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Saturday, February 24, 2024
Courthouse News Service
Saturday, February 24, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Colonial Williamsburg May Need to Meet ADA

(CN) - Colonial Williamsburg's historic designation will not block claims that the handicapped cannot fully access the living history museum, a federal judge ruled.

The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation operates a 301-acre historic district in Williamsburg, Va., representing the colonial capital. Approximately 1.7 million people visited the historic district in 2011, according to the foundation's annual report.

Many buildings in the district date from 1699 to 1780, and feature colonial character interpreters who work, dress and speak as colonists did in the 18th century. The district also includes Merchants Square, a "retail village" with more than 40 restaurants and shops.

In a federal complaint, Kenneth Flaum, who is confined to a wheelchair, claimed that various architectural barriers at Merchants Square limit his access to goods and services, in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

U.S. District Judge Raymond Jackson refused to dismiss Flaum's case, finding that his claim is sufficiently "concrete and particularized."

"Plaintiff elaborates on how technical violations personally impacted him, noting that the excessive slopes, side slopes, and cross slopes have made it difficult for him to maneuver ramps leading into stores and restaurants, excessively high counters in the stores have made it difficult for him to pay, and the exposed pipes, improper door hardware, excessively high mirrors, and improperly located flush controls have impaired his ability to use the public restrooms at the facility," Jackson wrote.

Although Merchants Square is a historic-register property, that alone does not bar Flaum's ADA claim, the judge found.

"Plaintiff has satisfied his burden by pleading that 'it is readily achievable for defendant to correct the ADA violations ... without threatening or destroying the historical significance of any facility in Merchants Square,'" the decision states. "The question of what specific modifications may be necessary for full compliance is a factual issue reserved for trial. A complaint will not be dismissed pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) on the grounds that it fails to prove that the removal of the architectural barriers at issue is 'readily achievable.'"

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