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Disabled lose round in Gateway fight

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Disabled individuals and their advocates lost a round in U.S. District Court this week after a judge denied an action that would have essentially confiscated the rent from The Gateway and some of its tenants who have been accused of violating the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The ADA was enacted in 1990 and contains specific requirements for such things as the width of shopping aisles, rent room space, signs, the height of counter tops and other things.

Individuals with disabilities and the Disabled Rights Action Committee filed suit against the Boyer Co. in December, alleging that the mall itself and some of its tenants are violating the federal law in many ways.

Their attorney, Richard F. Armknecht III, filed a motion for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction that would have had the effect of creating a "constructive trust" for the rents.

Doing that would inspire the Boyer Co. to promptly fix any violations of the law, he argued. "Money inspires corporations to do a lot of things," Armknecht said.

But Clark Waddoups, who represents the Gateway Association that owns the project, said that the new mall's policy is to comply with the ADA and he said "glitches" occur with new construction. Waddoups said all Gateway tenants have been notified to attend to any violations. The mall itself also is examining claims of violations and plans to make necessary changes.

Waddoups also said such powerful action by the court would irreparably harm the Gateway Association, but would not harm the people who filed suit.

U.S. District Chief Judge Dee Benson denied the motion Tuesday and quizzed Armknecht as to why the Disabled Rights Action Committee hadn't tried to solve these problems outside the courtroom, especially in light of a Jan. 9, 2001, letter from the Boyer Co. offering to sit down and talk.

"I'm disappointed you're in court," Benson said. "It's rare that I see this kind of cooperative offer for resolution so totally ignored."

Benson said that if all special interest groups headed immediately to court, the courts would become "baby-sitters for all society."

Benson recommended taking up the corporation's offer to try to work things out.

Armknecht said organization members didn't want to be put in the position of functioning as consultants and asking a corporation to comply with a law that has been in place for more than 10 years. The organization also has dealt with the Boyer Group in the past and members felt they were not treated fairly, he said.

E-MAIL: lindat@desnews.com