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California Council of the Blind v. County of Alameda

United States District Court, N.D. California

October 16, 2013

CALIFORNIA COUNCIL OF THE BLIND, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
COUNTY OF ALAMEDA, et al., Defendants

As Amended October 24, 2013.

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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For California Council of the Blind, Scott Blanks, on behalf of himself and all others similarly situated, LisaMaria Martinez, on behalf of herself and all others similarly situated, Leah Gardner, on behalf of herself and all others similarly situated, Richard Rueda, on behalf of himself and all others similarly situated, Laurence Bunn, on behalf of herself and all others similarly situated, Plaintiffs: Christine Chuang, Laurence Wayne Paradis, Michael S Nunez, Stuart John Seaborn, LEAD ATTORNEYS, Disability Rights Advocates, Berkeley, CA.

For County of Alameda, Tim Dupuis, in his official capacity as Interim Registrar of Voters for the County of Alameda, Defendants: Raymond S. Lara, Office of the County Counsel, County of Alameda, Oakland, CA.

OPINION

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ORDER GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO DISMISS

Dkt. No. 8

JOSEPH C. SPERO, United States Magistrate Judge.

I. INTRODUCTION

This action is brought by five blind registered voters of the County of Alameda, as well as California Council of the Blind, a membership organization of blind and visually impaired individuals (collectively, " Plaintiffs" ). Defendants are the County of Alameda and Tim Dupuis, in his official capacity as the Interim Registrar of Voters for the County of Alameda (" Defendants" ). Plaintiffs allege that in the last two elections, Defendants failed to ensure that voting machines accessible to the blind and visually impaired could be activated and operated by poll workers, and therefore required these individuals to vote with the assistance of third parties in violation of Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. § § 12101-12213, § 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, 29 U.S.C. § 794, as well as California Election Code § 19227 and California Government Code § 11135. Defendants filed a Motion to Dismiss (" Motion" ) under Rule 12(b)(1) and (6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. The Court held a hearing on the Motion on October 11, 2013, at 1:30 p.m. For the reasons stated below, the Motion to Dismiss is GRANTED in part and DENIED in part. [1]

II. BACKGROUND

A. Factual Allegations

Plaintiffs allege that advancements in technology make it possible for blind and visually impaired individuals to vote privately and independently just as sighted voters do. Complaint (" Compl." ) ¶ 4. Sequoia AVC Edge electronic voting machines (" accessible voting machines" ) utilize electronic ballots and possess an audio ballot feature that can read aloud instructions and voting options. Id. ¶ 31. When a tactile keyboard and headphones are connected to an accessible voting machine and the audio ballot is functioning properly, a blind voter can use the audio ballot feature and the tactile keypad to privately and independently complete and submit a ballot. Id.

In the past several public elections, the County of Alameda has provided at least one of these accessible voting machines at each of its polling sites. Id. ¶ 31. In fact, it is required to do so by California and federal law. Id. ¶ ¶ 4, 7. The Help America Vote Act (" HAVA" ), 42 U.S.C. § 15301 et seq., which came into effect January 1, 2006, requires every voting site in federal elections to provide at least one accessible voting machine that includes " nonvisual accessibility for the blind and visually impaired in a manner that provides the same opportunity for access and participation (including privacy and independence) as for other voters[.]" Id. § 15481(a)(3)(A)-(B). Similarly, California Elections Code § 19227 requires, subject to available funds, the provision of at least one voting machine at each polling site that enables the blind and visually impaired " to cast and verify all selections

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made by both visual and nonvisual means." Cal. Elec. Code § 19227.

According the Plaintiffs, the fact County of Alameda has provided accessible voting machines during the last two election cycles is insufficient. Plaintiffs allege that counties must take affirmative steps to ensure that accessible voting machines are fully operational at all polling sites from the moment the sites open on Election Day to the moment they are closed. Id. ¶ 6. Such affirmative steps, according to Plaintiffs, require counties to provide adequate training of poll workers on the appropriate set up and use of the machines, conduct adequate testing of each machine and the accessible features prior to opening the polling site, provide timely and skilled technical support services to poll-site staff, deploy replacement machines as needed in a timely manner, investigate non-functioning machines to determine the cause of the problems that arise, and identify and implement solutions to such problems. Id.

Plaintiffs allege that the County of Alameda has failed to take such affirmative steps to ensure that accessible voting machines functioned properly during the November 6, 2012 Election. As a result, multiple blind voters were denied their right to vote privately and independently at multiple poll sites. Id. ¶ 32. On November 6, 2012, the five Plaintiffs in this action each tried to vote privately and independently at four different polling sites using an accessible voting machine. Id. ¶ ¶ 11, 17-21. At each site, however, poll workers were unable to make the audio ballot feature, tactile keypads, and/or other accessible features of the machines function properly. Id. In the end, each of the five Plaintiffs was required to vote with the assistance of a third party, either a poll worker or a family member, if they were to vote at all. Id. ¶ ¶ 17-21.

