September 17, 2013

Ninth Circuit asks disability law damages question [Updated]

By our unofficial count, it’s been over 10 months since the Ninth Circuit asked the Supreme Court to answer a question of state law, an inquiry which the court rules allow.  Actually, that’s 10 months before today, when a panel of the federal appellate court in Beauchamp v. City of Long Beach requested that the Supreme Court decide a damages question under state disability law.  Here’s how the Ninth Circuit phrased the issue:

“Section 54.3(a) of the California Civil Code provides that a person who violates the California Disabled Persons Act (CDPA), Cal. Civ. Code §§ 54, 54.1, is liable for actual damages for ‘each offense . . . but in no case less than one thousand dollars ($1,000).’  Does the phrase ‘each offense’ refer to each occasion when a plaintiff encounters a barrier that denies the plaintiff full and equal access to a public facility, or should a trial court construe ‘each offense’ more narrowly, particularly in situations where a plaintiff repeatedly encounters the same barrier?  If the phrase ‘each offense’ is not susceptible to a narrower construction, under what circumstances would the penalty scheme in section 54.3 violate the due process clause of the state constitution?”

More often than not, the Supreme Court agrees to answer Ninth Circuit questions.  We should know within two months if it will do so in this case.

[UPDATE:  The Supreme Court has docketed the Ninth Circuit’s request.]

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