Latest Update December 4, 2018

Airlines are now required to begin reporting lost and damaged wheelchairs and scooters.

In March 2017, the Department of Transportation abruptly delayed a critical rule designed to protect disabled air travelers at the behest of the airline lobby. The Wheelchair Rule, crafted from 2011 to 2016, requires airlines to record and report data when they lose or damage wheelchairs and scooters. After that five-year rulemaking process, the Rule was set to take effect in January 2018. The Department, however, delayed the Rule’s implementation until 2019, giving airlines another year before they would be required to report this essential information. We filed suit on behalf of the Paralyzed Veterans of America, one of the nation’s foremost advocates for disabled veterans.

The Department’s delay violated federal law at the expense of disabled travelers. For years, disability advocates have fought for accountability among airlines when it comes to lost or damaged wheelchairs and scooters. The Department’s delay reversed its previous decision that 14 months gave the airlines sufficient time to comply. Further, DOT did not provide the public with notice or an opportunity to comment–a clear violation of the Administrative Procedure Act (APA).

We filed suit to challenge the unlawful delay of the Wheelchair Rule on behalf of the Paralyzed Veterans of America and an individual veteran, Larry Dodson. Our lawsuit challenged the Administration’s decision as unlawful under the APA, and asked the Court to require the Department to restore the Wheelchair Rule’s original effective date. Above all, our lawsuit explained why the Wheelchair Rule is a critical protection for disabled travelers, including veterans. Throughout the course of our lawsuit, the Department never made any attempt to defend the lawfulness of its delay.

Ultimately, Congress saw the importance of the Wheelchair Rule, and passed a law directing the Department to require compliance with the Rule by December 4, 2018. While the Court ultimately decided not to address the merits of the case, we are proud to have stood up for the interests of disabled travelers in court.

November 2, 2016

After a five year formal rulemaking process that began in July 2011, the Department published the final Wheelchair Rule in the Federal Register.

The rule went into effect on December 2, 2016, with a compliance date of January 1, 2018.

March 21, 2017

The Department extended the Wheelchair Rule’s compliance date by one year, to January 1, 2019.

The Department did so without notice and comment.

July 31, 2017

We filed suit on behalf of Paralyzed Veterans of America, challenging the Department’s violation of the Administrative Procedure Act.

August 15, 2017

The Court entered a scheduling order directing the parties to brief the case on cross motions for summary judgment.

The Court entered this Order after rejecting the government’s insistence that the Court first allow the government to file a Motion to Dismiss for Lack of Jurisdiction before hearing any arguments on the merits.

September 15, 2017

The government moved to dismiss.

In doing so, the government waived its right to move for summary judgment.

October 6, 2018

We moved for summary judgment and opposed the government’s motion to dismiss.

We argued on the merits that the Government had violated the Administrative Procedure Act by acting arbitrarily and capriciously in delaying the Wheelchair Rule’s compliance date, and by delaying the compliance date without notice-and-comment.

October 20, 2018

The government filed a reply in support of its motion to dismiss.

In its brief, the government did not defend the lawfulness of the government’s actions, instead stating that it would not oppose our motion for summary judgment.

October 27, 2018

We filed a reply in support of our motion for summary judgment.

December 21, 2017

After a hearing on the cross motions, the District Court transferred the case to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.

The District Court determined it lacked jurisdiction over the case. The Court noted, however, that our arguments against the Department’s delay “ha[d] merit.” Indeed, the Court acknowledged that the Government had, at the hearing, conceded that if jurisdiction were proper in the district court, PVA was entitled to judgment in its favor on the merits.

January 25, 2018

We moved to transfer the case back to the District Court, or alternatively, expedite the proceedings on appeal.

We argued that the case was proper before the District Court, but that, if the Court of Appeals disagreed, it should expedite decision in the matter. In arguing the case should be expedited, we contended that PVA was likely to win on the merits.

February 13, 2018

The government moved for summary disposition and opposed our motion to transfer or expedite.

The government argued that the case was proper in the Court of Appeals but untimely. Once again, the government did not make any arguments as to why PVA would be unlikely to succeed on the merits of its claims.

March 1, 2018

We filed our opposition to the government’s motion for summary disposition and a petition for writ of mandamus.

We argued the District Court erred in transferring the case to the Court of Appeals.

April 11, 2018

The Court of Appeals granted our motion to expedite, referred all other motions to the merits panel, and set a merits briefing schedule.

September 7, 2017

After full briefing, the Court of Appeals heard oral argument in the case.

At several points, the Court observed that the government had refused to defend its delay of the Wheelchair Rule on the merits. In particular, one of the judges on the panel asked the government’s attorney why the government could not just “do what is right because it is right.”

October 5, 2018

Congress passed the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018, mandating the Department to require compliance with the Wheelchair Rule by December 4, 2018.

Congress’s action was a significant win for disabled air travelers nationwide.

October 23, 2018

The Department published an Enforcement Notice in the Federal Register and online.

The Notice made clear the Departments expectation that airlines must begin complying with the Wheelchair Rule by December 4, 2018.

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November 27, 2018

The Court of Appeals dismissed our case.

The Court held that jurisdiction was proper in the Court of Appeals in the first instance and that the case was untimely.

December 4, 2018

Airlines are now required to begin reporting lost and damaged wheelchairs and scooters.

Karianne Jones

Senior Counsel

Litigating cases on issues involving, among other things, gender justice, civil rights, and workplace justice.

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Jeffrey Dubner

Deputy Legal Director

Litigating challenges to unlawful actions, abuses of power, and threats to democracy on behalf of those who are harmed.

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Aman George

Senior Counsel

Challenging unlawful actions and abuses of power related to the environment, healthcare, and good governance.

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