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A group of disabled Floridians who claim they were prevented from playing the ABC-TV game show “Who Wants to be a Millionaire” because its rules discriminated against the handicapped will get to argue their case in federal court in Miami. The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, sitting in Miami, ruled Tuesday that U.S. District Judge Federico Moreno was wrong to find that the plaintiffs had no cause of action. Moreno, in dismissing the suit, held that because the automated telephone process used by Valleycrest Productions to screen potential contestants was not conducted at a physical location, it was not a place of public accommodation as defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act. The appellate panel, however, found that the plaintiffs stated a valid claim. Judge Rosemary Barkett, who authored the opinion, wrote that there is nothing in the text of the ADA statute “to suggest that discrimination via an imposition of screening or eligibility requirements must occur on site to offend the ADA.” Specifically, Barkett noted that in drafting the ADA, Congress sought to protect the disabled from various forms of discrimination, not only physical barriers but also those dealing with communication. Michael Lanham, a Miami solo practitioner who filed suit on behalf of the plaintiffs, says the 11th Circuit ruling requires the lower court to interpret the ADA more broadly by looking at its “spirit and intent.” “It’s a feather in the [appellate] court’s hat to see [the ADA] and interpret it the way I and most others in the disability community interpret it, and not necessarily within the physical 12 categories laid out under Title III,” Lanham said. His next move, he says, is to file for summary judgment. Neither Disney-owned ABC nor its lawyer Elliot Scherker, a partner at Greenberg Traurig in Miami, returned calls for comment. People who want to appear on “Who Wants to be a Millionaire” call a toll-free number on which a recorded message prompts them to answer a series of questions. Callers record their answers by pressing keys on the telephone pad. It’s called a “fast-finger process,” because speed counts. The original complaint, filed in March 2000, alleged that the TV show’s qualifying rounds discriminate against people with disabilities because they do not provide accommodations necessary for deaf, blind or paralyzed people to answer questions over the telephone. It contended that procedures to qualify for the show violate Title III of the ADA by failing to ensure that no individual with a disability is denied services or is treated differently than anyone else. Those who sued claim they could not compete because they were either deaf or could not move their fingers quickly enough to record their answers. Among them is Sergio Rendon, a quadriplegic who says the rules automatically eliminated him from the competition. Rendon, who developed polio as an infant in his native Havana, Cuba, uses a mouth stick to operate a computer or telephone. He says the game doesn’t give him enough time to push the buttons. The plaintiffs contend that the show must provide disabled potential contestants with live telephone operators who could accept verbal responses, or else offer them special telecommunications devices for the deaf, known as TDD lines. The defendants, ABC and Valleycrest Productions, never denied that the process used to select contestants screens out many disabled individuals. But during oral arguments last November, defense lawyers contended that the show was a form of entertainment and that the network and the producers had the right to find contestants who would offer viewers entertainment value. ALAMO MUST PAY In other Florida appellate court news, the 3rd District Court of Appeal in Miami has upheld a $5.2 million jury verdict against Alamo Rent A Car. Last week, lawyers for the company argued that it had no duty to warn a Dutch couple visiting Miami not to drive into high-crime areas of the city. Tosca Dieperink was shot to death while sitting in a rental car outside a Liberty City gas station in 1996 while her husband went inside to ask for directions. Gerrit Dieperink sued Alamo in Miami-Dade Circuit Court. In May 2000, a jury awarded him $5.2 million in the negligence suit. PASTOR GETS SECOND CHANCE The 4th District Court of Appeal in West Palm Beach ruled Wednesday that a mentally disabled man who won a $1.3 million verdict against his former pastor whom he claims sexually abused him will have to go back and try his case again. Henry Jordan sued on many theories including sexual battery, false imprisonment, breach of fiduciary duty and intentional infliction of emotional distress. The 4th District found that two evidentiary errors occurred during trial that were “sufficiently harmful” to require reversal. The appellate court found that Jordan made “many, many inconsistent statements and continually made new and unusual accusations throughout the trial demonstrating the level of his mental capacity.” In May 1998, a Palm Beach Circuit jury awarded Jordan $2.25 million in compensatory and punitive damages against the Rev. Thomas Masters, New Macedonia Baptist Church of Riviera Beach and church deacon Joseph Lawrence. In January 1999, Palm Beach Circuit Judge Moses Baker Jr. threw out the portion of the verdict pertaining to the church and Lawrence, leaving intact the $1.3 million award against Masters. The appellate court said there should be a new trial not only for Masters, but also for Lawrence and the church.

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