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Lacy v. Cook County

United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit

July 30, 2018

Johnathan Lacy, et al., Plaintiffs-Appellees,
Cook County, Illinois and Thomas J. Dart, Defendants-Appellants.

          Argued April 19, 2018

          Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division. No. 1:14-cv-06259 - Robert W. Gettleman, Judge.

          Before Ripple, Manion, and Kanne, Circuit Judges.


         Five wheelchair-using detainees brought this lawsuit against Cook County, Illinois, and the Sheriff, alleging violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA") and the Rehabilitation Act ("RHA"). Their claims are based on purportedly inaccessible ramps and bathroom facilities at six county courthouses. The district court certified a class for purposes of injunctive relief, and the named plaintiffs also sought damages individually for the same alleged violations.

         The district court held an evidentiary hearing on the equitable claims first. The parties then filed cross motions for summary judgment on their individual damage claims. The court entered a permanent injunction based on its factual findings and legal conclusion that the defendants had violated the ADA. Then, relying largely on these findings, the court granted partial summary judgment to the plaintiffs on liability in their personal damage actions. The court then submitted the question of individual damage awards to a jury. Meanwhile, it granted a supplemental permanent injunction to the class.

         We hold that the district court improperly relied on its own findings of fact when it granted partial summary judgment to the plaintiffs on their damage claims. When equitable and legal claims are joined in a single suit, common questions of fact should be tried first to a jury absent extraordinary circumstances or an unequivocal waiver by all parties of their jury trial rights. The record before us does not reflect any such waiver by the defendants. We therefore vacate the grant of partial summary judgment and remand for a jury trial on the question of liability. As a result, we also vacate the court's grant of permanent injunctive relief and vacate the jury's determinations of damage awards. We leave undisturbed the district court's decisions to certify the class and to grant supplemental injunctive relief to the class. This latter injunction is not related to the questions that should have been submitted to the jury. Accordingly, we affirm in part, vacate in part, and remand for further proceedings.



         In 1990, Congress enacted the ADA to provide "a clear and comprehensive national mandate for the elimination of discrimination against individuals with disabilities." 42 U.S.C. § 12101(b)(1). This sweeping legislation was animated by the finding that "individuals with disabilities continually encounter various forms of discrimination," ranging from "outright intentional exclusion" to "the discriminatory effects of architectural, transportation, and communication barriers." Id. § 12101(a)(5). The ADA was crafted "to advance equal-citizenship stature for persons with disabilities," Tennessee v. Lane, 541 U.S. 509, 536 (2004) (Ginsburg, J., concurring), and to remedy their status as "a discrete and insular minority who have been faced with restrictions and limitations, subjected to a history of purposeful unequal treatment, and relegated to a position of political powerlessness in our society," id. at 516 (majority opinion) (quoting 42 U.S.C. § 12101(a)(7)).

         The ADA is organized into three titles prohibiting discrimination across three major spheres of public life: employment (Title I); public services, programs, and activities (Title II); and public accommodations (Title III). This case arises from the protections of Title II.[1] The primary mandate of Title II is that "no qualified individual with a disability shall, by reason of such disability, be excluded from participation in or be denied the benefits of the services, programs, or activities of a public entity, or be subjected to discrimination by any such entity." 42 U.S.C. § 12132. This broad directive has been developed further by the Department of Justice through implementing regulations, accessibility standards, and administrative guidance. See id. § 12134(a) (instructing Attorney General to promulgate regulations implementing pertinent part of Title II).[2]

         To prove a prima facie case of discrimination under Title II, a plaintiff must show: (1) "that he is a 'qualified individual with a disability'"; (2) "that he was denied 'the benefits of the services, programs, or activities of a public entity' or otherwise subjected to discrimination by such an entity"; and (3) "that the denial or discrimination was 'by reason of' his disability." Love v. Westville Corr. Ctr., 103 F.3d 558, 560 (7th Cir. 1996) (quoting 42 U.S.C. § 12132). It is well established that a failure to make "reasonable modifications in policies, practices, or procedures" can constitute discrimination under Title II. 28 C.F.R. § 35.130(b)(7)(i)[3]; see also A.H. by Holzmueller v. Ill. High Sch. Ass'n, 881 F.3d 587, 592-93 (7th Cir. 2018); Wis. Cmty. Servs., Inc. v. City of Milwaukee, 465 F.3d 737, 753 (7th Cir. 2006).

