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Law School Case Brief

Barber v. Colorado - 562 F.3d 1222 (10th Cir. 2009)


The U.S. Supreme Court has recognized that § 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, 29 U.S.C.S. § 794(a), is intended to ensure that an otherwise qualified handicapped individual is provided with meaningful access to the benefit that the grantee offers. To assure meaningful access, reasonable accommodations in the grantee's program or benefit may have to be made. The test for deliberate indifference in the context of intentional discrimination comprises two prongs: (1) knowledge that a harm to a federally protected right is substantially likely, and (2) a failure to act upon that likelihood. A failure to act is a result of conduct that is more than negligent and involves an element of deliberateness. Under the second element, a public entity does not act by proffering just any accommodation: it must consider the particular individual's need when conducting its investigation into what accommodations are reasonable. 


A mother and daughter filed suit against the state claiming that a motor vehicle division violated § 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, 29 U.S.C.S. § 794, when it required, pursuant to Colo. Rev. Stat. § 42-2-106 (2004), a parent, stepparent, or guardian with a valid license, to supervise the daughter's driving practice. In the daughter's case, the mother was blind and the father was unavailable. The federal district court found no showing of intent or deliberate indifference with respect to a federally protected right. The case was appealed.


Did the rule requiring a parent, stepparent, or guardian with a valid license, to supervise a minor's driving practice violative of the Rehabilitation Act?




The federal court of appeals affirmed. It held that the division offered the mother some form of guardianship, which was an eminently reasonable solution already included in the statute. Further, according to the mother, the senior director of the division seemed genuinely concerned and very sympathetic about the situation. While the state attorney general's office would not permit the daughter's grandfather to supervise her without some recognition of the statute's legal requirements, it did offer the mother the opportunity to permit him to do so with a guardianship. Moreover, a swift amendment to the statute was evidence of accommodation under the facts of the case, and the court of appeals did not view the division as acting with deliberate indifference. Essentially, the mother believed that only her suggested accommodation was reasonable. Such rendered her ineligible for monetary compensation under § 504 because she was unable to show that the interactive process would have led to a reasonable accommodation.

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