Three blind people who allege the city of Chicago is falling short in making intersections safely accessible to everyone do not have standing to pursue claims on behalf of deaf pedestrians, a federal judge held.
In a written opinion Monday, U.S. District Judge Elaine E. Bucklo held the American Council of the Blind of Metropolitan Chicago likewise may not seek relief on behalf of deaf pedestrians.
Bucklo did not rule on the merits of the allegations in the proposed class-action lawsuit filed by the three individuals and the council.
The plaintiffs maintain the city is violating the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act by failing to install accessible pedestrian signals while making significant improvements in pedestrian safety generally.
Accessible pedestrian signals inform pedestrians when it is safe to cross the street by using tones, recorded speech or vibrations.
Bucklo held the plaintiffs have standing to seek relief only on behalf of blind pedestrians.
Under the redressability requirement of Article III of the U.S. Constitution, Bucklo wrote, the plaintiffs must be injured by the alleged lack of accessible pedestrian signals in order to seek relief.
“Here, none of the individual plaintiffs claim to be deaf, and nothing in the complaint suggests the [c]ouncil has members who are deaf or that the organization advocates on behalf of deaf individuals,” Bucklo wrote.
She noted the complaint describes an outdated accessible pedestrian signal with no vibrating button to alert deaf-blind pedestrians when they can cross the street.
“But nothing in the complaint suggests that either the individual plaintiffs or the council’s other members were injured by the absence of a vibrating button on Chicago’s accessible pedestrian signals,” Bucklo wrote.
The fact that some blind people might also be deaf, she continued, does not change her ruling,
That fact means the plaintiffs who are blind are merely “concerned bystanders” when it comes to purported injuries suffered by deaf or blind-deaf people, Bucklo wrote, quoting Valley Forge Christian College v. Americans United for Separation of Church and State Inc., 454 U.S. 464 (1982).
Courts that have considered claims under the ADA and Rehabilitation Act have held “plaintiffs have standing only with respect to violations affecting the specific disabilities they claim,” Bucklo wrote, citing cases that included Smith v. Bradley Pizza Inc., 2019 WL 2448575 (D. Minn. June 12, 2019).
She wrote she finds those decisions persuasive.
The case is American Council of the Blind of Metropolitan Chicago, et al., v. City of Chicago, et al., No. 19 C 6322.
The lead attorney for the plaintiffs, Nigel F. Telman of Proskauer Rose LLP, could not be reached for comment.
The city is represented by Assistant Corporation Counsels Andrew S. Mine and Peter H. Cavanaugh.
“The litigation is in its early stages, and the defendant is confident in its overall position as the matter proceeds,” city Law Department spokeswoman Kathleen Fieweger said in a statement.