Thursday, May 29, 2008

Lawsuit over dorm accessibility to proceed

Towson University’s Millennium Hall
does include accessible units, but
plaintiff Mark Kuchmas says he could
not use the unit he was shown in 2006.

A federal judge in Baltimore is allowing a would-be Towson University student’s lawsuit over accessible housing at a dorm that was built in 2000 to go forward, The Daily Record in Baltimore reports.

The university, the residence hall’s developer and its management firm all argued that federal laws didn't apply to Mark Kuchmas’ lawsuit over design and construction issues once the building had been up for two years, even though Kuchmas did not see a unit until January 2006.

U.S. District Judge Richard D. Bennett decided May 28 that "the time to bring suit under the federal Fair Housing Act and other laws starts ticking at the time of the alleged discriminatory action, not when construction of the building is completed."

The Daily Record says that "while Bennett’s May 15 ruling appears to have nudged the case toward settlement, question of the time limit is far from settled and could be the subject of U.S. Supreme Court consideration before long, according to attorneys in this case and others."

“It’s probably as important an issue that exists today under the Fair Housing Act, and I think you’ll see more litigation, more cases dealing with it,” said Andrew D. Levy, Kuchmas’ attorney.

Stephen Z. Chertkof, a civil rights litigator in Washington who has brought actions under the Americans with Disabilities Act, said requiring prospective plaintiffs to file suit within two years of a building’s completion would lead to “absurdity.”

“Suppose you’re a wheelchair user in eighth grade, and Harvard’s building a new dorm,” Chertkof said. “If you’re an optimist, you’ve got to sue Harvard.”

The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which includes Maryland, has not ruled on how the statute of limitations is applied to design and construction claims under the Americans with Disabilities Act or the Rehabilitation Act. Kuchmas sued under those two federal laws, too.