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S. Old Woodward now open but lawsuit lingers

By David Hohendorf


While Birmingham officials and local businesses are celebrating the reopening of S. Old Woodward with the completion of the months-long road and infrastructure project, the federal court case against the city over the road's final design, filed in May of this year, looks like it will continue to drag until the fall of 2023.


The lawsuit, based on alleged violations of the American Disabilities Act (ADA), was filed May 18 by John Reinhart, managing partner of the 555 Building on S. Old Woodward, along with Anthony Wenzel, who said he frequents an exercise studio in the building, and architect Robert Ziegelman, who has an office in the building. The case was assigned to Federal District Court Judge Mark A. Goldsmith.


All three plaintiffs claim physical disabilities and that the final design for the completed road project will make it difficult for handicapped persons to access the 555 Building due to the loss of 60 parking spaces in the overall project area as well as the relocation of a bus stop, now on Bowers Street, to the front of the 555 Building.


In its answer to the lawsuit, the city of Birmingham raised a number of points, including the fact that the final design of the road reconstruction project provides for two ADA-compliant parking spaces which the city said replaced one non-compliant space at the 555 Building. Further, the city's response said that the completed project provides 19 parking spaces between Hazel and Haynes streets, noting that the ADA guidelines do not require on-street parking, only that ADA compliant parking spaces must be provided, which they are.


The city's response to the original lawsuit also suggested that the 555 Building managing partner, plaintiff Reinhart, is most concerned about the bus stop being relocated in front of the building, based on comments he has made to city officials about potential riders of the bus, which some have categorized as elitist, if not racist, in nature.


Plaintiffs in the case had requested that the court stop the project by granting injunctive relief and the city of Birmingham had filed a motion to have the case dismissed.


On September 28 of this year, the judge issued a formal ruling which denied both the request for injunctive relief and Birmingham's request to have the case dismissed.


In the ruling as it applied to the city's request that the court throw out the lawsuit, the judge said “plaintiffs here stated a plausible ADA claim,” although Judge Goldsmith cast doubt about the likelihood plaintiffs would win their case.


“Overall, the balance of preliminary injunction factors here does not favor the plaintiffs, who bear the 'heavy burden' of establishing an entitlement to preliminary relief,” according to the ruling. Further, after considering claims of irreparable harm and intentional discrimination against physically-challenged visitors to the city, the judge said that “plaintiffs are not likely to succeed on their ADA claims.”


Following the judge's ruling on the two motions, attorneys for both parties on November 3 filed with the court a joint discovery plan for further actions required for the upcoming jury trial on the lawsuit, basically outlining a calendar that stretches to mid-September of 2023, and most likely beyond that date.


With the recent reopening of this section of S. Old Woodward on Friday, November 4, the judge did note in his ruling on the two motions that if during the trial that some necessity for relief is established, the “court has the ability to fashion relief…, such as requiring the city to designate additional ADA parking spaces.”

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