WASHINGTON (SE Texas Record) — Texas' attorney general is pleased the U.S. Supreme Court will not hear a case after all about whether Texas must force private drivers’ license training schools to be compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton
Meanwhile, a civil rights group said it will fall back to fight another day.
The U.S. Supreme Court issued an order Oct. 31 that vacated a Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals judgment of the case, Ivy v. Morath, that said the state is not required to force the schools to be ADA compliant. In a statement issued shortly after, Texas Civil Rights Project, which had been supporting plaintiffs in the case, said the high court's decision worked in their favor.
"We believed the [Fifth Circuit] judgment was wrongly decided, and we are pleased that the Supreme Court has cleared the way for new plaintiffs to seek accommodations for driver education under the Americans with Disabilities Act without negative precedent standing in their way," the statement said. "We look forward to continuing the fight for the rights of deaf Texans with our dedicated pro bono partners at Sanders Bajwa and Scott Douglass McConnico."
The statement also took aim at claims that the case has been about state's rights. "The state’s comments on this case are a complete mischaracterization," the statement said. "This is not a question about federalism but rather about the extent of Texas’ compliance with the ADA."
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, in his own statement, indicated he was quite pleased with the Supreme Court's decision. "Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton today applauded a decision by the United States Supreme Court to dismiss a lawsuit (Ivy v. Morath) that sought to impose liability against the state of Texas for private actions, as opposed to actions of the state," that statement said.
The case stems for a requirement for receiving a Texas drivers license. In Texas, anyone under the age of 25 who wants a driver’s license must submit to the state's Department of Public Safety a certificate issued by a private driver education school licensed by the Texas Education Agency.
Lead named defendant Donnika Ivy and the other plaintiffs in the case are deaf and had been told by a number of TEA-licensed private driving schools their disability meant they could not be accommodated, according to court documents. That meant the five could not receive the state required certificates, which further meant they couldn't obtain Texas drivers’ licenses.
The TEA also maintained it was not required to enforce Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requirements upon private driving schools unless the U.S. Justice Department said the schools violated the ADA.
Ivy and the other four would-be licensed Texas drivers filed suit in federal district court. The TEA moved to dismiss the case, but the federal district court denied the state's motion. The Fifth Circuit reversed that ruling, saying the driver education programs were not a service, program or activity provided by the state, agreeing that the TEA is not required to force the schools to be ADA compliant.
The U.S. Supreme Court received the plaintiffs’ writ of certiorari on Oct. 14, 2015 and then set a deadline of Nov. 16 to decide whether to hear the case. The question high court justices agreed to consider in the case was whether a relationship between private and public actors that does not rise to the level of an express contractual relationship still qualify as a "service, program, or activity" of the state such that it creates obligations to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The following January, Texas Commissioner of Education Mike Morath filed a brief in opposition. That was followed by an amicus brief filed in the case the following May by U.S. Justice Department solicitors general and other legal staff.
The U.S. Supreme Court granted the petition in June and oral arguments were scheduled for Nov. 7. However, on Sept. 29, Morath filed an additional brief that claimed the case was moot. "The Court lacks jurisdiction and cannot reach the questions presented because this case is moot," Morath's brief said. "Petitioners concede that their individual claims are moot. And the existence of class allegations in petitioner's complaint is inconsequential, as the United States correctly notes, because petitioners never moved for class certification despite having ample time to do so."
That lack of class action status was important because the five named petitioners no longer had a personal stake in the outcome of the case, Morath's brief said. "Four petitioners completed a driver-education course and obtained a completions certificate," Morath said in his brief. "The final petitioner moved out of the state. That extinguishes petitioners' personal stake in this dispute. And no entity with a legal status separate from petitioners' interests exists because the district court never certified a class."
Since the petitioners never moved for class certification, there was nothing left to certify and the U.S. Supreme Court has never allowed a plaintiff to move for class certification after the stake in a case outcome has expired.
"Because this case is moot, the only remaining matter is whether to simply dismiss the case or also vacate the court of appeals' judgment," Morath said in his brief.
On Oct. 14, the case was removed from the high court's argument calendar. On Oct. 31, the appeals court judgment was vacated and the case remanded with instructions to dismiss because it is moot.