Tentative Accord Reached In ADA, City Civil Suit

OCEAN CITY – The civil suit filed in federal court against the town of Ocean City roughly one year ago citing a laundry list of Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) infractions throughout the resort appears to be close to a settlement this week as both parties have reached a tentative agreement on many of the issues.

The suit filed last February on behalf of four individual plaintiffs, each with varying degrees of disability, 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.

After nearly a year of legal wrangling and back-and-forth discussion on the complex issues, it appears both sides have reached an agreement. Although the details of the settlement have not been released, both sides last week submitted a joint status report on the case which indicates a settlement could be in the offing any day now.

“The parties have been diligently working together toward a settlement and feel that settlement is extremely likely within the next few weeks,” the joint status report states. “The parties have exchanged several versions of a written settlement agreement and are in the process of making what is believed to be the final revisions.”

The joint status report essentially asks a federal judge to suspend all activities in the case to allow both parties to continue working toward a settlement. “The parties respectfully request that the court extend all remaining deadlines by 30 days so that the parties can work toward finalizing the settlement without having to commit resources to meet court deadlines,” it reads.

Ocean City Solicitor Guy Ayres, who is representing the town in the case along with attorney Bruce Bright, said on Wednesday the joint status report filed last week does indicate the two sides are close to an settlement in the case. Ayres said much of the work left to be done is mere formality.

“The proposed settlement has not been finalized, although we are very close,” he said. “Essentially, the town has agreed to perform certain work that the complainants brought forth in the civil suit. We’re pretty much down to dotting i’s and crossing t’s.”

Initially, town officials categorically denied nearly every facet of the ADA case against Ocean City, but after months of give and take, the town’s attorney’s worked toward a settlement with the plaintiffs in the case.

“Some things we said were already compliant and others we agreed needed addressing,” said Ayres.

Many of the alleged infractions in the case dealt with the location and placement of fundamental services such as toilet paper and paper towel dispensers and water fountains, while quite a few more dealt 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 in 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 did not seek monetary compensation from the town of Ocean City, but rather injunctive relief. In essence, the civil suit sought 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.

Along the Boardwalk, for example, the suit pointed 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, according to the complaint.