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Broad construction of the phrase, "services, programs, or activities," is supported by the plain language of the Rehabilitation Act because, although the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) does not define "services, programs, or activities," the Rehabilitation Act defines "program or activity" as "all of the operations of" a qualifying local government. 29 U.S.C.S. § 794(b)(1)(A). The legislative history of the ADA similarly supports construing the language generously, providing that Title II essentially simply extends the anti-discrimination prohibition embodied in § 504 of the Rehabilitation Act to all actions of state and local governments. In fact, the ADA must be construed broadly in order to effectively implement the ADA's fundamental purpose of providing a clear and comprehensive national mandate for the elimination of discrimination against individuals with disabilities.
Appellants, various individuals with mobility and/or vision disabilities, commenced the present class action against the City of Sacramento, alleging that the City violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Rehabilitation Act by failing to install curb ramps in newly-constructed or altered sidewalks and by failing to maintain existing sidewalks so as to ensure accessibility by persons with disabilities. The parties stipulated to the entry of an injunction regarding the curb ramps; however, they did not reach agreement on the City's obligation to remove other barriers to sidewalk accessibility, such as benches, sign posts, or wires. The parties filed motions for summary judgment and summary adjudication on the issue of whether sidewalks were a service, program, or activity within the meaning of the ADA and were therefore subject to the program accessibility regulations, found at 28 C.F.R. §§ 35.149-35.151. The district court denied Appellants' motion for partial summary adjudication and granted in part the City's partial motion for summary judgment. It held that the public sidewalks in Sacramento were not a service, program, or activity of the City and, accordingly, were not subject to the program access requirements of either the ADA or the Rehabilitation Act. Because that holding obviated the need for trial, the district court certified the issue for interlocutory appeal, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1292(b).
Did Title II of the ADA and § 504 of the Rehabilitation Act contemplate the act of maintaining the accessibility of public sidewalks for individuals with disabilities?
The reviewing court noted that the district court's order was based on its conclusion that sidewalks were not a service, program, or activity of the City. However, the court held that rather than determining whether each function of a city can be characterized as a service, program, or activity for purposes of Title II, it construed ADA’s broad language as bringing within its scope “anything a public entity did.” Thus, the court found that Title II of the ADA provided that no qualified individual with a disability would be excluded from participation or denied benefits of the services, programs, or activities of a public entity. Similarly, § 504 of the Rehabilitation Act provided that no persons with disabilities would be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity that received Federal financial assistance. The access requirements were set forth in 28 C.F.R. §§ 35.149-35.151. The court held that maintaining public sidewalks was a normal function of a city and maintaining their accessibility for individuals with disabilities therefore fell within the scope of Title II. The court concluded that requiring the city to maintain its sidewalks was consistent with the tenor of 28 C.F.R. § 35.150, which required the provision of curb ramps.