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

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Synopsis

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, because the city’s proposed alternative of pay telephones is inaccessible to the deaf and hard of hearing, who cannot use them to request assistance directly from the street.  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 June 2010, the City of New York and the New York City Fire Department made a motion asking the court to vacate or modify the permanent injunction.  The Class opposed the motion.  The court heard arguments on Friday, June 3, 2011.  On August 15, 2011, the court ruled in favor of the Civic Association of the Deaf.

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.
 

Description

The City of New York and the New York City Fire Department are asking a federal judge in New York City, the Honorable Robert Sweet, to end a historic Americans with Disabilities Act order issued in 1996 and reaffirmed in 1997, to the Civic Association of the Deaf of New York City. The 1996 order stopped the City from removing street alarm boxes which can be used to call for emergency assistance from the street. The 1996 order held that the City’s plan to remove the street alarm boxes violated the rights of Deaf and hard of hearing people. The judge’s 1996 order also ruled public pay telephones, the city’s proposed alternative to alarm boxes, did not allow Deaf and hard of hearing people to access emergency services from the street.

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.

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 Civic Association of the Deaf Class’ Legal Team:

Broach & Stulberg, LLP
Robert Stulberg
http://www.brostul.com/index2.php?id=5&members=1
Amy Shulman
http://www.brostul.com/index2.php?id=5&members=4

Michael Schwartz
Supervising Attorney and Director
Disability Rights Clinic
Office of Clinical Programs
Syracuse University College of Law
http://www.law.syr.edu/deans-faculty-staff/profile.aspx?fac=137

Center for Constitutional Rights
Franklin Siegel
Volunteer Attorney and Board Member
http://www.ccrjustice.org
http://www.law.cuny.edu/faculty-staff/FSiegel.html

Timeline

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.

November 17, 1995:  Defendants City of New York and various agency officials filed an Answer.

November 22, 1995:  Hearing on the merits heard by the Hon. Robert W. Sweet.

February 9, 1996:  Court issued ruling in favor of plaintiffs finding that class certification was warranted;  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.

June 11, 1996:  City of New York and New York City Fire Department moved to vacate the injunction and dismiss the complaint.

February 21, 1997:  City requested permission to withdraw the 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.

April 1, 1997:  Court granted City’s request to withdraw its June 1996 motion.

May 21, 1997:  Hearing on Plaintiff-Class’ request to restore two-button boxes and all deactivated boxes in the pilot areas of New York.

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.

January 19, 2000:  Court issued a Final Declaratory Judgment and Permanent 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.

Fall-Spring 2010-2011:  Discovery and further briefing prior to argument on the City’s motion to vacate or modify the injunction.

June 3, 2011: The court heard arguments on the City of New York's motion to end the injunction.

August 15, 2011: The court ruled in favor of the Civic Association of the Deaf.