Burkhart v. WMATA

112 F.3d 1207 (1997)

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Burkhart v. WMATA

United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit
112 F.3d 1207 (1997)

Facts

Eduardo Burkhart (plaintiff), a deaf man, boarded a bus operated by the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) (defendant) with Basram Salman, who was also deaf. Burkhart and Salman paid the regular fare, but the fare was higher for disabled riders. The bus driver, Archie Smith (defendant), attempted to tell Burkhart and Salman that they needed to pay the correct fare. Ultimately, Burkhart and Smith became involved in a physical fight. After Burkhart got off the bus, he communicated with WMATA police officer Jonathan Gray by writing on a notepad. Both Burkhart and Smith were criminally charged for the altercation, but the charges were later dropped. Burkhart filed a civil suit against WMATA and Smith in federal district court. Burkhart argued that WMATA violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Rehabilitation Act because it did not offer a method of communication for deaf patrons that was as effective as the communication used for nondisabled patrons. At trial, Burkhardt called Edward Spurlock to provide expert testimony on the intersection between police practices and disability-protection laws. WMATA objected, but after voir dire, the district court permitted Spurlock to testify as an expert. Spurlock testified under oath before the jury that Gray’s communications with Burkhart were not as effective as the means by which Gray would communicate with others. The “as effective” language was taken from the regulations that enacted the ADA. The jury found in favor of Burkhart and held WMATA liable for several violations of law including violations of the ADA and the Rehabilitation Act. WMATA appealed, arguing that the district court improperly allowed Spurlock to make legal conclusions in his testimony.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Sentelle, J.)

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