March 7, 2001
The Honorable Steny H. Hoyer
Member, U.S. House of Representatives
U.S. District Courthouse
6500 Cherrywood Lane, Suite 310
Greenbelt, Maryland 20770
Dear Congressman Hoyer:
This is in response to your inquiry on behalf of your constituent, xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx, concerning the complaint she filed with this office under title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA).
Initially, you requested our guidance on the statute of limitations for private litigation under title III of the ADA. Title III of the ADA is silent with respect to the statute of limitations for private litigation. You should be aware, however, that because title III is silent on the statute of limitations period for private rights of action, federal courts, when applying the ADA, will apply the most analogous state statute of limitations. "When Congress has not established a time limitation for a federal cause of action, the settled practice has been to adopt a local time limitation as federal law if it is not inconsistent with federal law or policy to do so." (Wilson v. Garcia, 471 U.S. 261, 266 (1985)). This process was endorsed by Congress in 42 U.S.C. ï½§ 1988(a), which directs the court to 1) follow federal law if federal law provides a limitations period; 2) apply the common law, as modified by state constitution or statute, if no limitations period is provided by federal law; but 3) apply state law only if it is not inconsistent with the Constitution and laws of the United States. (Hickey v. Irving Indep. Sch. Dist., 976 F.2d 980 (5th Cir. 1992)). Federal courts generally interpret Congressional silence on statute of limitations periods as a directive to apply the most closely analogous statute of limitations under state law by considering the essential nature of the federal claim and the extent to which the proceedings provided under respective state and federal causes of action are functionally equivalent. (Owens v. Okure, 488 U.S. 235 (1989); Andrews v. Consolidated Rail Corp., 831 F.2d 678 (7th Cir. 1987); Wills v. Ferrandino, 830 F. Supp. 116 (D. Conn. 1993)). Because title III does not provide its own statute of limitations for private rights of action, the court must "borrow" the most appropriate state statute of limitations.
Thus, if xxxxxxxxxxxx decides to bring a private right of action under title III, proceedings may be time-barred by statutes of limitations applied by the courts. Xxxxxxxxxxxx may wish to consult a private attorney to determine the appropriate statute of limitations in Maryland.
xxxxxxxxxxxx also wished to express her dissatisfaction with the Department's handling of her complaint. We regret that xxxxxxxxxxxx was dissatisfied with the outcome of our investigation. In addition to litigation, there are a number of avenues that xxxxxxxxxxxx may wish to pursue to resolve this complaint, including consulting state or local authorities, disability rights organizations, or organizations that provide alternative dispute resolution services. We have enclosed a list of organizations serving your area. These groups may be able to identify resource groups available to provide assistance. A state or local bar association may also be able to provide the names of private attorneys or mediation services that handle disability rights matters.
To assist members of the public to understand their rights and responsibilities under the ADA, the Department of Justice has published technical assistance manuals that explain the ADA regulations. In addition, the Department operates an ADA information line (800-514-0301 (voice) or 800-514-0383 (TTY)). Members of the Disability Rights Section staff are available to answer questions on the information line on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., Eastern time. On Thursday, the information line is staffed from 1:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m.
For your information, I am enclosing a copy of the Division's ADA Status Report that summarizes our ADA enforcement activity. I hope this information is useful to you in responding to your constituent. Please do not hesitate to contact the Department if we can be of assistance in other matters.
William R. Yeomans
Acting Assistant Attorney General
Civil Rights Division