         The obligation to make "reasonable modifications" parallels the obligations to make "reasonable accommodations" in the context of Titles I and III. See A.H., 881 F.3d at 592 (recognizing corresponding language in Title II regulations and Title III). These requirements derive from the understanding that certain practices can discriminate against individuals with disabilities even when those practices are facially neutral and consistently applied. See Lane, 541 U.S. at 536 (Ginsburg, J., concurring) ("Congress understood in shaping the ADA [that addressing discrimination] would sometimes require not blindfolded equality, but responsiveness to difference; not indifference, but accommodation.").

         Perhaps the most obvious example of such discrimination is when structural barriers prevent people with disabilities from accessing otherwise available public services. To remedy this form of discrimination, the DOJ has adopted structural accessibility standards that apply to newly constructed or altered facilities subject to Titles II and III. See 28 C.F.R. § 35.151(c).[4] Of course, structural renovations can be prohibitively costly for some public entities, so the regulations provide flexible compliance options for facilities built before 1992 and unaltered since: compliance can be achieved "through such means as redesign or acquisition of equipment, reassignment of services to accessible buildings, assignment of aides to beneficiaries, … alteration of existing facilities … or any other methods that result in making its services, programs, or activities readily accessible to and usable by individuals with disabilities." Id. § 35.150(b)(1). "And in no event is the entity required to undertake measures that would impose an undue financial or administrative burden, threaten historic preservation interests, or effect a fundamental alteration in the nature of the service." Lane, 541 U.S. at 532 (citing 28 C.F.R. §§ 35.150(a)(2), (a)(3)).

         When public entities offer services at inaccessible facilities built before 1992, it is clear that they can comply with Title II by making reasonable modifications to their policies, practices, or procedures. It is often less clear, however, whether a given modification is reasonable. This distinction has generated a significant amount of litigation, to which we add one more case today.


         This case centers on the facilities of six courthouses in Cook County, Illinois. The plaintiffs are five wheelchair-using detainees: Johnathan Lacy, Kenneth Farris, Marque Bowers, Maurice Boston, and Kevin Dawson. They each attended court approximately once per month in connection with their individual criminal cases. Their court appearances took place at the Leighton Criminal Courthouse in Chicago or at one of five suburban courthouses in Maywood, Markham, Skokie, Rolling Meadows, and Bridgeview. All of these courthouses were built before 1992 and thus are not subject to the ADA's structural accessibility standards. See Lane, 541 U.S. at 532; 28 C.F.R. § 35.150(b)(1). Nonetheless, to the extent that the facilities prevent individuals with disabilities from meaningfully accessing public services, reasonable modifications are required. 42 U.S.C. §§ 35.130(b)(7)(i), 35.150(a).

         The plaintiffs contend that Cook County and Thomas J. Dart, the Sheriff, failed to provide reasonable modifications with respect to two structural barriers at the courthouses: ramps and bathroom facilities.[5] In order to access the courthouses for their monthly appearances, the plaintiffs had to traverse steep entrance and exit ramps in their wheelchairs. Once inside, they waited in holding cells until their cases were called, which could take several hours. The holding cells contained bathroom facilities-typically a combination sink and toilet, set off by a translucent "privacy screen."

