Claiming that the city of Taunton has failed to install curb cuts and properly maintain its sidewalks, a local attorney has filed a lawsuit in federal court in an attempt to make the city more accessible to those in wheelchairs.
Attorney Joseph deMello, who filed the lawsuit on behalf of city resident Nancy Gero, claims that the city is failing to comply with the federal Americans with Disabilities Act of 1992. He is seeking a court-ordered injunction that would prevent the city from using federal or state funds on road construction projects until the allegations contained in the lawsuit are resolved.
“It seeks to make the city do what it should have been doing since 1992,” deMello said.
In accordance with the ADA, each city is required to create a plan to address accessibility issues, he said.
“Most cities, in my experience, tend to ignore it because the public hasn’t cried out,” he said.
City Solicitor Jane Estey said the lawsuit is currently under review and declined to comment further on it. The city, she said, is preparing a response.
Mayor Charles Crowley also had little to say on the matter.
“I’m not going to comment on the allegations that were made,” the mayor said. “We will let the courts handle it … It is prudent for us not to comment on it.”
City councilors Gerald Croteau and Thomas Hoye also declined to comment on the lawsuit.
Some city councilors, however, discussed the allegations contained in the lawsuit and general accessibility issues in the city.
“I saw Joe (deMello) on Monday and told him I pretty much agree with everything on there,” councilor David Pottier said.
With a meager budget picture taking shape, however, Pottier said he doesn’t know how much headway the city can reasonably make in addressing accessibility concerns.
“Unfortunately now, because of the way funding is, I don’t know if we’re going to be able to make it enough of a priority to satisfy Joe or our constituents,” Pottier said.
A similar lawsuit was recently settled in Sacramento, Calif., resulting in $1 billion worth of improvements in that city.
“I just wish there was a way we could more easily rectify the situation,” Pottier said. “Sadly, it all comes back to money.”
Councilor Daniel Mansour Barbour offered similar comments about deMello’s lawsuit.
“I understand his passion and defense for a worthy cause, but I don’t know how realistic it would be for the city to be in compliance,” Barbour said. “Finances complicate all projects.”
The councilor also said it is unlikely that Taunton would have the means to quickly make all sidewalks ADA compliant.
“There’s absolutely no physically possible way our community could cure that overnight,” he said. “There’s probably no way we could cure it in the near future.”
Barbour recalled deMello had been talking about filing a lawsuit for years if the accessibility issues were not adequately addressed.
The attorney said the lawsuit came about after he had seen Gero, who is confined to a wheelchair, struggling to navigate downtown Taunton.
“I got to talking with her, and I was convinced something needed to be done,” deMello said. “Many of the people who are in a wheelchair or scooter don’t have an active voice. They’re relatively silent. They don’t know how to seek change and are reluctant to seek it.”
DeMello said about a year ago, he sent a letter to the city about the state of the sidewalks and lack of curb cuts but was ignored. A follow-up email sent several months ago, he said, was also ignored.
Estey said she had no knowledge of letters or emails from deMello.
The lawsuit also seeks unspecified monetary damages for Gero.
“We are seeking a limited amount of damages for the utter neglect my client has had to endure in terms of seeking proper streets to be able to ride on,” deMello said. “That is (a) very, very, very small aspect.”
He said he is waiting to hear back from the city Law Department.
“If the city wants to litigate this aggressively, we’re ready,” deMello said.
Ten years ago, deMello filed a lawsuit against the state and the Bristol County Commissioners over the lack of accessibility to the courthouse and Registry of Deeds buildings in Taunton. As a result of the legal action, courts and public facilities in Bristol County underwent $6 million in accessibility improvements, the former Taunton District Court building was closed and the state began building a new courthouse complex in Taunton. The new courthouse is expected to open later this year.
The Town was told the new sidewalks do comply.ReplyDelete
The new sidewalks are fine. The sidewalks in Fiskdale on Route 20 from Cedar Street to Route 148 do not comply with the ADA. They do not allow unimpeded access on the sidewalk by those using wheelchairs, strollers, or carriers used for transporting disabled persons due to the utility poles that are in the sidewalks.ReplyDelete
Actually, if you were to count the number of people walking on the sidewalks from where they begin on Route 20 in Fiskdale (beyond 148 headed towards Brimfield) down to the intersection with 131, you would find that the number is likely larger than those walking at the Sturbridge end towards Southbridge.ReplyDelete
Of course, Fiskdale/Snellville is not as much of a tourist attraction as is the Sturbridge Common area. Right? Nope. That's where most of the stores and restautrants are. Oh...hummmmmmm.
We can all thank the Pandora king for this. He whined and complained until he finally got the other selectpeople to vote for the shoveling change. Bet a dollar there's something in it for him or one of his pals. As in money.ReplyDelete
A suit would not do us well at all. what do we do?ReplyDelete