In this disability rights case brought under the Fair Housing Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act, Relman Colfax successfully challenged an Ohio city’s refusal to accommodate a resident’s physical disability by providing her access to an alleyway behind her home.
The home of Winston and Bernita Vance sits atop a hill. The only way to reach the front entry from the public street in front of their house is by climbing a flight of eighteen stairs. There is also a driveway that runs along the side of the Vances’ home, but entering the home via the driveway requires navigating a different flight of eighteen steps that lead to the back entrance of the house. Over the years, Mrs. Vance developed a number of disabilities, and as a result could not enter her home by these methods without considerable physical pain, including chest and back pain and extreme shortness of breath.
In contrast, the rear entry to the Vances’ home is on the same grade and level as the public alley that runs behind their home. Using the public alley to access the back entrance makes her home accessible to Mrs. Vance, and makes it considerably easier for Mrs. Vance to enter her home with far less pain and discomfort. By accessing her home via the public alley abutting the rear of her property, Mrs. Vance is spared the pain, inconvenience, and embarrassment of navigating the hill and steep stairs leading up to the back door from the driveway, or the equally steep stairs to her front door.
Although the alley is public, it had not been maintained by the City of Maumee, Ohio for several years. Despite repeated requests, the City denied the Vances access to the rear of their property from the alley. In fact, after the City was aware of Mrs. Vance’s disability and after the Vances requested access to their property via the alley as an accommodation to Mrs. Vance’s disabilities, the City not only effectively refused to make any accommodation, it erected a physical barrier to intentionally block the section of the alley abutting their property. In addition, an official from the City of Maumee threatened the Vances with arrest and prosecution if they made any further attempt to use the public right of way as a means of obtaining access to their property. The City also prevented the Vances from using the public alley to make improvements to their property that would allow them to drive from the alley directly up to their home.
Key Case Developments
On October 13, 2011, Relman Colfax filed suit against the City on behalf of the Vances under the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Fair Housing Act. After discovery, the City filed a motion for summary judgment on all claims. The Vances both opposed the City’s motion and filed their own affirmative motion for summary judgment. The Vances prevailed on both motions. On May 14, 2013, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio issued a decision, 960 F. Supp.2d 720 (N.D. Ohio 2013), denying the city’s motion and granting summary judgment to the Vances on their accommodation claims. The court held that the Vances’ request for use of the alley right-of-way was reasonable and necessary, and that the City was required as a matter of law to accommodate their request.
The Relman Colfax team included Stephen Dane and Stephen Hayes.
Vance v. City of Maumee, Ohio, No. 3:11-CV-2182 (N.D. Ohio)