All About Multiple Sclerosis

More MS news articles for December 2003

Court sides with woman in dispute over tickets

Thursday, November 20, 2003
Erica Blake
Toledo Blade

For nearly a year, Helen Jones left her job at the Salvation Army building in downtown Monroe every evening to find a collection of parking tickets on her vehicle out front.

She wasnít surprised when she saw the slips of paper because she was aware of the one-hour time limit the city enforced on parked cars downtown. But since being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis at age 28, Mrs. Jones, who uses a wheelchair, said her ability to get around is not only restricted, but very fatiguing.

And so she parked in front of her office building and accumulated nearly $7,000 in parking tickets.

A three-year court battle over whether Mrs. Jones was legally allowed to park downtown despite the cityís parking ordinance came to a close Tuesday when the Michigan Court of Appeals reversed a Monroe County Circuit Court decision.

The decision said Mrs. Jones isnít liable for the 203 parking tickets she received because the Monroe parking ordinance does not supercede the Michigan law that gives liability exemption to people with disabilities.

"We argued this case Thursday and this opinion was issued Tuesday morning," said Mrs. Jonesí attorney, David Grenn. "In two working days, they sent a message to the people of the state of Michigan."

Mrs. Jones, 41, of Toledo, has worked for the Salvation Army Harbor Light for the past six years. There she works as an outreach coordinator for the organizationís substance abuse program for people who are deaf and hard of hearing. She said the nearest employee parking is several blocks away and down a steep hill.

She said sheíd been parking in front of the building at Monroe and Front streets for a couple of years before she began getting tickets regularly. She said the tickets came in response to complaints from business owners who cited the cityís one-hour parking limit.

The spaces, devised to lure customers downtown, donít have parking meters that can be fed money, but do have signs indicating time restrictions, she added.

"I continued to park because that was the only option I have," she said. "They continued to give me tickets and tickets and tickets, and I continued to fight and fight and fight."

The parking regulation was enacted in the mid 1990s to make the downtown more accessible to customers, said Janet Berns, president of the Downtown Monroe Business Network. The ordinance set an hour limit for all spaces with an option for customers to have their tickets validated. Business owners and employees, on the other hand, have to pay if they receive a ticket.

She said the program barred business owners and their employees from taking prime downtown parking spaces.

Ms. Berns, owner of The Book Nook, said the business community has no problem with Mrs. Jones, but it is concerned that the ruling will make a bad situation worse.

"This particular woman, I know, is someone who deservedly needs a handicapped sticker. There are other people who donít," she said. "It could set a precedent."

The unanimous appellate court decision reiterated what Mr. Grenn had been arguing for months, he said. The city may ticket someone displaying a legal handicap designation for only two reasons: if they are blocking a fire lane or stopped in rush-hour traffic. Mrs. Jones, who had the handicap license plate, did not violate those exceptions.

The city of Monroe can appeal to the Michigan Supreme Court. City officials referred questions to their attorney, who could not be reached for comment yesterday.

The city faces another case filed in 2002 by the Monroe Center for Independent Living that claims the city does not meet federal and state standards for curb cuts, ramps and other handicapped amenities set under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Attorney Mark Finnegan, who is representing the center, said the two sides are close to settling.

Copyright © 2003, The Blade