Setback in wheelchair-access lawsuit

Plaintiff Brenda Pickern is a visually impaired andmobility-impaired woman who depends on an electric wheelchair fortransportation. Pier 1 Imports Inc. operates its store leased from the SiegmundWeinstock Family Trust.

The store is separated from the street by a long strip ofland containing a public sidewalk and a 10-foot-wide grassy berm. There is noaccess ramp connecting the sidewalk to the store’s parking lot. Both the publicsidewalk and the grassy strip are owned and maintained by the city.

Purchase Bob Bruss reports online.

Pickern cannot traverse the grassy strip in her wheelchairto reach the store. Instead, she must proceed down the sidewalk to one of twomain mall entrances or to one of several access ramps connecting the sidewalkto the mall parking lot.

The plaintiff sued Pier 1 Imports for violation of theAmericans with Disabilities Act (ADA). She alleged the store and its landlordfailed to remove architectural barriers, including building a ramp from thestore over the grassy area to the parking area.

The attorney for the store and the landlord replied there isno obligation to build an access ramp over the city-owned grassy area to makethe store more easily accessible from the parking lot. Pickern argued ADArequires such access in existing facilities where such removal is readilyachievable.

The defendant store and landlord emphasized the city controlsthe grassy area and ADA prohibits access discrimination only by people who own,lease or operate a place of public accommodation.

If you were the judge would you require Pier 1 and itslandlord to build a handicap-access ramp over the city-owned grassy area toprovide better access?

The judge said no!

Title III of the ADA requires property owners and tenants ofcommercial places of public accommodation to remove architectural barrierswhere such removal is readily achievable, the judge began. However, in thissituation the landlord and tenant do not manage the strip of grass, mow it ormaintain it in any manner, he continued.

There is no requirement in ADA that private entities seekpermission to alter public property to accommodate the handicapped, the judgeexplained. Therefore, Pier 1 and its landlord have no obligation under ADA toprovide an access ramp over the city-owned grassy area for Pickern to moreeasily reach the store, the judge ruled.

Based on the U.S. Court of Appeals decision in Pickern v.Pier 1 Imports (U.S.) Inc., 457 Fed.3d 963.

(For more information on Bob Bruss publications, visit his
Real Estate Center

Copyright 2007 Inman News

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