Mote v. City of Chelsea, Case Number 16–11546

CourtUnited States District Courts. 6th Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of Michigan)
Citation284 F.Supp.3d 863
Docket NumberCase Number 16–11546
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, Michigan Department of Transportation, and Washtenaw County Road Commission, Defendants, and City of Chelsea, Third-party plaintiff, v. Washtenaw County Road Commission, Third-party defendant.
Decision Date02 January 2018

Denise M. Heberle, John Mark Finnegan, Heberle & Finnegan, Ann Arbor, MI 48103, Kenneth V. Klaus, Law Office of Kenneth V. Klaus, Manton, MI 49663–9006, for Plaintiffs.

John L. Tuttle, John L. Tuttle Assoc., Hoover, AL 35226, Michael J. Dittenber, Michigan Department of Attorney General, Lansing, MI, for Defendant.

Peter C. Flintoft, Chelsea, MI.

Thomas H. Derderian, Michael R. Kluck Assoc., Okemos, MI 48864, Wendy S. Hardt, Michael Kluck Assoc., Okemos, MI.

DAVID M. LAWSON, United States District Judge

OPINION AND ORDER GRANTING MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT BY DEFENDANT MICHIGAN DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION, GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT BY DEFENDANT WASHTENAW COUNTY ROAD COMMISSION, DENYING MOTION FOR RECONSIDERATION BY DEFENDANT MICHIGAN DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION, DENYING MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT BY DEFENDANT CITY OF CHELSEA, AND ORDERING STATUS CONFERENCE

This case is before the Court again on the second round of dispositive motions in this municipal sidewalk accessibility dispute brought under the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), the Rehabilitation Act, and their state-law counterpart. The Court previously denied motions to dismiss filed by defendants Washtenaw County Road Commission (WCRC) and Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT). Mote v. City of Chelsea , 252 F.Supp.3d 642 (E.D. Mich. 2017). The plaintiffs since have filed a second amended complaint, and discovery has closed. Defendants WCRC and MDOT now have filed motions for summary judgment, presenting many of the same legal arguments raised and rejected earlier. Each defendant has raised additional arguments, however, some of which merit dismissal of part of the plaintiffs' claims. The Court will grant in part and deny in part the defendants' motions for summary judgment.

I.

The plaintiffs are individual 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, along with the Ann Arbor Center for Independent Living (AACIL), which is an association that represents disabled persons such as the plaintiffs throughout southeastern Michigan, including in Chelsea. Together, and on behalf of persons similarly situated, the plaintiffs complain that the public streets and sidewalks in the City of Chelsea are less than fully accessible, at least in part because of construction and renovation work done on public sidewalks and streets by the City of Chelsea, the WCRC, and MDOT, which either removed, omitted, or improperly constructed accessibility features. The plaintiffs also initially complained about accessible public parking, but they have not developed those claims and appear to have abandoned them.

The parties have furnished drawings and diagrams of some of the intersections. Their "Ramp Location 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.). Those designation will be used here. The following fact summary is taken from the parties' affidavits, declarations, and authenticated documents. We begin with the circumstances of the individual and institutional plaintiffs.

A. Individual Plaintiffs
1. Shauna Mote

In 2005, plaintiff Shauna Mote was in a car accident, and her injuries resulted in the amputation of both her legs. She now uses an adapted van with hand controls for transportation, which has a side fold-out ramp that she uses to exit the vehicle. Before her accident, she never used the sidewalks or curb ramps along US–12, but in 2015 a new friend suggested to her that a good way to meet people was to participate in the fairs and parades held in town. In August 2016 Mote attempted to travel the pedestrian route along US–12 for the first time, in order to meet with her friend for the "Old 12 Childrens Fair Parade." She also attempted to attend the "Chelsea Summer Fair Children's Parade" on an unspecified date in 2016. While traveling the sidewalk route along US–12, Mote observed several ramps with excessive running slopes, one of which was so steep that it caused the front wheels of her wheelchair to come up off the ground at the top. She also found it hard to navigate the ramps across US–12; at one location an excessive cross-slope on the ramp almost caused her to roll into traffic, and at another crossing police had to stop traffic to allow Mote and her friend to try to cross the street. However, upon crossing the street Mote and her friend were "confronted with a very steep curb ramp that was also covered with mud, weeds, and gravel several inches deep," and as "a result we had to avoid that curb ramp entirely and use a different ramp, which forced us to travel along Old 12, with our police escort." On other occasions, Mote has found many of the curb ramps to be flooded with water and mud, requiring her husband to push her wheelchair with great difficulty; Mote averred that she would not have been able to make the passage in her wheelchair without his aid. As a result of these and other problems with the US–12 curb ramps, Mote has not been able to access the Lake Pierce Boardwalk either alone or with the assistance of friends.

