In an en banc opinion, the US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit vacated its own opinion from January on Monday in a case accusing the Florida legislature of violating the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), allowing the lawsuit to proceed.
The suit was brought under Title II of the ADA and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act against Floridian entities and officials for failing to provide captioning for live and archived videos of the state’s legislative proceedings.
The plaintiffs in this case originally sent a letter requesting the defendants provide captioning back in 2017 to provide those who are deaf or hard of hearing access to the videos of legislative proceedings. The plaintiffs claimed that, without being able to access the videos, they were being denied meaningful participation in the democratic process.
The officials from Florida sought to dismiss the case, claiming that they had sovereign immunity, but the district court held that Congress had removed the sovereign immunity normally guaranteed to defendants with Title II of the ADA, which they were permitted to do using Section 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment. The Eleventh Circuit also assessed the history of unconstitutional discrimination against those with disabilities. It determined that the measures granted under Title II are an appropriate response to that history:
Here, Title II provides an appropriately limited response to remedy the history of unequal treatment. The burden of adding captioning to legislative videos—which are already provided to the public—removes a complete barrier to this information for a subset of citizens with a remedy we expect can be accomplished with limited cost and effort. In this way, the remedy is a proportionate and “reasonable modification” of a service that is already provided,
and it does not change the “nature” of the service whatsoever.
In regard to the Rehabilitation Act, the court held that the state waives sovereign immunity when it agrees to receive federal financial assistance. Although the defendants argued that Florida has not received such assistance, the plaintiffs successfully convinced the court that that could only be confirmed after having time to seek relevant evidence.
The Eleventh Circuit’s holding thus affirmed the decision of the district court denying the state’s attempt to dismiss the case and allowing it to instead move forward.