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AMER. COUNCIL OF THE BLIND v. WASHINGTON METRO. AREA TR. AUTH.

February 13, 2001

AMERICAN COUNCIL OF THE BLIND, ET AL., PLAINTIFFS,
v.
WASHINGTON METROPOLITAN AREA TRANSIT AUTHORITY, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Urbina, District Judge.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

DENYING THE PLAINTIFFS' MOTION FOR ATTORNEYS' FEES; DISMISSING THE CASE AS MOOT

I. INTRODUCTION

This matter comes before the court on the plaintiffs' motion to recover attorneys' fees. The plaintiffs, the American Council of the Blind, et al. ("the plaintiffs" or "ACB") seek attorneys' fees and costs from the Federal Transit Administration ("the FTA"), the Department of Transportation ("DOT") (collectively the "Federal Defendants"), and the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority ("WMATA"). The plaintiffs contend that because they prevailed in the underlying litigation, they are entitled to reimbursement of their legal fees and costs from the Federal Defendants under the Equal Access to Justice Act ("EAJA"), 28 U.S.C. § 2412, and from WMATA under the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), 42 U.S.C. § 12205. Specifically, the plaintiffs claim that their lawsuit led to the defendants' rejection of the Infrared Integration Indicating System ("IRIIS") and the installation of truncated domes in all key and new metro stations in Washington, D.C. Consequently, the plaintiffs allege, they are a "prevailing party" under the EAJA and the ADA for the purposes of recovering attorneys' fees.

For the reasons that follow, the court holds that the plaintiffs are not a "prevailing party." Accordingly, the court will deny the plaintiffs' motion to recover attorneys' fees.

II. BACKGROUND

The American Council of the Blind is a not-for-profit organization that represents the interests of individuals with visual impairments. In addition to ACB, which is the lead plaintiff in this action, the named plaintiffs include several other advocacy groups for the visually impaired and a number of visually impaired individuals. See Compl. at 1, 8. In 1990, Congress enacted the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq. The ADA authorizes the Secretary of Transportation to issue regulations to implement the anti-discrimination provisions of Title II of the ADA. See 42 U.S.C. § 12149. These regulations must conform to the guidelines issued by the Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board ("Access Board"), a body that establishes minimum requirements for compliance with the ADA. See 42 U.S.C. § 12149 (b).

In 1991, the Access Board issued the Americans with Disabilities Act Accessibility Guidelines ("ADAAG"), which set forth the accessibility standards for platform edges in train stations. The DOT adopted the ADAAG. See 49 C.F.R. pt. 37. The ADAAG required that "[p]latform edges bordering a drop-off and not protected by platform screens or guard rails shall have a detectable warning. Such detectable warnings shall comply with 4.29.2 and shall be 24 inches wide running the full length of the platform drop-off." 49 C.F.R. pt. 37, App. A, § 10.3.1(8). The regulations also require that the detectable warning be comprised of "truncated domes," which are small, raised rounded surfaces. The domes also must be of contrasting color and texture from the platform, and the warning must differ from the platform in both resiliency and "sound-on-cane" contact when used in interior applications. See 49 C.F.R. pt. 37, App. A, §§ 10.3.2(2), 10.3.1(8), 4.29.2.

Despite the explicit specifications for detectable warnings promulgated by the Access Board, a transit authority could be excused from installing the domes by applying for, and receiving, a grant of "equivalent facilitation." The FTA Administrator may grant an equivalent facilitation if the alternative design or technology that the rail operator seeks provides "substantially equivalent or greater access to and usability of the facility" as would be provided by the truncated domes. See 49 C.F.R. § 37.9, 49 C.F.R. pt. 37, App. A § 2.2.

The ADA required that public transportation facilities comply with the ADA's regulations no later than July 26, 1993. See 42 U.S.C. § 12147 (b)(2)(B). On September 3, 1992, WMATA requested a finding of equivalent facilitation for its existing platform edge. Since 1976, every WMATA rail station has utilized an edge detection system consisting of a platform floor covered with red paver tiles that contrast in both color and texture with an 18-inch edge of flame-finished granite. Within the granite edge, embedded flashing lights signal the approach of a train. See Federal Defendants' Opposition to Plaintiffs' Motion to Recover Attorneys' Fees ("Fed. Defs.' Opp'n"). Alternatively, WMATA asked the FTA to grandfather the existing platform edge. On December 9, 1992, the FTA denied WMATA's request to be grandfathered. See Fed. Defs.' Opp'n at 4. In February 1993, the FTA rejected WMATA's request for equivalent facilitation on the ground that the request contained insufficient information. Moreover, the FTA rejected WMATA's request for an extension of time in which to submit additional information. See Fed. Defs.' Opp'n at 4.

On March 4, 1993, WMATA submitted another request for equivalent facilitation, supplemented with additional statistical information regarding the existing edge's accessibility. See Compl. at 21-22. Before the FTA responded to the second equivalent-facilitation request, WMATA asked the FTA to suspend the detectable-warning requirement pending further study of the existing edge. See Fed. Defs.' Opp'n at 4. On December 17, 1993, the FTA denied WMATA's second equivalent-facilitation request. See Fed. Defs.' Opp'n at 5.

On April 6, 1994, WMATA General Manager Lawrence Reuter wrote to Transportation Secretary Federico Peña proposing four options: (1) a new rule; (2) a regulatory exemption based on WMATA's safety record with existing edges and system uniformity; (3) a voluntary-compliance agreement to give WMATA additional time to conduct testing; and (4) the addition of eight inches to the existing platform to provide a 26-inch — wide warning strip. See Fed. Defs.' Opp'n at 5. On May 30, 1994, Secretary Peña rejected all four of WMATA's proposals. See id.

In June 1994, WMATA applied for another time extension so it could conduct a study to determine whether its current platform edge detection system provided the visually impaired with orientation information equivalent to that provided by other edge detection systems. See Compl. at 23. On July 7, 1994, Secretary Pena granted WMATA a temporary exemption to study alternatives to truncated domes. See Fed. Defs.' Opp'n at 6.

On March 22, 1995, WMATA submitted a third equivalent-facilitation request, supplemented with additional research indicating the detectability of its existing platform edge. During the course of preparing the third equivalent-facilitation request, WMATA consulted with another advocacy group for persons with visual impairments, the National Federation of the Blind ("NFB"). According to the plaintiffs, the NFB has historically been more opposed to ADA accommodations than the plaintiffs. See Compl. at 4. Specifically, the plaintiffs feel that the NFB believes that many ADA accommodations are paternalistic. See id.

In addition to the existing platform edge, WMATA proposed developing an electronic edge warning system that would alert visually impaired passengers of the proximity of the platform edge. This proposed system became known as the Infrared Integration Indicating System, or IRIIS. See Plaintiffs' Memorandum of Points and Authorities in Support of Motion to Recover Attorneys' Fees ("Pls.' Mem.") at 7. The FTA granted this request on April 24, 1995. The FTA required not only the existing platform edge, however, but also insisted that WMATA install its proposed IRIIS system in at least 10 metro stations by April 30, 1996, and throughout the entire metro system by May 31, 1997. See Fed. Defs.' Opp'n at 7.

On March 19, 1996, citing supply problems, WMATA sought a six-month extension on installation of IRIIS in the first 10 rail stations. The FTA granted this request on April 29, 1996, and extended the deadline for the initial installation to October 31, 1996. The FTA, however, expressly refused to ...


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