When a patient alleged that he met the qualifications for coverage under the Americans with Disabilities Act and filed a lawsuit in federal court challenging lack of accessibility at a local pharmacy, would he prevail?
When a patient alleged that he met the qualifications for coverage under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and filed a lawsuit in federal court challenging lack of accessibility at a local pharmacy, would he prevail?
A patient in a southern state filed a lawsuit in federal court claiming that a pharmacy he had visited in the past and wished to visit in the future had architectural barriers that interfered with his access to the property. He identified 3 issues: The accessible designated parking space was not adjacent to the required access aisle, the ramp located in the parking area was at too steep an angle, and the pharmacy windows were not sufficiently low. He further alleged that the needed alterations were readily achievable, reasonably feasible, would be easily accomplished, and would not place an undue burden on the property owner.
The plaintiff filed his action with the federal trial court. Two and a half months later, having received no response from the defendant/owner of the pharmacy, he filed a motion for entry of default. The clerk of the court filed an entry of default against the defendant the following day. Six months later, the clerk issued a notice of intent to dismiss for failure to prosecute. That led the plaintiff to file a motion for a default judgment. The defendant/pharmacy owner participated in none of these proceedings—hence, all the references to “default.”
The court granted the motion for a default judgment, specifying the structural modifications that were required and granting 180 days to make the changes. The judge also granted the plaintiff’s motion to be awarded recovery of attorney’s fees and court costs from the defendant.
THE COURT’S REASONING
The court first reviewed the flow of matters related to entering a default judgment. The first requirement is a default, which occurs when a defendant fails to respond to a complaint within the required time. The second step is entry of default by the clerk; ie, verification that the default has indeed occurred. The third and last step is when the plaintiff applies for a judgment based on the default that has been established. The default judgment means that the plaintiff has won the matter because of the lack of participation by the defendant and the merits of the matter. The court stated the situation regarding this case quite clearly: “At no time has defendant participated in this action.”
The ADA, enacted in 1990, prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in 5 areas: communication, employment, government activities, public accommodation, and transportation. The court noted that the statute specifically lists pharmacies as places of public accommodation for purposes of the act. The court then turned its attention to the specifics of the ADA, focusing first on a provision related to architectural barriers: Discrimination includes “a failure to remove architectural barriers...in existing facilities...where such removal is readily achievable.” “Readily achievable” is defined for ADA purposes as “easily accomplishable and able to be carried out without much difficulty or expense.” An architectural expert had informed the court that the expense required to address the shortcomings was just short of $3000. It was noted, however, that the issue identified regarding the pharmacy service windows and their height had been resolved.
Further, the court emphasized that, unlike some statutes, the ADA does indeed confer a private right of action for those alleging discrimination on the basis of disability, which means that a private individual may maintain a legal action like this one. Enforcement activities are not limited to governmental agencies.
The plaintiff got what he was seeking with the court’s order that the structural modifications be made within 180 days. He also sought to recover the attorney’s fees and court costs associated with bringing and maintaining the legal action. The judge gave him 1 month to submit a memorandum of fees and costs. If that form had not been filed by the deadline, a final judgment would be entered to close the case.
Joseph L. Fink III, BSPharm, JD, DSc (Hon), FAPhA, is a professor of pharmacy law and policy and the Kentucky Pharmacists Association Endowed Professor of Leadership at the University of Kentucky College of Pharmacy in Lexington.