right lower extremity since 1954 when she contracted polio. She tried to walk using two canes, but for longer distances she uses a powered scooter. Ms. Street has lived in Chelsea for 41 years. She frequents a retirement community on Silver Maples Drive. She testified that she cannot use the curb ramp at that intersection with Old US-12 when there is standing water. She described an experience in the summer of 2016 when she encountered difficulty with the curb ramp at Silver Maples Drive; the ramp was full of sand, which accumulated because the ramp slopes toward the center. She found that water stands in the ramps for a considerable time after a rainfall.

Merlyn Street, Karen's husband, testified that he has had limited walking ability since he contracted polio in 1952. He is able to walk about ten feet with assistance. He stated that he would like to cross Old US-12 at Silver Maples Drive if he could. But the conditions there, as described by his wife, prevent him from doing that.

Lee Benton testified that he was paralyzed on the left side of his body from cerebral palsy

. He uses a motorized chair for mobility, which he controls with a joy stick using his right hand. The chair weighs 900 pounds. Mr. Benton travels from Ann Arbor using the Way Bus, gets off at Main Street, and works his way down Old US-12. On one occasion, traveling to the Chelsea Fair, he noticed grass and debris at the curb ramp intersections. When it rained, there frequently was standing water. The impediments caused him to lose his balance. If he loses touch with his joy stick, he has to ask a stranger to help him readjust his body in the chair. He noted that there was...

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