Theodore D. Karantsalis v. City of Miami Springs, No. 20-11134, 2021, D.C. Docket No. 1:19-cv-24123-UU, U.S. App. LEXIS 18001 (Eleventh Cir. November 12, 2021).
Keywords: Americans with Disabilities Act, The Rehabilitation Act of 1973, Multiple Sclerosis, Florida, Title II of the ADA, the Eleventh Circuit, Legal Authority.
Theodore D. Karantsalis, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (“MS”) in 2008 while living in Miami Springs, Florida. In 2008, he sued the city under Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act, (“ADA”) and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 for inaccessible public facilities. He later freely dismissed the lawsuit because he believed he lacked standing, meaning he did not have a right to sue. In 2017 his MS got worse, and he developed a limp, requiring the use of a wheelchair by 2019.
Mr. Karantsalis then refiled his lawsuit against the city claiming the city had inaccessible sidewalks, an inaccessible gymnasium, and inaccessible public parking lots. His lawsuit was dismissed by the federal district court. The district court said they dismissed the case because, under Florida law, the four-year statute of limitations had passed. A statute of limitations is the maximum time after an event when a court action can be taken to settle a dispute. The city claimed that the time limit for filing the lawsuit started in 2008, when Mr. Karantsalis’ MS was diagnosed.
The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the district court decision and sent the case back to the lower court.
The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals looked at three issues in this case. The first issue was deciding that generally, the state statute of limitations does apply in personal injury cases under the ADA and the Rehabilitation Act. In the state of Florida, the statute of limitations is four years, and the statute was applied in this case.
Secondly, the Court determined that while the Plaintiff was diagnosed with MS in 2008, his symptoms had not progressed to the point where he was unable to use the public spaces of the city. Mr. Karantsalis’ symptoms had progressed from 2017 onward and his disability began to impact his mobility, which is a major life activity according to the ADA. The Court believed that from 2017 forward, Karantsalis was unable to participate and was excluded from certain city services and activities.
The third section of the Court’s opinion addressed the issue of when the Plaintiff’s claim under the ADA had accrued.
First, the Court analyzed the three (3) elements a plaintiff must establish to bring a claim under Title II of the ADA. The Court determined that when Karantsalis first brought his claim in 2008, he did not suffer an injury. However, in 2017, as his MS progressed, he had difficulty accessing the city’s public services. The Court found that he could not have brought an ADA claim until 2017 because, until that time, he was able to access city services. Further, the Court found that a Plaintiff does not have to know or experience the full extent of his injury, but he must have some idea of how a disability may progress.
The Court noted the city’s arguments regarding the claim being barred by the passage of time under a statute of limitations, or “time-barred”. The city argued that the injury began in 2008 when the Plaintiff was diagnosed with MS and that he was aware of the city’s noncompliance at that time. Because Karantsalis knew this, his claim should be time-barred. Karantsalis argued that he did not have standing until he experienced both a disability and an injury. Because his injury, not being able to access the City’s services, did not occur until 2017, his claim should not be time-barred. The Court found that the 2019 suit was within the four-year statute of limitations.
The Court also looked at the district court and the city’s errors in their legal arguments. Although the city correctly relied on Florida state law rather than federal law in making their argument, the Court found that the district court was wrong in determining when the Plaintiff’s injury occurred. The district court did not prove Karantsalis’ injury was similar in both 2008 and 2017.
The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that a person does not have to bring a claim under the ADA regarding inaccessibility the moment they are diagnosed with a progressive illness. Rather, the statute of limitations for a person to bring an inaccessibility claim under the ADA occurs when the symptoms of the disability get to a point where the public services are inaccessible.
When someone establishes an injury and a disability, the person with a disability is not required to see into the future about their potential illness. The Court determined that if it ruled in favor of the City of Miami Springs, it would mean that anyone diagnosed with a progressive illness would have to assume their condition would progress to the greatest impact on a life activity, even if there were no symptoms at that moment.
Full Case: Theodore D. Karantsalis v. City of Miami Springs, No. 20-11134, 2021 (Eleventh Cir. November 12, 2021) available at https://law.justia.com/cases/federal/appellate-courts/ca11/20-11134/20-11134-2021-11-12.html