Disabled Access Expert Witness Testimony Allowed

Plaintiff sued defendant for alleged violations of the Fair Housing Act.  Defendant hired Disabled Access Expert Witness to provide testimony, which was challenged by the plaintiff.  The court denied the motion to exclude.

Facts:  This case (Miami Valley Fair Housing Center Inc et al v. Preferred Real Estate Investments, LLC, et al., – United States District Court – Southern District of Ohio – September 28th, 2018) involves alleged violations of the Fair Housing Act.  The plaintiff alleges that the defendants, who designed and constructed five multifamily complexes, violate the accessibility requirements of the Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988, thereby discriminating against individuals with disabilities.  The defendant hired Paul Sheriff (Disabled Access Expert Witness) to provide testimony.  The plaintiff has filed a motion to exclude this expert from testifying.

Discussion: Sheriff assessed portions of the four developments that were physically evaluated by the plaintiff’s expert.  He opined that they were designed and constructed to be accessible and usable for persons with disabilities and that each of the developments has a consistent level of accessibility for individuals in wheelchairs.  Sheriff executed his assessment using a made-to-measure wheelchair specifically designed for evaluating accessibility under the FHAA.

The court opines that Sheriff was an expert on accessibility issues.  He owned and operated a consultancy business that provided accessibility-related services to individuals with disabilities.  In addition, he served as a special master, a court monitor, and arbitrator for the United States District Court for the District of Hawaii.  He performed site roll-throughs, site-surveys, and barrier identification surveys.  Thus, the court concludes that Sheriff was qualified to provide expert witness testimony in this case.

The plaintiff argues that Sheriff’s opinions are not relevant because he did not assess whether the developments comply with guidelines or one of the other HUD recognized safe harbor.  The court opines that the guidelines are neither mandatory nor prescribe specific requirements which would constitute unlawful discrimination.  The court opines that the Sheriff’s opinions would assist the trier of fact.

The plaintiff argues that Sheriff’s opinions are not reliable.  The court opines that Sheriff’s testimony is reliable as he did explain how he used his experience to reach his conclusions.  He explained that he reached his conclusions because his profession involves assisting clients in analyzing compliance with the FHAA.  Further, he noted that he field tested the properties with his made-to-measure wheelchair.  In addition, Sheriff stated that he has performed field testing for 25 years using the same made-to-measure wheelchair, which is slightly larger than the standard wheelchair used by about 90% of the population.  His report also contains photographs and diagrams showing how his wheelchair permitted him to measure ranges described in the CFR.

Conclusion:  The motion to exclude the expert witness report of Paul Sheriff is denied.