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Jones v. Regional Transportation Authority

United States District Court, Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division

December 8, 2014




Plaintiff Christine Mary Jones has brought suit against Defendant Regional Transportation Authority (RTA), alleging that the RTA, which oversees public transportation in the Chicago region, discriminated against her in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq., and the Rehabilitation Act, 29 U.S.C. § 701 et seq.[1] Jones suffers from schizophrenia, and she charges that the RTA unlawfully denied her application to receive paratransit service, which provides door-to-door transportation for qualifying individuals with disabilities as required by federal law. The RTA now moves for summary judgment. R. 59, Mot. Summ. J.[2] For the reasons stated below, the RTA’s motion is granted.

I. Background

For purposes of deciding this motion for summary judgment, the following facts and evidence are presented in the light most favorable to Jones as the non-moving party. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986).

A. Jones’ Paratransit Application and Finding of Ineligibility

The RTA is a municipal corporation that coordinates public transportation operations in a handful of counties in and around Chicago. DSOF ¶ 2. Although it does not actually operate the mass transit in its jurisdiction, such as Chicago Transit Authority subways and buses, Pace Suburban Bus Service, and Metra commuter rail, the RTA oversees the certification process for ADA paratransit eligibility for CTA and Pace riders. Id. ¶¶ 2, 8. ADA paratransit service provides on-demand, door-to-door transportation for eligible individuals whose disabilities prevent them from using fixed-route public transit like bus and rail. Id. ¶ 7.

Jones lives in Oak Park, Illinois and suffers from schizophrenia. Id. ¶¶ 1, 5. On April 29, 2010, she submitted an application to receive ADA paratransit services from the RTA on the basis of her schizoaffective disorder. Id. ¶ 14; R. 62-5, Jones Application ¶ II. (A previously unsuccessful application was filed by Jones in 2008, but that denial is not at issue in the present lawsuit. DSOF ¶ 13.) On the application, Jones checked boxes stating that she could “get to and from bus stops or [subway] stations if the distance is not too great, ” “can ride the buses or [ ] trains when [ ] feeling well” but not when her “disability or health condition worsens, ” and “can use fixed route buses or [ ] trains if it’s someplace [she goes] all the time.” Jones Application ¶ III. Jones also wrote, in a section asking for more information about her disability, that she sometimes became “confused on the directions and would get lost, ” and was “not familiar with the area” of the suburbs where she now lived. Id. ¶ IV.

As part of the screening process, Jones was interviewed in person by an employee of a third-party contractor about her disorder and its symptoms, as well as the effects of her medication and her ability to use public transportation. Id. ¶ 17. According to notes taken at the interview, the authenticity of which Jones does not dispute, Jones had suffered from schizoaffective order for ten years, taken medications regularly to keep the condition in control, and reported chronic confusion, troubles with problem solving, and focusing. R. 62-5, Main Interview Guide at R/Jones 0026. The notes also indicated that Jones was using fixed-route service daily and was capable of making transfers. Id. The interviewer commented that Jones “has bad days with increased confusion but she is still able to use public transportation if she has to.” Id. at R/Jones 0029. In particular, the interviewer observed that Jones had learned how to complete fixed-route travel by calling trip assistance or by being shown how to make the trip first; this travel included trips by public transit to the library, a college, her doctor’s office, relatives in Chicago, and the Social Security Administration office. Id. at R/Jones 0032.

At the evaluation, Jones was also administered a Mini-Mental State Examination (or MMSE), on which she scored 29 out of a possible 30 (higher scores indicating less impairment). DSOF ¶ 18. Based on a review of Jones’ application and the documentation completed by the interviewer, an RTA ADA Certifier determined that Jones was not eligible for paratransit service. Id. ¶ 19. The RTA explained to Jones by letter that based on the information obtained, Jones’ disability did not prevent her from using fixed-route public transportation. Id. ¶ 20. Jones appealed this determination to the RTA’s Eligibility Review Board, which resulted in an administrative review, but that review arrived at the same finding of ineligibility. Id. ¶¶ 21-22. In September 2010, a three-member panel of the review board later held a hearing to consider Jones’ application. At the hearing, Jones appeared and submitted an additional document, a statement from her doctor, Dr. Jagannath Devulapally. Id. ¶¶ 23-24. Dr. Devulapally, in a short handwritten note, opined that Jones “needs additional assistance (paratransit) in her ability to self transport due to symptoms of confusion which have limited her ability to use [public transit].” R. 68-1, Note dated 08/13/2010. In October 2010, the review board notified Jones in writing that it was upholding the finding that she was ineligible for paratransit service based on her application documents, the results of her evaluation, her doctor’s note, and her statements at the hearing. DSOF ¶ 25.

B. Procedural History

Jones commenced this lawsuit pro se in August 2011, naming as defendants the RTA and an individual member of the review board panel that heard Jones’ appeal, Lillian Wallace. R. 8, Compl. After Defendants moved to dismiss Jones’ first amended complaint, the Court dismissed Jones’ claims against Wallace as redundant, because the RTA, for which Wallace was acting as agent in her official capacity, was already a defendant. R. 34, Mem. Op. and Order dated July 16, 2012 at 14. The Court also dismissed Jones’ purported cause of action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for civil-rights violations, finding that the comprehensive remedial scheme provided by the ADA precluded a § 1983 claim for the harm Jones alleged. Id. at 13-14 (applying reasoning of Seventh Circuit precedent deeming § 1983 claims precluded where remedial procedures available under Title VI and Title VII).

Although Jones’ cause of action under the ADA was dismissed as insufficiently pled, the Court rejected the two legal contentions that the RTA advanced against the viability of her claims—namely, that no private right of action exists under the ADA and Rehabilitation Act, and that failure to provide paratransit services can only be actionable where there is system-wide discrimination as opposed to individualized harm. Id. at 5-9. The Court instead gave leave for Jones to amend her complaint to state a private cause of action for alleged individualized discrimination. Id. at 11. Jones filed a second amended complaint with the benefit of recruited pro bono counsel, raising claims under the ADA and the Rehabilitation Act, as enforceable through Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. R. 35, Second Am. Compl. The parties having completed discovery on those remaining claims, the Court now considers whether the claims survive the summary-judgment stage in light of a developed record.

II. Standard of Review

Summary judgment must be granted “if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). A genuine issue of material fact exists if “the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). In evaluating summary judgment motions, courts must view the facts and draw reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 378 (2007). They may not weigh conflicting evidence or make credibility determinations, Omnicare, Inc. v. United Health Grp., Inc., 629 F.3d 697, 704 (7th Cir. 2011), and must consider only competent evidence of a type otherwise admissible at trial, Gunville v. Walker, 583 F.3d 979, 985 (7th Cir. 2009). The party seeking summary judgment has the initial burden of showing that there is no genuine dispute and that they are entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Carmichael v. Village of Palatine, 605 F.3d 451, 460 (7th Cir. ...

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