Wednesday, June 3, 2015
ADA taxi lawsuit against city persists

A state judge has refused to dismiss a lawsuit that accuses the city of violating antitrust laws in regulating taxis outfitted for people with disabilities. 

City commissioners last year decided Key West needed additional taxi vehicles that met the standards of the federal Americans with Disabilities Act. Their solution last March: allow the distribution of new ADA-compliant taxi licenses — but only to existing taxi companies that could also afford to add wheelchair-accessible vehicles to their fleet.

Richard Klitenick, an attorney who is on the city’s planning board, sued the city after being denied taxi licenses, claiming an antitrust violation since the ADA taxi law shut out his newly created company that sought to run nine wheelchair-accessible taxis in Key West.

Key West is immune to such a lawsuit under state law, the city’s private attorney, Michael Burke, argued in court motions. 

Burke cited Florida’s 1927-era laws that allow cities like Key West to “regulate the licensing, bonding, operating and parking of public vehicles for hire, either horse-drawn or motor-driven.”

“The Florida Legislature set forth a clearly established state policy that the city of Key West was authorized to regulate and license the subject activity,” Burke wrote in the motion to dismiss filed Nov. 17 in the 16th Judicial Circuit Court. 

In a ruling May 15, Circuit Court Judge Mark Jones tossed the city’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit. Jones didn’t weigh the facts of the case, though, in the two-page decision. 

Klitenick formed the ADA Twenty Four Hours taxi company on Jan. 3, 2014, a time when city leaders were discussing the issue and while local taxi owners fumed at the idea of more competition for the coveted licenses. He asked for the ADA taxi licenses days after the commission adopted a new ordinance. 

On Tuesday, Klitenick’s attorneys once again compared its case to one of the city’s worst legal situations: the Duck Tours antitrust case that cost $8 million. 

That lawsuit, over the city’s handling of franchise agreements within the amphibious tour vehicle industry, ended when a federal jury declared the city tried to run a company out of business as a favor to Historic Tours of America. It was settled out of court. 

Regarding the current litigation, the commission’s handiwork “did not let the free market determine the best providers and it did not comply with the law,” said attorney Ari Glazer of Fort Lauderdale, who is representing Klitenick’s taxi company. 

“Rather, it gave a windfall to an existing monopoly which failed to address this need, and that is wrong, just like it was wrong with the Duck Tours case,” Glazer said in a statement released Tuesday. 

“ADA Twenty Four Hours Plus, LLC, only sought a level playing field to provide an excellent alternative for a much needed service within the city of Key West,” Glazer wrote.