Civic Association of the Deaf of New York City, Inc. v. Rudolph Giuliani, et al. Historic Case

At a Glance

Current Status 

The Center for Constitutional Rights, the law firm of Broach & Stulberg and the Syracuse Law School Disabilities Law Clinic congratulate the Civic Association of the Deaf Class on the August 15, 2011 ruling. The court's opinion is available here.

Date Filed: 

October 25, 1995

Co-Counsel 

Broach & Stulberg, LLP

The Disability Rights Clinic at the Syracuse University College of Law

Client 

The Civic Association of the Deaf

Case Description 

Civic Association of the Deaf of New York City, Inc. v. Rudolph Giuliani, et al. is a federal class action lawsuit originally filed in 1995 by an organization of deaf and hard of hearing New Yorkers.  The Americans with Disabilities Act case asked the court to block a plan by the City of New York to remove fire alarm boxes from city streets which deaf and hard of hearing people can use to call for emergency assistance from the street. The city’s proposed alternative of pay telephones is inaccessible to the deaf and hard of hearing. In February 1996 the court ruled in favor of the Civic Association plaintiffs, and certified the case as a class action. In July 1997 the court issued a ruling that the city restore structural alterations made to boxes which violated the 1996 injunction, and in January 2000 issued a final Judgment.

In 2010 the City filed a motion asking Judge Sweet to end the injunction and permit the City to remove the accessible street alarm box system. The City claimed that Deaf and hard of hearing persons can use public pay telephones to report an emergency from the street, using a tapping code first developed in the 1970s for street fire alarm boxes. The City also asserted that street alarm boxes are costly and result in many false alarms. The Civic Association of the Deaf Class argued that the City’s plan to remove the alarm boxes and require Deaf and hard of hearing people to use public pay phones to report emergencies from the street still violates the ADA. The motion was argued in Judge Sweet’s courtroom at the Federal Courthouse in Manhattan on Friday, June 3, 2011.  On August 15, 2011, the court ruled in favor of the Civic Association of the Deaf.

The case, in which a certified class of Deaf and hard of hearing people were represented by the Center for Constitutional Rights and the law firm of Broach & Stulberg, LLP, established the important principle under Title II of the ADA (which regulates services to the public by state and local governments) that, when government changes an existing public service, the changes must not discriminate against people with disabilities. The 1996 and 1997 rulings resulted in Judge Sweet’s permanent federal court injunction issued in January 2000, prohibiting removal of the alarm box system.

Case Timeline

August 15, 2011
The court ruled in favor of the Civic Association of the Deaf.
August 15, 2011
The court ruled in favor of the Civic Association of the Deaf.
June 3, 2011
The court heard arguments on the City of New York's motion to end the injunction.
June 3, 2011
The court heard arguments on the City of New York's motion to end the injunction.
Fall 2010 - Spring 2011
Discovery and further briefing prior to argument on the City’s motion to vacate or modify the injunction.
Fall 2010 - Spring 2011
Discovery and further briefing prior to argument on the City’s motion to vacate or modify the injunction.
June 23, 2010
The City of New York and the New York City Fire Department filed motion to vacate or modify the Final Judgment and Permanent Injunction issued in 2000.
January 19, 2000
Court issued a Final Declaratory Judgment and Permanent Injunction.
January 19, 2000
Court issued a Final Declaratory Judgment and Permanent Injunction.
July 28, 1997
Court issued ruling requiring restoration of two-button boxes because change was an “alteration” of public facilities for reporting emergencies from the streets within the meaning of the ADA, but denied request to restore deactivated boxes in pilot areas.
July 28, 1997
Court issued ruling requiring restoration of two-button boxes because change was an “alteration” of public facilities for reporting emergencies from the streets within the meaning of the ADA, but denied request to restore deactivated boxes in pilot areas.
May 21, 1997
Hearing on Plaintiff-Class’ request to restore two-button boxes and all deactivated boxes in the pilot areas of New York.
May 21, 1997
Hearing on Plaintiff-Class’ request to restore two-button boxes and all deactivated boxes in the pilot areas of New York.
April 1, 1997
Court granted City’s request to withdraw its June 1996 motion.
April 1, 1997
Court granted City’s request to withdraw its June 1996 motion.
February 24, 1997
Plaintiff-Class requested that City be ordered to restore two-button alarm boxes altered by City in violation of the Court’s February 2006 injunction.
February 24, 1997
Plaintiff-Class requested that City be ordered to restore two-button alarm boxes altered by City in violation of the Court’s February 2006 injunction.
February 21, 1997
City requested permission to withdraw the motion.
February 21, 1997
City requested permission to withdraw the motion.
June 11, 1996
City of New York and New York City Fire Department moved to vacate the injunction and dismiss the complaint.
June 11, 1996
City of New York and New York City Fire Department moved to vacate the injunction and dismiss the complaint.
February 9, 1996
Court issued ruling in favor of plaintiffs finding that class certification was warranted
February 9, 1996
Court issued ruling in favor of plaintiffs finding that class certification was warranted
The Court issued a declaratory judgment that removal or deactivation of the emergency street alarm boxes and their replacement with notification alternatives inaccessible to the deaf would violate Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act; issued a second declaratory judgment that the city’s proposed notification alternative to the existing street alarm box system, public telephones, violated the ADA because public telephones do not enable the deaf and hearing-impaired to request assistance directly from the street.
November 22, 1995
Hearing on the merits heard by the Hon. Robert W. Sweet.
November 22, 1995
Hearing on the merits heard by the Hon. Robert W. Sweet.
November 17, 1995
Defendants City of New York and various agency officials filed an Answer.
November 17, 1995
Defendants City of New York and various agency officials filed an Answer.
October 25, 1995
Original Complaint filed in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York by the Civic Association of the Deaf.
October 25, 1995
Original Complaint filed in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York by the Civic Association of the Deaf.