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Florida Must Face ADA Suit Over Legislative Captioning

Jan. 3, 2020, 9:51 PM

Florida must face an Americans with Disabilities Act lawsuit brought by a concerned citizen and the National Association of the Deaf over the state’s alleged failure to provide captioning for videos of legislative proceedings, the Eleventh Circuit ruled.

Eddie Sierra sued under Title II of the ADA and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, saying Florida and several officials refused to provide captioning that would have allowed people who are deaf or hard of hearing to comprehend them and participate in the democratic process. The defendants sought to dismiss the action based on sovereign immunity, but the district court rejected those motions.

The district court was right to find that defendants’ sovereign immunity was properly abrogated by Congress under Title II, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit said. The lack of captioning could make it more difficult for some individuals to exercise their fundamental right to participate in elections, it said. Even if it didn’t, a history of pervasive discrimination by states against the deaf and hard of hearing would make abrogation appropriate, it said.

Furthermore, the accommodation was unlikely to be burdensome. The plaintiffs were only seeking access to information about proceedings that was already disclosed to those who can hear, and to be able to process that information in the same way others did, Circuit Judge Beverly B. Martin wrote for the court.

It also affirmed the district court’s ruling that, even if a fundamental right was not at stake, the defendants didn’t have immunity under precedent protecting the right to education under similar circumstances.

Circuit Judge William B. Traxler, sitting by designation from the Fourth Circuit, joined in the opinion.

Circuit Judge Gerald Bard Tjoflat, concurring in part and dissenting in part, said the district court didn’t adequately explain its reasons for denying the legislative defendants’ motion to dismiss the Rehabilitation Act claims.

The plaintiffs are represented by Juan Courtney Cunningham and Scott R. Dinin of Miami, as well as by Michael Steven Stein of Washington.

The case is National Association of the Deaf v. State of Florida, 11th Cir., No. 18-12786, 1/3/20.

To contact the reporter on this story: David McAfee in Los Angeles at dmcAfee@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Rob Tricchinelli at rtricchinelli@bloomberglaw.com; Nicholas Datlowe at ndatlowe@bloomberglaw.com

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