Wondering how everyone feels about the court case involving a dojo that refused admission to an HIV student. I saw a couple of posts on the subject, but until today, didn't know the details. GEM
The plaintiff-appellant was Luciano Montalvo, the father of Michael Montalvo. The defendants-appellees were James P. Radcliffe II of Southside Virginia Police Karate Association, Inc. and U.S.A. Bushidokan and Donna Radcliffe. The Rutherford Institute of Charlottesville, Virginia filed a brief on behalf of the Montalvos.
A synopsis of the case is as follows:
"Michael Montalvo, a 12-year old boy with AIDS, was denied admission to a traditional Japanese style martial arts school because of his HIV-positive status. In this action, brought under Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (prohibiting discrimination on the basis of disability by places of public accommodation), the district court denied Montalvo relief because his condition posed a significant risk to the health or safety of other students and no reasonable modification could sufficiently reduce this risk without fundamentally altering the nature of the program."
James Radcliffe claims that:
"...to progress 'through the belt,' a level of achievement, a student must 'engage in combat activity fighting. You have to do the self-defense. It involves contact, that's what we do.'", and "...sparring often results in injuries which, while minor, are bloody" such as "...'consistently scratched skin, scratches, gouges, bloody lips, bloody noses, things of that nature.'"
The sequence of events that lead to the initial suit in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia:
"In May 1997, Luciano and Judith Montalvo applied to enter their 12-year old son, Michael, into group karate classes at U.S.A. Bushidokan because Michael wanted to learn karate with some friends who had already begun lessons there. Luciano Montalvo signed a 'Membership Application and Agreement' form in which he warranted that Michael was 'in good health and that [he] suffer[ed] from no illness or condition ... which would possibly be infectious to others' and that the Montalvos understood that 'no member [would] use the facilities with any open cuts, abrasions, open sores, infections, [or] maladies with the potential of harm to others.' In fact, however, Michael had AIDS. The Montalvos did not disclose that fact to U.S.A. Bushidokan because they were afraid that U.S.A. Bushidokan would not enroll Michael if it knew of his HIV-positive status.
"Later, on the same day that the Montalvos submitted Michael's application, Radcliffe, having received information from an anonymous source, telephoned the Montalvos to inquire whether Michael had AIDS. Luciano Montalvo demanded to know the source of the information and adamantly and repeatedly denied that Michael had AIDS or was HIV-positive. After the Montalvos gave U.S.A. Bushidokan an affidavit from Michael's treating physician, Dr. Suzanne R. Lavoie, stating her medical opinion that Michael was 'fit to begin karate classes,' Michael began participating in karate classes at U.S.A. Bushidokan. After the first class, however, Radcliffe telephoned Luciano Montalvo to tell him that Dr. Lavoie's letter 'wasn't sufficient' and to request that Michael have an AIDS test. This request prompted Luciano Montalvo to admit finally that Michael had AIDS.
"Radcliffe then met with the Montalvos and informed them that Michael would not be allowed to participate in group karate classes at U.S.A. Bushidokan because of the risk of transmitting HIV to other students through frequent bloody injuries and physical contact. Radcliffe, however, did offer to give Michael private karate lessons. Luciano Montalvo immediately rejected that proposal because 'the whole reason' he signed Michael up for lessons was that Michael 'wanted to be with his friends.'"
The District Court found that:
"Placing plaintiff directly into the martial arts classes at U.S.A. Bushidokan would present a direct threat to the health and safety of the instruction personnel and the students in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 12182[(b)](3). Forcing U.S.A. Bushidokan to alter the format of its instruction towards a 'softer,' less-rigorous style would be equally hazardous; it would eliminate the function of the training at U.S.A. Bushidokan and comprise an unreasonable modification in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 12182(b)(2) and well-established case law. Finally, in light of the rigor and intensity of training at U.S.A. Bushidokan, defendant's offer to provide plaintiff with private lessons in lieu of class instruction is a 'reasonable' accommodation under § 12182(b)(2). The court rejected the state law claims for the same reasons it rejected the claims under the Americans with Disabilities Act."
Other facts the District Court found when making its ruling:
1) "...U.S.A. Bushidokan taught 'hard-style Japanese karate ... with a heavy emphasis on sparring and actual-fight simulation.'" 2) "...[There] was 'a high frequency of minor but bloody abrasions among the students' and that the blood from such injuries was 'extremely likely' to spill onto the students' hands, uniform, mouth, or 'even onto the students with whom he or she is training.'" 3) "...[It] was 'impossible' for U.S.A. Bushidokan to detect and attend to each injury immediately despite 'conscientious and effective treatment procedures.'" 4) "Based on the expert testimony offered by both sides, ... HIV can be transmitted by 'introducing the blood of one person who is HIV-positive into a wound of another person,' or even 'when contaminated blood is splashed into the eyes or onto the skin, even in the absence of an open wound.'" 5) "...the transmission risk if Michael were to participate in group classes at U.S.A. Bushidokan would be 'significant.'"
