A class action complaint has been filed in the United States District Court against the City of Howell and the Howell Downtown Development Authority.
Plaintiffs James and Mary Rutherford of Howell, and Michael Harris of the Paralyzed Veterans of America, claim they filed the suit to make Howell accessible according to law.
“I would like to be able to enjoy the downtown events and activities,” said James Rutherford. “Right now, lack of appropriate parking and poorly constructed curb ramps won’t allow it.”
The Rutherfords and Harris stated in the suit that the “defendants – through defective provision, construction and alterations, combined with insufficient provision of, maintenance of and enforcement of – have continuously failed to ensure that their sidewalks, street crossings, municipal parking and certain other facilities, services, programs and activities are readily usable by and accessible to plaintiffs and others.”
James Rutherford, a paraplegic since a military accident in 1986, is confined to a wheelchair. Becky Rutherford does not have a disability, however, states she is discriminated against on the basis of her association with her husband. Specifically, she is hampered in joining him for activities throughout Howell. Harris works with paralyzed veterans throughout the city.
Examples provided by James include a curb ramp within his Victoria Park subdivision that was replaced with a solid curb, prohibiting accessibility, as well as stating other curb ramps and sidewalk segments installed are inaccessible. He further claims one of the inaccessible curb ramps severely damaged his wheelchair, forcing a costly repair, and says he currently must travel into traffic to avoid that particular curb ramp. The suit also cites sidewalk slopes with inappropriate grades that have caused him to lose control of his wheelchair and tip over.
The Rutherfords said they first contacted the city over the issues in their neighborhood and were pleased with the initial response they received. However, when James observed some of the construction was incorrect, he said he was ignored when he tried to talk to the workers about it. James stated he only brought the suit when further attempts went unresolved.
“I decided to do something about all the issues I have dealt with since I moved here in 2009,” James said. “When a city is compliant with the ADA, everyone wins.”
The plaintiffs claim that lack of van accessible parking, inappropriate slopes and poorly constructed curb ramps also prohibits them from accessing much of the downtown area. James owns a modified van with hand-controls and ramps for getting in and out using his wheelchair. He claims few of the municipal parking lots are readily accessible to and usable by him, as most of the designated “van accessible” parking spots have adjacent aisles that are narrower than the required width. Further, there is no accessible parking along Grand River.
The complaint states Title II of the ADA requires that when a public entity builds or alters any part of a facility after Jan. 26, 1992, it shall, to the maximum extent possible be altered so that it is readily accessible to and usable by individuals with disabilities. This includes resurfacing or other alterations of roads and walks. Rutherford stated that by altering the parking, sidewalks and walkways without making them accessible to and usable by the plaintiffs, each defendant violated the ADA.
Howell City Manager Shea Charles would not comment, citing the city’s policy against public statements regarding ongoing litigation.
The Rutherfords and Harris are suing for declaratory and injunctive relief, but not for any monetary damages, with the exception of attorney fees and costs.
“I’m not out to get anybody,” said James. “I just want to make sure it gets done correctly – that’s what the Americans with Disabilities Act is all about.”