         During the relevant time period, the ramps and bathroom facilities did not comply with the latest accessibility standards.[6] None of the parties disputes that the ramps did not meet the relevant sloping requirements and that the bathroom facilities did not include grab bars or sufficient clear-floor space under the 2010 standards. Rather, the parties dispute whether the defendants' policies and practices provided reasonable modifications to overcome these physical barriers.

         The defendants maintain that they have complied with the ADA by enacting a policy of assisting wheelchair-using detainees with the ramps and by providing portable commode chairs in at least one holding cell per courthouse. They also submit that courthouse personnel were instructed to escort wheelchair-using detainees to public, ADA-compliant restrooms in the event of an emergency. According to the plaintiffs, however, they were not consistently assisted and often had to maneuver the ramps alone. They also insist that they could not use the commode chairs, or could do so only with great difficulty, and that they were not escorted to public, ADA-compliant restrooms as an alternative.


         The plaintiffs filed this action in August 2014. They sought prospective injunctive relief as well as damages for past violations. At the start of the proceedings, the plaintiffs sought a preliminary injunction to prohibit the defendants from violating the ADA. Shortly thereafter, they sought certification of a class of all wheelchair-bound detainees presently confined at the Cook County Jail. As the parties were preparing for a hearing on preliminary injunctive relief, the plaintiffs moved to consolidate the hearing with a trial on their request for a permanent injunction under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 65(a)(2). The court denied consolidation and began the hearing on December 17, 2014. The next day, however, it reversed its interlocutory decision and consolidated the hearing with a trial on the merits for purposes of injunctive relief.

         The evidentiary hearing lasted seven days over a span of two full months. The plaintiffs presented testimony from ADA experts and a number of wheelchair-using detainees, including Mr. Dawson and Mr. Farris, who testified to the barriers they faced when attending court. The hearing also featured testimony from court service officers and Sheriff's personnel, including the ADA compliance coordinator and ADA project director, who testified to the ongoing renovation of the County courthouses. The parties also submitted video footage showing wheelchair-using detainees traversing the ramps and using the holding cell bathrooms with disputed degrees of difficulty. Throughout the proceedings, the parties fiercely contested whether the Sheriff enforced the ramp-assistance policy and whether the portable commode chairs adequately accommodated the plaintiffs. Notably, although the district court had ordered the consolidation of the preliminary injunction hearing with a trial on the merits, it referred throughout the proceedings to a "preliminary injunction."[7]

         After the close of the hearing but before it issued a decision, the court granted the plaintiffs' pending motion for class certification and certified the class of "[a]ll Cook County Jail detainees who have been assigned and currently use a wheel-chair."[8] The plaintiffs immediately filed a motion on behalf of the class seeking a permanent injunction with respect to the ramp-assistance policy. The court denied this motion as premature; although the hearing had ended, the court still was reviewing evidence and conducting status hearings about the defendants' ongoing courthouse renovations.

         On June 10, 2015, the court again reversed its earlier ruling and stated that it would "not combine its consideration of the motion for [a] preliminary injunction with [a] ruling on the final merits of the case."[9] Nevertheless, in their final memorandum in support of injunctive relief, the plaintiffs urged the court to enter a final declaratory judgment as well as a permanent injunction requiring the Sheriff to revise the ramp-assistance policy to ensure its consistent enforcement.

         Before the court issued a decision on injunctive relief, it collected summary judgment briefs from both sides on the plaintiffs' individual damage claims. The named plaintiffs filed a motion seeking partial summary judgment on the question of ADA liability, and the defendants filed a cross motion for complete summary judgment. Both sides submitted Local Rule 56.1 statements of material fact and responded in opposition to the other's summary judgment filings.

         On October 8, 2015, before ruling on summary judgment, the court issued an opinion on injunctive relief. After acknowledging its most recent decision to rule on only the request for a preliminary injunction, the court changed course yet again. It explained that "in light of plaintiffs' most recent request for a permanent injunction, and the fact that the evidentiary record has continued to grow since this issue was last addressed, preliminary injunctive relief is no longer before the court."[10] Accordingly, the opinion addressed the merits of the plaintiffs' claims.