"The [District Court] acknowledged the existence of "'universal precautions' -- established procedures for handling blood safely - but found that even 'a strict adherence' to such precautions would not prevent the spillage of blood and other bodily fluids and the attendant risk of HIV transmission."
The basis for the appeal was that:
"[The appellant] established their case for discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act based on Michael's exclusion from karate classes because of his having AIDS and that the [District Court] clearly erred in finding (1) that 'Michael's condition posed a "direct threat" to the health and safety of other class members' and (2) that 'U.S.A. Bushidokan's offer of private lessons to Michael was a reasonable accommodation [for] Michael's disability.'"
The ADA in section 12182(a) states that:
"No individual shall be discriminated against on the basis of disability in the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations of any place of public accommodation by any person who owns, leases (or leases to), or operates a place of public accommodation."
And, section 12182(b)(1)(A)(I) defines "denial of participation" in a program offered by a place of public accommodation to be an act of discrimination. However section 12182(b)(3) provides that "a place of public accommodation is entitled to exclude a disabled individual from participating in its program 'where such individual poses a direct threat to the health or safety of others'" since Congress found that "...the need to protect public health may at times outweigh the rights of disabled individuals." In the same section, a "direct threat" is defined as "a significant risk to the health or safety of others that cannot be eliminated by a modification of policies, practices, or procedures or by the provision of auxiliary aids or services."
"U.S.A. Bushidokan [conceded] that its karate school is a place of public accommodation subject to the requirements of Title III ... and that Michael Montalvo is disabled for purposes of the ADA by virtue of being HIV-positive or having AIDS.... U.S.A. Bushidokan also [conceded] that it denied Michael participation in group karate classes on the basis of his HIV-positive status, the condition that concededly constitutes his disability. But U.S.A. Bushidokan [contended] that its exclusion of Michael was legally justified because Michael posed a 'direct threat' to other members of the karate class. This contention presents two issues: (1) whether Michael's condition posed a significant risk to the health or safety of others and (2) whether reasonable modifications of policies, practices, or procedures were available to eliminate the risk as a significant one."
The Court conceded that the question of whether Michael posed such a risk is a "fact intensive determination." However, concluded that "...the evidence in the record before [them was] ample to support the district court's conclusion that Michael posed such a risk."
Thus, the Court affirmed the lower court's ruling stating:
"Even though Michael Montalvo's condition posed a significant risk to the health or safety of others, U.S.A. Bushidokan would still be required to admit him to group karate classes if a reasonable modification could have eliminated the risk as a significant one." "The only modification which was both effective in reducing risk to an insignificant level and in maintaining the fundamental essence of U.S.A. Bushidokan's program was its offer of private karate classes to Michael.
"In considering other modifications, U.S.A. Bushidokan was entitled to reject the modification that would soften the teaching style of its program. U.S.A. Bushidokan's unique niche in the martial arts market was its adherence to traditional, "hard-style" Japanese karate, and the contact between participants, which causes the bloody injuries and creates the risk of HIV transmission, was an integral aspect of such a program. To require U.S.A. Bushidokan to make its program a less combat-oriented, interactive, contact intensive version of karate would constitute a fundamental alteration of the nature of its program.
"The ADA does not require U.S.A. Bushidokan to abandon its essential mission and to offer a fundamentally different program of instruction." "Similarly, U.S.A. Bushidokan was not required to implement further 'universal precautions' such as using eye coverings and wearing gloves. The [District Court] found as a fact that these modifications would not accomplish their goal of eliminating or reducing the otherwise significant risk Michael would pose to his classmates. As Radcliffe testified on behalf of U.S.A. Bushidokan, the suddenness of injuries, the tendency of some wounds to splatter blood, the continuing movement and contact, and the inability to detect injuries immediately all would undermine the effectiveness of these precautions, particularly for places not protected by eye coverings, gloves, or other similar coverings.
"U.S.A. Bushidokan did propose the effective modification of giving Michael private karate lessons, and the [District Court] found this modification reasonable. But the Montalvos rejected this proposal. While an ADA plaintiff is under no obligation to accept a proffered, otherwise reasonable modification, see 28 C.F.R. § 36.203(c)(1) ("Nothing in this part shall be construed to require an individual with a disability to accept an accommodation ... that such individual chooses not to accept"), such rejection does not impose liability on U.S.A. Bushidokan for failure to modify its program."
All quotes are from the Emory University Law School document.
In a statement that the Rutherford Institute made about the case on their web site at http://www.rutherford.org/news-main.asp
, they "'... remain hopeful that the Supreme Court will recognize that a grave injustice has been done...." ("The Rutherford Institute is an international nonprofit civil liberties organization committed to defending constitutional and human rights" with a focus on 1st amendment, freedom-of-religion issues for Christians. [Therefore, you have been fairly warned.])
[This message has been edited by gmattson (edited 03-12-99).]