Supreme Court to Decide when State and Local Governments Must Ensure Private Actors Comply with the ADA

In Ivy v. Morath the Supreme Court will decide when state and local governments are responsible for ensuring that a private actor complies with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The State and Local Legal Center (SLLC) argues they should be responsible when the private actor may fairly be said to be implementing a service, program, or activity of the public entity itself.

In Texas, state law requires most people under age 25 to attend a state-licensed private driver education school to obtain a driver’s license. None of the schools would accommodate deaf students. So a number of deaf students sued the Texas Education Agency (TEA) arguing it was required to bring the driver education schools into compliance with the ADA.  

The ADA states that no qualified individual with a disability may be excluded from participation in or be denied the benefits of public entity “services, programs, or activities” because of a disability. The Fifth Circuit concluded that the ADA does not apply to the TEA because it does not provide “services, programs, or activities.” “Here, the TEA itself does not teach driver education, contract with driver education schools, or issue driver education certificates to individual students.”

A dissenting judge concluded the TEA was responsible for enforcing the ADA in this case because “even though the driving schools perform the actual day-to-day instruction, instruction is but one component of the broader program of driver education that is continually overseen and regulated in discrete detail by TEA.”

The SLLC amicus brief was filed on the side of neither party. It argues that the test shouldn’t be whether the state or local government is providing the service but instead whether a private actor may fairly be said to be implementing a service, program, or activity of the public entity. Agreeing with the majority opinion (and disagreeing with the dissenting opinion) in this case, the SLLC brief also argues that no amount of regulation or licensing of a private actor requires a state or local government to enforce the ADA against a private actor.

Finally, the SLLC brief concedes that under its test the TEA would be required to ensure that the driver education schools comply with the ADA. But it notes that “the Texas driver education program at issue here presents a highly unusual, and perhaps unique, example of a situation where a public entity’s licensing requirements for private persons may fairly be said to represent implementation of the public entity’s services, programs or activities.”

Richard A. Simpson, Tara Ward, and Emily Hart, Wiley Rein, wrote the SLLC amicus brief which was joined by  the Council of State GovernmentsNational Association of CountiesNational League of CitiesUnited States Conference of MayorsInternational City/County Management Association, and the International Municipal Lawyers Association.