April 14, 2003
U.S. District Court Judge Nathaniel M. Gorton recently held the Town of Southbridge in civil contempt for violating the provisions of a 2001 consent order and ordered the town to pay $5,000 in fines and more than $4,000 in attorneys’ fees.
The consent order was the result of a April 2000 suit against the town by Charles Henries and Active Voices in Disability, an activists’ group, alleging that the town had failed to conduct a self-evaluation of municipal services and practices; prepare a transition plan listing structural changes required to make the town accessible to people with disabilities; build necessary curb ramps; and take other actions required by the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The plaintiffs were represented by Jonathan Mannina, litigation director of the Legal Assistance Corp. of Central Massachusetts in Worcester.
The judge approved a consent order in December 2001 that required the town to conduct a self-evaluation and prepare a transition plan by June 2002; establish a permanent disability commission pursuant to G.L.c. 40, § 8J; pay monetary damages to the plaintiffs; and take other actions designed to make the town accessible to people with disabilities.
After the town failed to conduct the self-evaluation or prepare the transition plan by the deadline contained in the consent order, the judge held the town in civil contempt, ordered it to pay a $5,000 fine and attorneys’ fees, and set new deadlines for completion of the town plans.
The town subsequently hired a consultant to complete the plans. The consultant has estimated that it will cost Southbridge more than $300,000 to remove physical barriers to local buildings and properties.