Mote did not identify the specific intersections with the offending ramps.

As to M–52, Mote attested only that there are no accessible or handicapped-placarded parking spaces anywhere in the street parking along M–52; the normal spaces marked out on that street do not have enough width to allow deployment of her van's ramp; and, as a result, she has had to forego attending music festivals in town, or is forced to "park far away, and risk [her] health and safety using the very inaccessible and unsafe curb ramps, street crossings and sidewalks along SR–52 (Main Street)."

2. Deborah Clark

Plaintiff Deborah Clark has a wheelchair-modified van and a motorized wheelchair that she uses to get around. She first met friends who lived in Chelsea and visited there in 2014. Before August 2014, she never had occasion to visit the City or use any of the sidewalks there. In August 2014 Clark attended the Chelsea Summer Fair Parade, which ran along US–12, and, after parking in an accessible space by the shopping mall, she used six curb ramps installed by defendant WCRC to reach a spot where she could view the parade. The excessive slope on some of those ramps caused her wheelchair to tip, and gaps where some ramps met the sidewalk caused her wheels to get stuck, resulting in Clark having difficulty controlling her chair and her service dog. In 2015 Clark decided not to attend the parade, to avoid facing the same difficult trek.

In 2015 or 2016, Clark learned that a new pedestrian crossing was installed across US–12 leading to the Lake Pierce Boardwalk. However, when it rains Clark has observed that the entire cross-walks and ramps are submerged and filled with pooled water and mud, which causes her wheelchair tires to lose traction, leaving her unable to traverse the ramps. As a result, Clark was not able to access the boardwalk despite the new crossing.

In 2016, Clark tried to attend one of the Thursday Night Sights and Sounds events in downtown Chelsea with her friend, fellow plaintiff Brenda Baraniak. The event features musical acts on ten stages arranged along M–52 (Main Street). Clark attested that "[v]irtually every transition from each crosswalk to and from each curb ramp had an abrupt change in level, (large lips) that risked tipping our wheelchairs"; almost "every painted crosswalk had one or more divots, potholes, rips or other defects in the road surface that were tipping hazards"; and a "few times we had to go outside of the painted crosswalk, to find the least risky place to transition from the street onto or off of a curb ramp." Clark stated that "[a]t one location, we abandoned the crosswalks and curb ramps entirely," and instead "both traveled in heavy vehicular traffic and used a commercial driveway apron to leave the street and enter onto the sidewalk, and later to leave the sidewalk and enter the traffic." As a result, Clark and Baraniak were able to get close to only two of the performing stages, were unable to reach two others, and ended up giving up and going home without enjoying most of the festival.

As with Ms. Mote, Clark did not identify the specific intersections with the offending ramps.

3. Brenda Baraniak

Plaintiff Brenda Baraniak is paralyzed from the waist down and uses a wheelchair that she pushes by her own power. She has a device that lifts the wheelchair and stores it on top of her car when she travels, and her car is modified to use hand controls. Baraniak stated that she had not visited Chelsea or used any of the pedestrian crossings there before August 2014. However, sometime after July 2014, Baraniak believed her granddaughter had reached an age where she could enjoy the parades in Chelsea and decided to attend the Chelsea Community Fair and its associated parade along US–12. Baraniak described nearly verbatim the same...

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