New York City taxi licensing regulations redux

I previously blogged (if you want to read this particular blog entry in context, you will find the original blog entry plus what appears here at that link), about a decision whereby a District Court throughout the New York City regulations with respect to the number of accessible taxis that are required in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. In that blog entry, I stated that the decision was one that would worth appealing. In fact, this case was appealed and on June 28 the second circuit came down with its decision whereby the Second Circuit held that the city was not in violation of part a of title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act and that the District Court erred in granting partial summary judgment for the plaintiff and entering the temporary injunction. The Second Circuit vacated and remanded for entry of partial summary judgment for the city. In doing so, the Second Circuit had to find that the district court abused its discretion in its decision.

How did the Second Circuit go about reversing the District Court decision and finding that abuse of discretion? First, the court noted that the Americans with Disabilities Act while broad in scope was not without its limits.

Second, the court turned to the federal regulations dealing with licenses. The court said that what this section does is prohibit the agency issuing the regulations from refusing to grant licenses to persons with disabilities who are otherwise qualified to own or operate taxis but does not assist persons who are consumers of the licensee’s product. Such a conclusion was also supported by the Department of Justice’s technical assistance manual, which the court found to be persuasive authority.

Third, the court found that a program or activity of the public entity was not involved here. That is, an activity of the public entity does not become a “program or activity” of the public entity merely because it is licensed by the public entity unless the private industry practice is the result of the licensing requirements. Such was not the case here (that is, the licensing scheme did not cause the discrimination). While the number of taxis that have to be accessible were small, nothing prevented the private companies from using whatever number of accessible taxis they desired. To buttress this point, the court cited to several cases that made this distinction between the regulatory agencies and the licensees or the people being regulated themselves. They did distinguish one case that did not make that distinction, but that case was substantially different as it dealt with the situation with a private entity had to use equipment required by the public agency (machine for the state lottery in West Virginia).

Finally, an interesting question arises as to why the plaintiffs went after the public entity and not the taxi companies themselves. It turns out, as the Court notes, that federal regulations specifically exempt providers of taxi service from being required to purchase or lease accessible automobiles. Therefore, since the taxi industry is exempt from being required to purchase or lease accessible taxis, there can be no underlying violation of the ADA for a licensing authority to fail to address that by regulation.

Tip: What does this all mean? It means that for purposes of the Americans with Disabilities Act, there is a big difference between the regulations issued by a public entity and the people or entities subject to those regulations. Unless those regulations mandate discrimination, the Americans with Disabilities Act is not going to allow a title II claim to proceed. It also means that the time to ensure that the regulations increase accessibility to the maximum extent is at the time the regulations are being formulated not once they are done. For example, when a state or the federal government formulates regulations, those regulations first have to be proposed, then receive comments from the public, then those comments have to be digested by the regulatory body, and then the final regulations have to be issued. These regulations of New York were not state or federal but it is possible that prior to issuing the licensing regulations, there may have been some ability for the public to comment on the proposed licensing regulations. If not, that fact might offer grounds for attacking the regulations.