In December 2011, a district court in New York City ordered the Taxi and Limousine Commission to make the taxicabs in New York City accessible to people using wheelchairs. The Second Circuit has vacated the injunction because the failure to make taxicabs accessible does not violate the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The case is Noel v. New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission, decided on June 28. District Judge Daniels granted summary judgment against the City for not providing "meaningful access to taxi services for persons with disabilities. The district court also entered a temporary injunction that requires that all new taxi medallions and street-hail livery licenses be limited to vehicles that are wheelchair accessible (“accessible taxis”), until the TLC proposes and the district court approves a comprehensive plan to provide meaningful access to taxi service for wheelchair-bound passengers." To the uninitiated, this ruling would make sense. Doesn't the ADA require governmental entities to make their services accessible to the disabled? Not in this case, primarily because the taxi business in New York City is a private -- and not public -- entity.
Some background: there are more than 13,000 medallion taxis in New York City. About 230 are wheelchair accessible. So, 98 percent of medallion taxis are not accessible. Someone who needs that accessibility had a 3.31 percent chance of hailing a taxi within 10 minutes. Without a wheelchair, it's 87 percent. Sixty thousand New York City residents use a wheelchair.
The ADA is supposed to be broadly interpreted, but the Second Circuit (Jacobs, Kearse and Hall) cites a Colorado district court case from 1998 for the proposition that "the scope of Title II is not limitless." The relevant ADA regulation here is 28 CFR 35.130(b)(6), which prohibits the TLC from refusing to grant licenses to persons with disabilities who are otherwise qualified to own or operate a taxi. But the regulation cannot be interpreted to require the City to make the taxicabs accessible to the disabled. While the regulation helps those seeking the licenses, "[i]t does not assist persons who are consumers of the licensees' product."
The heart of the appeal is plaintiffs' argument that the TLC licenses an industry that does not make its taxicabs accessible. Here's the problem with that argument: Under the ADA, "the programs or activities of entities that are licensed or certified by a public entity are not, themselves, covered by Title II(A)." In plain English, this means that an activity is not covered by the ADA solely because it is licensed by a public entity. The public entity here is the TLC. But the taxicab industry in New York City is a private industry. Even if the private industry does not make its services accessible, that does not mean that the public entity that is regulating the private industry is violating the ADA, "unless the private industry practice results from the licensing requirements."
The opinion goes on to analyze other ADA regulations that the plaintiffs claim support their position. If you've handled ADA litigation, you know the regulations are extensive. None of the regulations help the plaintiffs, though. Looks like a huge loophole in the ADA. And Title III of the ADA doesn't apply, either, because "Title III expressly exempts taxi providers from purchasing or leasing 'accessible automobiles.'" So the injunction against the TLC is vacated, and the Court of Appeals grants summary judgment to the defendants on the Title II(A) claim.