• State disability act applies where federal law did not Tuesday, November 17, 2009

    George Louie, an amputee, patronized a Bridgestone-Firestone store in West Sacramento where he lives, and found that he could not reach the service countertops from his wheelchair.

    Contending that installation of accessible counter tops would be easy and inexpensive, he sued, initially in U.S. District Court in Sacramento claiming the company was violating the Americans with Disabilities Act, and a similar state law.

    His federal case was dismissed because a suit over access by disabled people against the tire retailed had been settled in Florida. However, California has its own version of Americans with Disabilities Act called the California Disabled Persons Act. So he sued in Sacramento Superior Court.

    Louie lost again before Superior Court Judge Loren E. McMaster of Sacramento, who dismissed the case ruling that the Florida settlement applied to him.

    But in a decision by Justice Rick Sims, the Court of Appeal reversed the trial court, noting that the Florida consent decree expressly stated: “The release does not include claims for individual damages, that otherwise might be available under state law or local ordinance.” The appellate court said it “would be unjust to allow the Defendant to invoke the Florida case as having settled this case when the Defendant expressly agreed in Florida that its consent to settling that case did not bar damage claims.”

    The U.S. Department of Justice had a hand indirectly in the matter, too, as is explained by this 2002 document. The feds intervened in the Florida case, saying that a proposed settlement’s release of the company from complying with state law. The Justice Department noted:

    The Department objected to these provisions because they would make it unduly difficult or impossible for future plaintiffs to assert their ADA rights against Bridgestone Firestone.

    Louie v. BFS RETAIL AND COMMERCIAL OPERATIONS, LLC, Court of Appeal 3rd Dist (C059800)

    –Steve Ingram

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