By John Perten
The MA Appeals Court has ruled that for purposes of handicap accessibility, all doors to a commercial establishment must comply, not just some.
Hollister, a clothing retailer, leases and operates a store at a shopping mall. When it took over the space, there was a single central entrance door that was handicap accessible. In connection with its remodeling, it converted the single central entrance to two separate doors, one that was not handicap accessible and an adjacent door that was not. A handicapped individual filed a complaint because the handicap accessible door was frequently inoperable. The Architectural Access Board conducted an investigation and determined that Hollister had violated the law because the handicap accessible door was frequently inoperable and the other door was not handicap accessible.
While the investigation was pending, Hollister installed another handicap accessible door on the other side of the non-handicap accessible one. Thus, there were now three doors, a non-handicap accessible door in the center, flanked by handicap accessible doors on either side. The Board concluded, however, that each door was a separate entrance and therefore each of the three entrances had to be handicap accessible. Hollister had argued that there was a single entrance with three doors and it was sufficient that at least one (or two if functional) of the entrance doors were handicap accessible.
On appeal, the Court looked at the purpose and legislative history of the statute and agreed that, looking at the definition of an “entrance,” each door had to be handicap accessible. In a scathing dissent, a member of the appeals court noted that just because “a single entrance into a building at one particular location on the building footprint has multiple doors framed into that single entrance does not transform that single entrance into multiple entrances”. The dissenting justice accused the Board of positing “a new and novel theory of what an entrance is”. Despite the dissent, the majority rules. So, at least for now, multiple doors at a single entrance must each be handicap accessible.
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John H. Perten is a shareholder at Sheehan Phinney Bass + Green PA. He is a member of the Construction, Litigation and Business Groups. He may be reached at email@example.com or 617.897.5641.
This article is intended to serve as a summary of the issues outlined herein. While it may include some general guidance, it is not intended as, nor is it a substitute for, legal advice.
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