Ocean City Looks To Discuss ADA Lawsuit Specifics

OCEAN CITY –
Resort attorneys last week categorically denied nearly every facet of a civil
suit filed against Ocean City in February, citing a laundry list of Americans
with Disabilities Act (ADA) non-compliance infractions, but the formal answer
to the suit does not signal unwillingness on the part of the town to address
the issues.

The suit filed
in February on behalf of four individual plaintiffs, each with varying degrees
of disability and access issues, along with the Florida-based non-profit group
Access Now, cites around 150 specific ADA non-compliance infractions at
town-owned facilities from one end of the resort to the other. The alleged
infractions range in severity and are listed for practically every public
facility in the resort.

Many deal with
the location and placement of fundamental services such as toilet paper and
paper towel dispensers and water fountains, while quite a few more deal with
access problems such as ramps to the Boardwalk and beach areas as well as the
public parks. Practically no public facility in the resort is spared in the
lawsuit. For example, there are 17 specific infractions listed for Northside
Park, 15 listed for Third Street Park, 10 for the public bathrooms on the
Boardwalk and eight each at the Convention Center and City Hall.

The suit, filed
in U.S. District Court in February, does not seek monetary compensation from
the town of Ocean City, but rather injunctive relief. In essence, the civil
suit seeks to force the town to address the long list of alleged ADA
infractions in order to provide free and easy access to all of Ocean City’s
municipal facilities for all of its residents and visitors regardless of their
disabilities.

Ocean City Solicitor
Guy Ayres and attorney Bruce Bright last week filed a formal answer to the
complaint, which categorically denies nearly every aspect of the suit, but the
document does not necessarily mean town officials disagree there are some
problems. Instead, the formal answer to the complaint is a necessary next step
in the process and establishes broad parameters from which the parties can
start moving toward some middle ground in an effort to resolve the issues.

Basically, the
formal answer by the town is a return shot to the complaint filed on behalf of
the plaintiffs. The plaintiffs file a complaint and the defendant, the town of
Ocean City in this case, file an answer, then both sides work together to
address the issues spelled out in the complaint.

“We were under
the gun to file a formal answer to their complaint and the first step is to
respond with a general denial of everything the complaint asserts,” said Ayres.
“There’s a logical progression to this and our formal answer is the next step
in the process.”

Ayres said the
denial does not necessarily mean the town disagrees with everything alleged in
the complaint, rather it establishes some starting ground from which a
resolution to the issues can be forged.

“I can assure
you Ocean City does not want to be known as a town that doesn’t accommodate the
handicapped,” he said. “To that end, we have agreed to meet with the plaintiff
and its experts to go over each and every one of these issues.”

Attorney Jason
E. Miles, of Schwartz, Zweben and Slingbaum in Rockville, who represents the
plaintiffs in the case, agreed the complaint, and then the answer by the town,
merely sets some parameters from which to start the negotiation process. Miles
said this week he fully expects some resolution to come out of the technical
process.

“This is just
how the process works,” he said. “To the extent there are denials made, I am
hoping, based on my experience with the town of Ocean City, that we can find
some resolution to these issues.”

However, Miles
said the formal answer by the town does not signal a willingness by either
party to agree to a resolution without a fight.

“I don’t think
the denials presented by the town are purely technical,” he said. “There is
still an adversarial element to this. The town is not conceding anything.”

Ayres agreed
the town is not willing at this point to concede anything and said many of the
issues spelled out in the complaint cannot be addressed by the town.

“Some of the
facilities listed in the complaint aren’t even owned by the town,” he said.
“Others, like the beach access points, were designed by the federal government.
They might not be something we could change even if we wanted to or were forced
to by this suit.”

While the suit
lists specific issues such as the placement of water fountains and paper towel
dispensers, there are numerous general patterns of inaccessibility listed for
the beach and Boardwalk for practically every street in the resort. Along the
Boardwalk, for example, the suit points out practically every ramp from the street
is either two steep or lacks the appropriate handrails.

Further
north, most of the access areas from the street to the beach are either too
steep or the surface is unstable to provide access for disabled individuals. In
many other cases, there are no designated handicap spots near the access to the
beach. All in all, the suit lists about 150 ADA infractions from the Inlet
parking lot to the Delaware line. 

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