The Americans With Disabilities Act isn’t usually associated with a pro-business platform – in fact, many would argue the statute guaranteeing equal access for the disabled has been abused by plaintiffs’ attorneys to the detriment of entrepreneurs.
But that paradigm is being turned on its head by a lawsuit filed in federal court in Los Angeles. Filed on behalf of Dr. Lakhi Sakhrani, the complaint seeks to overturn a decision by the city of San Gabriel to deny building permits for a dialysis center in the municipality.
While there are rare examples of a drug treatment facility or homeless shelter using the ADA as legal justification to challenge a zoning decision, multiple attorneys in the space said they had never seen a case quite like this one.
Sakrahni’s lawsuit hinges on patients’ right to access medical care. His lawsuit claims the rights of San Gabriel residents are being infringed upon by the limited dialysis options available in the area and the city’s refusal to allow more to be built. The doctor already owns one facility in the city, Quality Dialysis Center San Gabriel, but says it is overcrowded with not enough stations to service his clients’ medical needs.
The suit also alleges the permit denial in January of last year was politically motivated. Sakhrani claims his initial application for a conditional use permit was granted by the Planning Commission, and it wasn’t until a group of wealthy residents complained to the City Council that a special hearing was called and the council overturned the approval, according to legal filings.
“In a flagrant violation of the law, the city ultimately acted to protect the interests of wealthy residents who sought to block the creation of this new dialysis treatment center,” the complaint reads. “The city discriminated against Plaintiffs and the disabled persons they represent who require dialysis by refusing to interact with Plaintiffs about reasonable accommodations and ultimately reversing the city Planning Commission’s prior grant of conditional use permits.”
U.S. District Court Judge Christina Snyder ruled last month that the case should go to trial in order to determine if Sakhrani’s claims had merit, denying the doctor’s motion to grant summary judgment in his favor.
However, in an earlier ruling from May, Snyder said Sakhrani not only had standing to bring the suit under the ADA, but “plausible claim for relief under all … ADA claims.” The judge noted that allegations the City Council nixed the project to appease wealthy residents were of particular concern.
“These allegations, if true, provide significant circumstantial evidence that defendants’ conduct was based on a discriminatory intent.”
The city has denied it did anything wrong, maintaining the council acted appropriately in reviewing the Planning Commission’s decision to approve the clinic.
“Plaintiffs’ claims that the evidence presented during the Jan. 5, 2016, City Council meeting … was insufficient to support the City Council’s findings granting the appeal and denying plaintiffs conditional use permits,” San Gabriel’s legal filings read. “When considering the administrative record as a whole and in context with the City Council’s reasoning supporting its decision, it is clear that the evidence available to the City Council was more than enough to support their decision.”
A trial set for June was postponed by Snyder on April 4 to give the parties time to reach a settlement.
Attorneys for both the city and Sakhrani did not respond to request for comment.