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Willits v. Carter and City of Los Angeles

California Appeals Court Rejects Unfair Sidewalk Accessibility Settlement



An appellate court agreed with AARP that a settlement of a disability discrimination lawsuit against the City of Los Angeles violated federal due process and rejected the class action settlement.


Approximately 280,000 people with mobility impairments reside in the City of Los Angeles. Several law suits were filed by people with disabilities alleging that the City violated state and federal disability discrimination law by failing to make or keep public sidewalks, curb ramps, and other walkways accessible to people with mobility impairments.

A state trial court approved a settlement viewed as too meager by several advocacy groups for people with disabilities.  These groups objected to the settlement arguing that the standards in the settlement provided less protection than what was mandated under federal law, and that the settlement did not adequately protect absent class members from noting their objections effectively.

AARP joined seven other organizations advocating for the rights of people with disabilities in filing a friend-of-the-court brief. The brief urged reversing the trial court’s approval of the settlement, and points out that the settlement does not protect the rights of those victimized by these policies (failing to do so both procedurally and substantively), that it forces people with disabilities to surrender important civil rights in exchange for “illusory” relief, that numerous people testified at the settlement hearing to strenuously object to the settlement, that the settlement was approved by the named plaintiffs and not the entire class, and that the settlement is legally deficient as it allows an outcome that  does not meet clear legal requirements under federal law.

The appeals court found that one provision of the settlement – a provision that did not allow people to “opt out” of the settlement but instead forced everyone to be bound by it – violated federal due process, though the court did not agree that the settlement itself was unfair. However, the due process issue required the court to reject this settlement and therefore residents of Los Angeles with disabilities will be free to seek greater relief from the City of Los Angeles than if they had been bound by the settlement.

What’s at Stake

Properly maintained sidewalks are essential for both disabled and non-disabled residents of a community.  It is essential that our communities and sidewalks are places where everyone can live and get around safely.

Case Status

Willits v. Carter and City of Los Angeles was decided by the Second Appellate District Court of Appeals for the State of California.

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Our legal advocacy initiatives  - conducted by AARP Foundation Litigation (AFL) - reflect nearly 20 years of work in federal and state courts across the country. Through our efforts, we support the Foundation’s four impact areas: Tackling Senior Hunger, Paving the Way to Stable Income, assuring the adequacy and availability of Safe and Afffordable Housing and Reconnecting People to Families and Communities, and ensure that those 50 and older have a voice in the laws and policies that affect their daily lives.