         The court's opinion contained extensive findings of fact and conclusions of law. Based on "what it [found] to be most relevant" in the record, the court found that the defendants had not consistently helped wheelchair-using detainees maneuver the ramps.[11] It also found that the plaintiffs' "witnesses consistently and credibly [had] testified to being unable to use the toilet facilities or being able to do so only with great difficulty, even when provided with a commode chair."[12] The court further found that commode chairs were not provided, and the alternative policy of escorting detainees to public restrooms was not implemented, until mid-2014- after the plaintiffs' claims arose. Therefore, the court concluded that the "defendants have, in the past, violated plaintiffs' rights pursuant to the ADA."[13]

         Based on these findings, the court granted the plaintiffs' request for a permanent injunction with respect to the ramp-assistance policy, but it denied their request for a declaratory judgment.[14] "Although the court has found past ADA violations," it explained, "the defendants have undertaken extensive construction, beyond what is required of them by the ADA or the Rehab Act, that has remedied the majority of the violations about which plaintiffs complain."[15]

         On November 19, 2015, the court granted partial summary judgment to the plaintiffs on the question of liability in their individual damage actions. The court acknowledged that "[o]rdinarily, the following facts would be undisputed and come from the parties' Local Rule 56.1 statements and responses."[16] However, because the court already had made factual findings in granting the injunction, it described the Rule 56.1 statements as largely "moot" and relied on its existing findings insofar as they informed the determination of summary judgment.[17] As the court explained, the "plaintiffs have already established that they were discriminated against in violation of the ADA."[18] Therefore, the only remaining element for them to prove in order to collect damages was the intentional nature of the defendants' discrimination. See Bd. of Educ. of Twp. High Sch. Dist. No. 211 v. Ross, 486 F.3d 267, 278 (7th Cir. 2007) (rejecting ADA claim for damages where district court properly found no intentional discrimination); Love, 103 F.3d at 561 (acknowledging standard of intentional discrimination for compensatory damages under the RHA and implicitly applying same standard to ADA claim).

         The district court recognized that we have not yet spoken on the proper standard for establishing intentional discrimination. See Strominger v. Brock, 592 Fed.Appx. 508, 511-12 (7th Cir. 2014) (acknowledging our silence on the matter). Absent guidance from our court, the district court adopted the deliberate indifference standard advocated by the parties and employed by a majority of other courts of appeals.[19] This standard requires proof of (1) "knowledge that a harm to a federally protected right is substantially likely" and (2) "a failure to act upon that likelihood." S.H. ex rel. Durrell v. Lower Merion Sch. Dist., 729 F.3d 248, 263 (3d Cir. 2013) (quoting Duvall v. Cty. of Kitsap, 260 F.3d 1124, 1139 (9th Cir. 2001)).

         The court held that there was "no genuine issue of material fact as to defendants' knowledge of likely ADA violations and their failure to act in light of that knowledge."[20] The court observed that the County previously had undertaken significant ADA-related construction at the courthouses but had limited its renovations to the public-facing portions of the buildings. It also noted the defendants' involvement in past litigation involving very similar claims under the ADA. Based on this circumstantial evidence of the defendants' knowledge, the court did not think that a reasonable trier of fact could rule in the defendants' favor on the issue of deliberate indifference.

         After granting the plaintiffs' motion for partial summary judgment on liability, the court proceeded with jury trials to determine the amount of damages owed to each named plaintiff. A jury awarded Mr. Lacy $600 in damages and Mr. Boston and Mr. Bowers $0 in damages. Mr. Dawson and the defendants reached a private settlement. Mr. Farris and the defendants agreed to a judgment in Mr. Farris's favor for $0.

