Jenkins v. National Board of Medical Examiners, No. 08-5371 (6th Cir. Feb. 11, 2009)

| Feb 10, 2009 | Daily Developments in EEO Law |

This unpublished Sixth Circuit decision, concerning a Title II case under the ADA, becomes the first appellate case to hold that the Americans With Disabilities Amendment Act applies to cases seeking prospective relief, even if the original violation occurred before the effective date of the Act.

Jenkins v. National Board of Medical Examiners, No. 08-5371 (6th Cir. Feb. 11, 2009):  The court describes, in brief, the factual and procedural history —

“Kirk Jenkins is a third-year medical student at the University of Louisville School of Medicine. Jenkins was diagnosed with a reading disorder at a young age and has received formal and informal accommodations on examinations at each stage of his education. Jenkins sought and received fifty percent addition al time on the ACT and MCAT examinations. In preparation for Step 1 of the USMLE, Jenkins submitted a request for accommodation to the National Board of Medical Examiners (‘NBME’). NBME denied this request after conducting several levels of review. Jenkins sought an injunction in district court.”

The district court held that the putative disability flunked the standard under Toyota Motor Manufacturing, Kentucky, Inc. v. Williams, 534 U.S. 184 (2002), because supposedly the plaintiff failed to demonstrate that the “reading difficulties limited his ability to perform tasks central to most people’s daily lives.”

The ADAAA corrected portions of the ADA that had received narrowing constructions by the Supreme Court, and the Toyota Motors case was among the decisions legislatively overruled.  But the effective date of the Act was January 1, 2009, and the denial of accommodation occurred before that date.  The Supreme Court had held in the wake of the 1991 Civil Rights Act that various of its provisions could not apply to pre-enactment conduct (Landgraf v. USI Film Products, 511 U.S. 244 (1994)).

Now the Sixth Circuit holds that where the plaintiff seeks prospective relief, the new Act may apply: “Because Jenkins seeks prospective relief, no injustice would result from applying the amended law. Nor does the statute direct that the amendments should not apply to a pending case for prospective relief.” The panel holds that this is true even where the plaintiff seeks attorneys fees: “The Supreme Court has observed that attorney’s fees determinations are collateral to the main cause of action.”

The panel remands the case to the district court with guidance on applying the new Act:

“Congress’s recent amendments contain operative language governing the definition of ‘substantial limitation.’ In the ADA Amendments Act, Congress made clear that it intends for the ADA to give broad protection to persons with disabilities and that the Supreme Court’s holding in Toyota is at odds with Congress’s intent. Congress stated in the findings of the Act that various Supreme Court holdings ‘have narrowed the broad scope of protection intended to be afforded by the ADA, thus eliminating protection for many individuals whom Congress intended to protect’ with the result that ‘lower courts have incorrectly found in individual cases that people with a range of substantially limiting impairments are not people with disabilities.'”

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“It can be said, though, that the categorical threshold scope of the ADA’s coverage has been broadened. This breadth heightens the importance of the district courts’ responsibility to fashion appropriate accommodations. If the district court in this case finds that Jenkins is disabled under the more inclusive terms of the amended ADA, the court must still determine specifically what NBME must do to comply with the requirement that a professional licensing board offer its examination ‘in a place and manner accessible to persons with disabilities.’ 42 U.S.C. § 12189.”

A very worthwhile decision, and a pity that it’s unpublished.

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