Before voting with the assistance of a third party, three of the Plaintiffs attempted to use an accessible voting machine at another polling site. Plaintiff Martinez's designated polling site was the Kennedy Community Center in Union City. Id. ¶ 18. Plaintiff Martinez was sent to use the accessible voting machine at the Union City Library when the audio ballot feature and tactile keypad could not be activated for the Kennedy Community Center's accessible voting machine. Plaintiff Martinez returned to the Kennedy Community Center when the same problem arose at the Union City Library. Id.

Plaintiffs Rueda and Bunn had designated polling sites at the Ceasar Chavez Middle School in Union City. Id. ¶ ¶ 20-21. When poll workers were unable to activate the audio ballot feature on either of the two accessible machines, Plaintiffs Rueda and Bunn were driven together to another polling site at a private home one mile away. However, they returned to Ceasar Chavez Middle School when the poll workers at the private home were also unable to activate the audio ballot feature for that site's accessible voting machine. Id.

Plaintiffs further allege that Defendants did not adequately respond when the accessible voting machines at various polling sites malfunctioned. For instance, a poll worker at The Bridge of Faith Fellowship Hall polling site in Hayward called the County Registrar's troubleshooting line after trying to activate the audio ballot feature of the accessible voting machine so Plaintiff Gardner could vote privately and independently. Id. ¶ 19. After some difficulty getting through to the troubleshooting line, someone from the County Registrar's office informed Plaintiff Gardner that she would have to wait for two hours for a replacement voting machine, with no guarantee that the accessible features would be able to function properly in the end. Id.

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The Complaint alleges that the County's failure to ensure that the accessible features of its voting machines are functioning on Election Day is a result of its failure to: (1) develop and implement policies to ensure that its staff are trained on appropriate use and setup of its accessible voting machines; (2) ensure that its staff properly maintain and test the accessible features of such machines; and (3) maintain an adequate troubleshooting, maintenance, and replacement machine deployment system to ensure the functionality of its machines on Election Day. Id. ¶ 36.

B. Causes of Action

Plaintiffs assert four causes of action in the Complaint. Plaintiffs allege that the foregoing constitutes a violation of Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (" ADA" ), 42 U.S.C. § 12131, et seq., as well as § 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, 29 U.S.C. § 794 (" Rehabilitation Act" ). Plaintiffs also assert two state law claims under California Election Code § 19227 and California Government Code § 11135.

C. Motion to Dismiss

Defendants argue that Plaintiffs fail to state a claim under Title II of the ADA or § 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. Defendants' Notice of Motion and Motion to Dismiss Plaintiffs' Complaint Pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1), (6) (" Motion" ). Defendants contend that nothing in the ADA or the Rehabilitation Act create a right to vote privately and independently, and because Plaintiffs allege that they were able to vote with the assistance of a third party, they fail to state a claim under the ADA or the Rehabilitation Act as a matter of law. Defendants urge the Court to decline to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over the state law claims, and argue that in any event, Plaintiffs fail to state a claim under California Election Code § 19227 and California Government Code § 11135.

Plaintiffs oppose Defendants' Motion on all grounds. Plaintiffs' Opposition to Defendants' Motion to Dismiss Plaintiffs' Complaint Pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1), (6) (" Opposition" ).

III. LEGAL STANDARD

A complaint may be dismissed for failure to state a claim for which relief can be granted under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). " The purpose of a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) is to test the legal sufficiency of the complaint." N. Star. Int'l v. Ariz. Corp. Comm'n, 720 F.2d 578, 581 (9th Cir. 1983). In ruling on a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), the Court takes " all allegations of material fact as true and construe(s) them in the lights most favorable to the non-moving party." Parks Sch. of Bus. v. Symington, 51 F.3d 1480, 1484 (9th Cir. 1990). The complaint need not contain " detailed factual allegations," but must allege facts sufficient to " state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 663, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009) (citing Bell A. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 547, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007)).

IV. DISCUSSION

A. Legal Standard -- Discrimination under the ADA and Rehabilitation Act

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and Title II of the ADA are similar in purpose and scope. Title II of the ADA provides:

Subject to the provisions of this subchapter, no qualified individual with a disability shall, by reason of such disability, be excluded from participation in or be denied the benefits of the services, programs, or activities of a public entity,

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or be subjected to discrimination by any such entity.

42 U.S.C. § 12132. Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act provides:

No otherwise qualified individual with a disability in the United States ... shall, solely by reason of her or his disability, be excluded from the participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any ...

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