TENNESSEE v. LANE et al.
CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE SIXTH CIRCUIT
No. 02-1667. Argued January 13, 2004--Decided May 17, 2004
Respondent paraplegics filed this action for damages and equitable relief, alleging that Tennessee and a number of its counties had denied them physical access to that State's courts in violation of Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA), which provides: "[N]o qualified individual with a disability shall, by reason of such disability, be excluded from participation or denied the benefits of the services, programs or activities of a public entity," 42 U. S. C. §12132. After the District Court denied the State's motion to dismiss on Eleventh Amendment immunity grounds, the Sixth Circuit held the appeal in abeyance pending Board of Trustees of Univ. of Ala. v. Garrett, 531 U. S. 356. This Court later ruled in Garrett that the Eleventh Amendment bars private money damages actions for state violations of ADA Title I, which prohibits employment discrimination against the disabled. The en banc Sixth Circuit then issued its Popovich decision, in which it interpreted Garrett to bar private ADA suits against States based on equal protection principles, but not those relying on due process, and therefore permitted a Title II damages action to proceed despite the State's immunity claim. Thereafter, a Sixth Circuit panel affirmed the dismissal denial in this case, explaining that respondents' claims were not barred because they were based on due process principles. In response to a rehearing petition arguing that Popovich did not control because respondents' complaint did not allege due process violations, the panel filed an amended opinion, explaining that due process protects the right of access to the courts, and that the evidence before Congress when it enacted Title II established, inter alia, that physical barriers in courthouses and courtrooms have had the effect of denying disabled people the opportunity for such access.
Held: As it applies to the class of cases implicating the fundamental right of access to the courts, Title II constitutes a valid exercise of Congress' authority under §5 of the Fourteenth Amendment to enforce that Amendment's substantive guarantees. Pp. 4-23.