         On January 7, 2016, the plaintiff class filed a motion for a supplemental permanent injunction to remedy the County's alleged failure to bring two holding cells at the Maywood courthouse into compliance with the ADA's clear-floor-space requirements. According to the plaintiffs, the County had made alterations to these holding cells, thereby triggering its obligation to bring the facilities into complete compliance with the latest accessibility standards. But, under the pertinent standards, the privacy screens in the holding cells were 1.5 inches too close to the rear walls. The County maintained that it was excused from strict compliance with the accessibility standards because it altered only certain elements within the holding cells and because moving the screens was technically infeasible. The court rejected the County's arguments and granted a permanent injunction ordering that the screens be moved, but it stayed its order pending this appeal.



         The defendants now challenge four of the district court's orders: (1) the grant of partial summary judgment on liability in favor of the individual plaintiffs, (2) the jury verdict and $600 damage award in favor of Mr. Lacy, (3) the certification of the class, and (4) the grant of a permanent injunction regarding the Maywood privacy screens. For the reasons laid out below, we vacate the district court's grant of partial summary judgment; vacate the jury's verdicts on damages; vacate the district court's injunction respecting the Sheriff's ramp policy; affirm the certification of the class; and affirm the class-wide injunction regarding the privacy screens. We address these issues in turn.


         The defendants contend that the district court erred in granting summary judgment to the plaintiffs on the issue of ADA liability in their individual damage actions. They submit that, by relying on findings of fact from its prior decision to grant a permanent injunction, the court improperly weighed competing evidence and made credibility determinations and thereby usurped the role of the jury in the plaintiffs' damage claims. We agree.

         In this action, the plaintiffs sought both equitable and legal relief to remedy the defendants' alleged ADA violations. They pursued the equitable claims on behalf of the class, seeking a prospective injunction against ongoing ADA violations. Simultaneously, the named plaintiffs brought damage actions on an individual basis, seeking monetary compensation for past ADA deprivations that they each claim to have suffered. These equitable and legal claims all required the factfinder to determine whether the defendants had violated the ADA by failing to provide reasonable modifications for wheelchair-using detainees with respect to the courthouse ramps and bathroom facilities.

         It is well established that "when a legal claim is joined with an equitable claim, 'the right to jury trial on the legal claim, including all issues common to both claims, remains intact.'" Hussein v. Oshkosh Motor Truck Co., 816 F.2d 348, 354 (7th Cir. 1987) (quoting Curtis v. Loether, 415 U.S. 189, 196 n.11 (1974)).[21] In order to protect parties' jury trial rights in these situations, courts typically submit the legal claims to a jury before the court decides the equitable claims. See New West, L.P. v. City of Joliet, 891 F.3d 271, 273 (7th Cir. 2018) ("Judges usually ought to put jurytrial issues ahead of benchtrial issues because that order is most respectful of constitutional interests … ."). Otherwise, the court might limit the parties' opportunity to try to a jury every issue underlying the legal claims by affording preclusive effect to its own findings of fact on questions that are common to both the legal and equitable claims. See Beacon Theatres, Inc. v. Westover, 359 U.S. 500, 504 (1959). Although this order of proceedings is not constitutionally mandated, see New West, 891 F.3d at 273, the Supreme Court has instructed that "only under the most imperative circumstances … ca n the right to a jury trial of legal issues be lost through prior determination of equitable claims," Beacon, 359 U.S. at 510-11.[22]

         In this case, the order of proceedings was complicated further by the plaintiffs' request to consolidate the hearing on preliminary injunctive relief with a trial on the merits for permanent injunctive relief. Consolidation is procedurally significant, because in granting or denying a preliminary injunction, the court would decide only the plaintiffs' likelihood of success on the merits, whereas in granting or denying a permanent injunction, it would decide their actual success on the merits. See Michigan v. U.S. Army Corps of Eng'rs, 667 F.3d 765, 782 (7th Cir. 2011). In other words, only a hearing on permanent injunctive relief would result in conclusive findings as to the defendants' actual liability under the ADA; any judicial ...

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