Major cases with systemic impact.

DLC’s work includes bringing impact litigation, engaging in structured negotiations, and filing amicus briefs in order to address systemic issues that affect individuals with disabilities. Our current and past cases of note include the following:


Briggs, et al. v. Department of Correction, et al., No. 1:15-cv-40162 (D. Mass.)

Co-counseling with Prisoners’ Legal Services, WilmerHale, and Washington Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights, DLC represents a class of prisoners who are deaf or hard of hearing in challenging discrimination by the Department of Correction (DOC). Specifically, the plaintiffs allege that DOC (1) fails to provide access to auxiliary aids and services, such as hearing aids or ASL interpreters, necessary to permit access to educational, vocational, and rehabilitative programming, medical and mental health care, and religious services; (2) denies deaf and hard of hearing individuals adequate, equally effective, and reliable means of communication with individuals outside of prison by failing to provide videophones or other assistive technology; (3) places deaf and hard of hearing individuals at serious risk of harm by not having an adequate emergency notification systems; (4) fails to provide adequate interpretative services and auxiliary aids at disciplinary and classification hearings and (5) discriminates against deaf and hard of hearing prisoners in work assignments. The parties have signed a settlement agreement that is awaiting approval by the court. The issue of accessible emergency notification systems is proceeding to trial.


NAD, et al. v. Harvard University, et al., No. 3:15-cv-30023 (D. Mass.)

NAD, et al. v. MIT, No. 3:15-cv-30024 (D. Mass.)

DLC, Civil Rights Education and Enforcement Center (CREEC); the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund (DREDF), Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll PLLC, and the National Association of the Deaf (NAD) represent the interests of NAD and four deaf and hard of hearing individuals in federal class action lawsuits against Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), claiming that the schools discriminate against deaf and hard of hearing people by failing to caption the vast and varied array of online content they make available to the general public. The cases were filed in February 2015. Plaintiffs and Harvard have come to an agreement guaranteeing captioning that will provide the deaf and hard of hearing community enhanced access to the university’s online content; the parties now seek approval from the court. Plaintiffs and MIT are currently engaging in settlement negotiations.

Harvard Complaint

MIT Complaint

Report and Recommendation Recommending Denial of Harvard’s Motion to Dismiss/Stay

Report and Recommendation Recommending Denial of MIT’s Motion to Dismiss/Stay

Order Adopting Report and Recommendation

Notice of Settlement of Class Action Relating to Captioning of Harvard’s Public Web Content


American Council of the Blind, et al. v. Hulu LLC, No. 1:17-cv-12285 (D. Mass.)

DLC and Disability Rights Advocates represented the American Council of the Blind, Bay State Council of the Blind, and two individuals in litigation against Hulu, LLC to challenge the lack of accessibility features for individuals who are blind or have low vision to Hulu’s streaming service. On October 8, 2018, the Parties reached an agreement to ensure Hulu’s accessibility and settle the federal case. As part of a settlement agreement, Hulu will make its website and software applications accessible via screen readers and will provide audio description tracks for streaming content where possible. Counsel will be monitoring the agreement through January 1, 2022, during which period the court has retained jurisdiction.

Complaint

Filed Settlement


AMICUS BRIEF – Commonwealth v. Lawrence L. Heywood, SJC-12724

DLC and a Baltimore civil rights law firm, representing the National Federation of the Blind, jointly filed an amicus brief addressing the rights of blind jurors. The SJC solicited briefs to discuss when, if ever, blind jurors should be excluded in criminal cases that involve visual evidence.

Docket and Briefs


AMICUS BRIEF – Joseph Buckman & Another v. Commissioner of Correction, et al., SJC-12725

DLC filed an amicus brief addressing interpretation of the medical parole statute established a mechanism to facilitate the release of Massachusetts state and county prisoners who are suffering from a “terminal illness” or “permanent incapacitation” “so debilitating that the prisoner does not pose a public safety risk.” M.G.L. c. 127, § 119A. In implementing the statute, DOC and the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security (EOPSS) place the burden on petitioners and their advocates to meet onerous requirements for petition submissions. Although eligibility requirements mean that, as a rule, qualifying prisoners will be persons with disabilities, DOC and EOPSS offer no system for effectively accommodating prisoners with disabilities to allow them equal access to the medical parole process.

Docket and Briefs


AMICUS BRIEF – McLean Hospital Corporation v. Town of Lincoln, et al., SJC-12675

DLC and the Mental Health Legal Advisors Committee (MHLAC) filed an amicus brief in a challenging a narrow interpretation by the Land Court of the Dover Amendment, a provision in M.G.L. c. 40A, which governs zoning for educational programs. The case involves a McLean Hospital residential program teaching dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) to individuals with behavioral challenges. The case has broad implications for the siting of programs for people with intellectual, developmental and psychiatric disabilities. The SJC vacated the Land Court’s judgement and remanded for entry of judgement in favor of McLean, finding that the residential programs offered “a specialized form of education, with therapeutic aspects, that ultimately teaches its participants the skills necessary for their success, ‘activity and usefulness in life.’” McLean Hosp. Corp. v. Town of Lincoln, No. SJC-12675, 2019 WL 4582922, at *7 (Mass. Sept. 23, 2019)

Docket and Briefs


Disability Law Center v. Commissioner of Correction, et al., No. 1:07-cv-10463 (D. Mass.)

DLC partnered with Prisoners’ Legal Services, the Center for Public Representation, Bingham McCutchen, and Nelson Mullins to challenge the practice of confining Massachusetts prisoners with mental illness in DOC segregation units, including the Departmental Disciplinary Unit to which prisoner can be sentenced to terms of solitary confinement up to ten years. After almost five years of litigation, the parties entered into a settlement agreement in November of 2011 requiring the DOC to create and maintain sufficient secure treatment units to house prisoners with serious mental illness who would otherwise be in solitary confinement. The settlement agreement sunset at the conclusion of three years of monitoring, but the key parts of the agreement protecting people with mental illness from prolonged solitary confinement have been incorporated into a statute. See M.G.L. c. 127, § 39, as amended in January 2015.


Fleet National Bank Talking ATMs Settlement Agreement

In 2000, DLC and Attorney Lainey Feingold represented Bay State Council of the Blind, the National Federation of the Blind of Massachusetts, and eight blind and visually impaired individuals entered in structured negotiations with Fleet Bank to address accommodations that would allow people with visual impairments to effectively use the public equipment owned by the bank. On February 28, 2001, the parties entered into a settlement agreement in which the bank agreed to install Talking ATMs, give blind people braille bank statements, and make its website accessible to blind and visually impaired persons. It resulted in the first Talking ATMs in New England, a comprehensive alternative formats policy, and was only the second agreement in the United States to require that a bank’s website be accessible. In June 2003, the parties entered into a supplemental agreement. Under this document, the bank agreed to install Talking ATMs at all of its locations. The bank also agreed to give blind people headphones for the talking ATMs. Fleet was later bought by Bank of America, a bank with more than 11,000 Talking ATMs, in 2008.

 

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