By Joseph Ax
NEW YORK, Nov 8 (Reuters) - A Manhattan federal judge has
certified a class action brought by disability rights advocates
who claim the city fails to accommodate the disabled during
disasters such as superstorm Sandy.
In an order filed Tuesday, U.S. Judge Jesse Furman found
that the plaintiffs, which include the Brooklyn Center for
Independence of the Disabled and two disabled New Yorkers, Tania
Morales and Gregory Bell, had demonstrated that the litigation
should proceed on behalf of the estimated 900,000 disabled
people who live in the city.
But he was careful to note that the certification does not
imply that the allegations are true.
"The fact that plaintiffs have carried their present burden
is only to say that they have satisfied the requirements for
proceeding by way of a class action," Furman wrote. "Whether
they ultimately prevail will be determined at the trial
scheduled to begin on December 10, 2012."
The lawsuit, filed last year in the wake of Hurricane Irene,
alleges the city has violated local and federal
anti-discrimination laws by failing to make sure that emergency
plans, shelters and transportation fully cater to individuals
with physical disabilities.
Lawyers for the class said Sandy, which prompted city
officials to order mass evacuations last week and resulted in
prolonged power outages that left people stranded at home, put
their claims in stark relief.
"We did see a lot of the same problems in Sandy" as in
previous emergencies, said Shawna Parks, the lead counsel and an
attorney at Disability Rights Advocates. In particular, she
said, disabled evacuees found shelters were inaccessible, while
others were stuck inside their apartments after the power went
The city's emergency management office is a "nationally
recognized leader," city attorney Martha Calhoun said in a
"The city's emergency plans have been carefully developed in
order to effectively serve the needs of all New Yorkers,
including individuals with disabilities," she said.
The plaintiffs are seeking a court order requiring the city
to revise its emergency preparation plan to ensure disabled
individuals are fully accommodated.
In an October letter to Furman, a city attorney said the
Manhattan U.S. Attorney's office had launched its own
investigation into whether the city's plans violate
The case is Brooklyn Center for Independence of the Disabled
v. Mayor Michael Bloomberg, U.S. District Court for the Southern
District of New York, No. 11-6690.
For the plaintiffs: Shawna Parks, Julia Pinover, Rebecca
Williford and Sid Wolinsky of Disability Rights Advocates;
Daniel Brown of Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton.
For the city: Martha Calhoun, Mart Toews and Carolyn Kruk of
the New York City Law Department.
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