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Maynard Baker et al v. New York State Department of Environmental Conservation et al

June 22, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Gary L. Sharpe Chief Judge


I. Introduction

Plaintiffs Maynard Baker, Douglas K. Irish, Mark Schumaker, Brett A. Kilroy, Louis Giovannini and Richard Kenny*fn1 commenced this action against various New York State defendants,*fn2 alleging violations of Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).*fn3 (See 2d Am. Compl., Dkt. No. 55.) Pending is defendants' motion to dismiss. (See Dkt. No. 41.) For the reasons that follow, the motion is granted in part and denied in part.

II. Background*fn4

In 1971, New York State enacted the Adirondack Park Agency Act to "insure optimum overall conservation, protection, preservation, development and use of the unique scenic, aesthetic, wildlife, recreational, open space, historic, ecological and natural resources of the Adirondack park." N.Y. Exec. Law § 801 (McKinney 2005). The Act directed the APA to consult with the DEC and develop a "Master Plan for Management of State Lands." Id. § 816. Accordingly, the DEC promulgated rules and regulations that, among other things, prohibited the use of "float planes, motorized vehicles and bicycles (non-motorized vehicles) to access lakes in areas of the Adirondack Park classified by the [Master Plan] as Wilderness, Primitive or Canoe." (2d Am. Compl. ¶ 104.) Although universally applicable, plaintiffs-all of whom suffer from impairments that affect their ability to walk, (see id. ¶¶ 53-73)-claim that the rules and regulations have rendered thirty-eight lakes and ponds*fn5 effectively inaccessible for disabled individuals such as themselves.*fn6 (See, e.g., id. ¶¶ 87-88, 165.)

Dubbing these lakes and ponds the "Inaccessible Remote Lakes," plaintiffs aver that they "contain ecological, geological and scenic values unlike any other lands and bodies of water located in the Adirondack Park." (Id. ¶¶ 74, 81.) Each of the plaintiffs "desire" to visit the Lakes, but have, and continue to be, deterred from doing so because of defendants' prohibition on motorized vehicles. (See id. ¶¶ 76, 107, 109, 119-22.) While they acknowledge the existence of Policy 3-the DEC's policy entitled "Motorized Access Program for People with Disabilities"-plaintiffs claim that "defendants do not have a program or mechanism that offers . . . disabled people . . . a reasonable accommodation" to access the Lakes.*fn7

(Id. ¶¶ 158-59.) Nevertheless, in 2009, plaintiff Maynard Baker contacted the DEC to request permission to "utilize a float plane to access" the Lakes. (Id. ¶ 163.) The request was denied "and no other accommodation was made by defendants in response to . . . Baker's request." (Id.)

Plaintiffs now allege that defendants violated the ADA by failing to provide them with a reasonable accommodation, and by enacting facially neutral rules and regulations that have a disparate impact on individuals with disabilities. (See id. ¶¶ 152-202.) To redress these violations, plaintiffs seek declaratory and injunctive relief, including the nullification of N.Y. Envtl. Conserv. Law §§ 1-0101, 3-0301, 9-0105 (McKinney 2005), N.Y. Exec. Law § 816 and 6 N.Y.C.R.R. §§ 190.13(f)(iv), (v), 190.33(b)(2), 196.4 and 196.8. (See id. at 36-37.)

III. Standard of Review

The standard of review under Fed. R. Civ. P. 12 is well established and will not be repeated here. For a full discussion of the standard, the court refers the parties to its decision in Ellis v. Cohen & Slamowitz, LLP, 701 F. Supp. 2d 215, 218 (N.D.N.Y. 2010).

IV. Discussion

As a threshold matter, defendants challenge the court's subject-matter jurisdiction, arguing that plaintiffs failed to satisfy the injury-in-fact requirement of constitutional standing. (See, e.g., Dkt. No. 60 at 3-5.*fn8

Alternatively, defendants contend that plaintiffs' causes of action fail as a matter of law, and that, even if the claims are viable, the state and its agencies are immune from suit. (See id. at 6-20.) In addition to filing a response to defendants' motion, plaintiffs were permitted to amend their complaint for a second time; collectively, their submissions evidence a general disagreement with defendants' assertions. (See generally 2d Am. Compl.; Dkt. No. 43.) Because "Article III jurisdiction is always an antecedent question," Steel Co. v. Citizens for a Better Env't, 523 U.S. 83, 101 (1998), the court first addresses plaintiffs' standing to sue, followed by ...

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