ADA Accessibility Suit Against Resort Resolved

OCEAN CITY- The civil suit filed in federal court against the town of Ocean City over a year ago citing a laundry list of Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) infractions throughout the resort was dismissed with prejudice this week with a consent decree requiring the town to make the modifications required to make its public places accessible to the handicapped.

The suit filed in February 2007 by four individual plaintiffs, each with varying degrees of disability and access issues, along with the Florida-based non-profit group Access Now, seeks did 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 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.

Initially, the town of Ocean City rejected several components of the claim but later sat down at the bargaining table with the plaintiffs and their representatives to work toward an amicable settlement. The consent decree issued this week by a federal judge is a by-product of those negotiations.

“The parties have entered into this consent decree with the express understanding that is the product of settlement negotiations,” the document reads. “The court, however, recognizes that once the agreed upon modifications are completed, the defendant is in full compliance with Title II of the ADA. The court expressly finds that the parties participated in these negotiations and have executed this consent decree in good faith. This case is hereby dismissed with prejudice.”

The consent decree issued this week represents and agreement by the town of Ocean City to work toward amending the many ADA infractions cited in the lawsuit. It does not, however, represent any admission of guilt by the defendant.

“The parties and their respective counsel hereby consent to the entry of this decree without this decree constituting an admission of fact or law, fault or liability by any party,” the document reads.

The suit was filed in U.S. District Court. The four individual plaintiffs, all Maryland residents, include Russell Holt, of Boyds; Jeri Wasco, of Silver Spring; Cheryl-Lynn Robertshaw, of Brandywine; and Robert Watson, also of Brandywine. Also named as a plaintiff in the case is the Florida-based non-profit group Access Now, a watchdog group of sorts that checks public and private property for ADA compliance and supports individuals in their attempts to have issues addressed.

The individual plaintiffs in the case reported various infractions they discovered on visits to Ocean City, which prompted a broader look into ease of access issues in the resort. The resulting list of infractions covers one end of the resort to the other, from the Inlet parking lot to the 145th Street beach access and practically every public facility in between.

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.

There were also 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 too 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.

A separate settlement agreement outlining the specific modifications and alterations agreed to has not been released although it will likely include a considerable number of improvements to accessibility. It is uncertain what the ultimate cost to the town will be as the changes will likely range from minor alterations to major modifications. Once the changes are made, the plaintiffs’ representatives will inspect them to ensure the town is in compliance.

“The defendant agrees to complete all alterations and modifications under the terms and conditions set forth in the separate settlement agreement,” the decree reads. “The plaintiffs representatives shall be provided reasonable access to verify the completion of the work.”

The Americans with Disabilities Act, which attempts to ensure access to public and private facilities for individuals with disabilities, was passed in 1991. The civil suit was filed by the plaintiffs who found it was unreasonable for a municipality to have so many infractions nearly two decades later. The plaintiffs cited Ocean City as one of the state’s most visited areas as reason for even more scrutiny when it comes to ADA compliance.