Class Certification Secured for Visually Impaired Chicagoans

Proskauer - Proskauer For Good

Proskauer - Proskauer For Good

Earlier this month, Proskauer – along with co-counsel Disability Rights Advocates (“DRA”), a nationwide nonprofit disability rights legal center – obtained class certification in an important litigation in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, brought on behalf of pedestrians with visual disabilities in the metropolitan Chicago area.

Proskauer and DRA filed their complaint in September 2019 on behalf of three individual plaintiffs and the American Council of the Blind of Metropolitan Chicago (“ACBMC”).  The suit challenges the City of Chicago’s systemic failure to provide accessible crosswalk signals (known as accessible or audible pedestrian signals, or “APS”) for people who have vision impairments – a failure which violates both Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) and Section 504 of the federal Rehabilitation Act.  As of February 2022, only about 20 of the City’s approximately 2,800 signalized intersections were accessible to pedestrians with visual disabilities.  In other words, of the intersections that the City deemed unsafe for pedestrians absent a crossing signal, only about half of one percent are accessible for visually-disabled persons.

In September 2021, Plaintiffs moved to certify a class composed of individuals who are (a) blind or who have low-vision within the meaning of the ADA and Section 504, and (b) use the City’s signalized pedestrian intersections.  On March 4, 2022, District Court Judge Elaine E. Bucklo granted the motion and certified the class as defined.  In a memorandum opinion issued in connection with that order, Judge Bucklo considered and rejected the City’s chief arguments in opposition to class certification—that ACBMC is an inadequate class representative for various reasons, and that plaintiffs failed to establish the element of commonality necessary for class certification under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23.

As to adequacy, the Court rejected the City’s assertions that ACBMC “lacks the capabilities and organization necessary to serve as a class representative,” has an “inconsistent and minimal history of APS advocacy prior to this lawsuit,” and improperly filed this suit without first obtaining its membership’s approval by means of a vote.  The Court noted that “none of these arguments articulates a legally relevant basis for denying class certification,” given that the adequacy inquiry “focuses on whether the named plaintiffs: 1) have interests that conflict with the class as a whole, 2) are sufficiently interested in the case outcome to ensure vigorous advocacy, and 3) have class counsel that is competent and willing to vigorously litigate the case.”

With respect to commonality, the Court held that “[t]he City offered no authority or compelling argument to suggest that Plaintiffs’ claims are inappropriate for class certification because the common questions they identify are insufficiently specific.”  The Court further noted that the common questions Plaintiffs highlight in this case are defined at levels of generality similar to those in other cases where class certification has been granted.

Accordingly, Judge Bucklo concluded that the Plaintiffs had met their burden under Rule 23 for class certification.

This determination is an important first step toward obtaining much-needed relief for all blind or low-vision pedestrians who use the City of Chicago’s signalized pedestrian intersections.  Proskauer is proud to work alongside DRA to represent visually-impaired pedestrians of Chicago to promote equal access throughout the City.

[This is a follow-up to our September 26, 2019 blog post.]

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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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