Jenkins v. National Board of Medical Examiners, No. 08-5371 (6th Cir. Feb. 11, 2009)

Court and Agency Decisions and Orders (including case law)

In this unreported decision, the Sixth Circuit found that the ADA Amendments Act of 2008 (ADAAA) applies retroactively to a case seeking prospective relief that had been pending on appeal when the Act was passed. This is significant because it is the first Circuit Court opinion to conclude that the ADAAA can apply to discriminatory acts that occurred prior to passage of the amendments when the relief being sought is prospective, as opposed to damages for past conduct. In this case, the original District Court decision concluded that the plaintiff was not a person with a disability entitled to ADA protection, based on the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Toyota Motor Manufacturing v. Williams, 534 U.S. 184 (2002), which applied a strict definition of what constitutes a “substantial limitation” for purposes of eligibility to bring an ADA claim. The ADAAA specifically overturned Toyota, making it easier for claimants to assert and prove ADA violations.

In Jenkins, a medical school student with a diagnosed reading disorder had requested additional time to take the United States Medical Licensing Examination. The National Board of Medical Examiners denied his request and the student sought redress in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Kentucky. The District Court found that although the student had an impairment, he did not meet the definition of disability required for ADA claims because his he had failed to demonstrate that his impairment precluded his ability to “perform tasks central to most people’s daily lives,” as required by Toyota. The Sixth Circuit pointed out that courts must apply the law that is in effect at the time it renders its decision unless an injustice would result from applying the amended law. Because the student was seeking an accommodation on a test that was to occur in the future, rather than damages for past conduct, the Sixth Circuit found that it was appropriate to apply the version of the ADA in effect at the time of its decision, which rejected the precise Supreme Court reasoning in Toyota on which the District Court had relied.

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