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Terri Meagley v. City of Little Rock

May 2, 2011

TERRI MEAGLEY, PLAINTIFF - APPELLANT,
v.
CITY OF LITTLE ROCK, DEFENDANT - APPELLEE.



Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Murphy, Circuit Judge.

Submitted: April 14, 2011

Before LOKEN and MURPHY, Circuit Judges, and JARVEY , District Judge.*fn1

After Terri Meagley was injured at the Little Rock Zoo when her rental scooter tipped over on an incline, she sued the City of Little Rock under Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Rehabilitation Act). The case was tried to the district court which ruled in *fn2 favor of the City, holding that Meagley could not recover under the ADA or the Rehabilitation Act because she had not shown intentional discrimination, that the scooter rental fee was not an illegal surcharge, and that Meagley lacked standing to challenge a liability waiver the zoo subsequently imposed for scooter rentals. Meagley challenges all three rulings in her appeal. We affirm.

I.

We review the district court's factual findings for clear error and its conclusions of law de novo. Winters v. Ark. Dep't of Health & Human Servs., 491 F.3d 933, 934 (8th Cir. 2007). The district court made detailed factual findings which neither party disputes.

On June 17, 2007, Terri Meagley visited the Little Rock Zoo with her daughter, son in law, and grandchildren. Meagley weighed about three hundred pounds and had difficulty walking long distances. An electric scooter was rented from the zoo to help her navigate the exhibits. The rental cost was $20 for two hours and $5 for each additional hour. As Meagley was starting over a foot bridge near the Siamang Exhibit, her scooter tipped over. An ambulance took her to a local hospital where she was examined for injuries to her back, hips, and ribs. She was released from the hospital a few hours later.

At the time of Meagley's accident, the zoo's standard practice with regard to scooter rentals was to have a guest services representative explain how to use one. This explanation included a warning to slow down when traveling over inclines and to notice where scooter use was prohibited. The renter was also told to read the scooter's operating instructions. No zoo employee testified at trial that Meagley or her son in law was provided with the scooter's operating instructions or the warning to slow down when traveling over inclines. No scooter had ever overturned on the bridge before Meagley's accident.

Within days after Meagley's accident, zoo personnel blocked off the bridge where her accident had occurred and posted signs warning against using scooters on the bridge. About a year later, Meagley filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) alleging that the zoo was not accessible to disabled people because of architectural barriers. The DOI ordered the zoo to conduct a self evaluation, which led to findings that the bridges near the Siamang Exhibit needed to be replaced because their slopes were too steep. Meagley's accident had occurred on one of those bridges, and its slope was in excess of the limit listed in ADA guidelines. These bridges had nevertheless not been listed in a transition plan which had been agreed on earlier by a class of disabled plaintiffs and the zoo and then incorporated into a judgment in 2000. *fn3

The zoo made all of the corrections listed in the self evaluation report. In particular, it rebuilt the two bridges near the Siamang Exhibit to be "essentially level." Work was completed in May 2009. In June 2009, the DOI concluded that the zoo's scooters were safe and that its reconstruction of the bridges in question eliminated any safety concerns. Sometime after Meagley's accident, the zoo began requiring scooter renters to sign a release waiving tort claims. This waiver did not cover ADA or Rehabilitation Act claims.

Meagley brought her complaint in March 2009. The district court found that the zoo had violated the ADA and the Rehabilitation Act by maintaining bridges with steeper slopes than permitted in the relevant regulations. It entered judgment for the City, however. The court ruled that Meagley had not provided proof of intentional discrimination which was required to obtain compensatory damages and that her claim for injunctive relief was moot. The district court also held that the zoo's rental fee was not an illegal surcharge and that Meagley lacked Article III standing to challenge the liability waiver the zoo implemented after her accident. She now objects to these rulings.

II.

Meagley first argues that the district court erred by ruling that she had failed to prove that the City acted with deliberate indifference. This purely legal issue, whether Meagley must prove deliberate indifference to recover compensatory damages on her ADA and Rehabilitation Act claims, is reviewed de novo. See Cooper Tire & Rubber Co. v. St. Paul Fire & Marine Ins. Co., 48 F.3d 365, 369 (8th Cir.), cert. denied, 516 U.S. 913 (1995). We review any factual determinations in this analysis for clear error. Id.

The district court held that while money damages are available in "ADA/ Rehabilitation Act cases," see Rodgers v. Magnet Cove Pub. Schs., 34 F.3d 642, 644--45 (8th Cir. 1994), "discriminatory intent is required" before a plaintiff may recover compensatory damages for an ADA or Rehabilitation Act violation. Although that question was still undecided by the Eighth Circuit, the district court noted that "every other Circuit Court that [had] addressed the issue" holds that discriminatory intent is ...


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