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State Law Claims Against Architect Are Not Preempted By The Americans With Disability Act

In Bd. of Regents of Nevada Sys. of Higher Educ. on Behalf of Univ. of Nevada, Reno v. Worth Grp. Architects, P.C., 499 P.3d 1177 (Nev. 2021), the Nevada Supreme Court held a Plaintiff’s non-indemnity claims against an architect were not preempted by the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”).

The University of Nevada, Reno (“UNR”) contracted with Worth Group Architects, P.C. (“Worth”) to design renovations for UNR’s Mackay Stadium. The contract required Worth’s designs to comply with the applicable ADA Guidelines. After construction was complete, UNR discovered the stadium was not ADA compliant, which prompted a redesign and a lawsuit against Worth.

The District Court concluded UNR’s claims were preempted by the ADA, as UNR was attempting to contractually delegate ADA compliance to Worth. On appeal, UNR argued the District Court erred in granting Worth  summary judgment and misapplied the Rolf Jensen & Associates, Inc. v. Eighth Judicial District Court holding.

In Rolf Jensen & Associates, Inc. v. Eighth Judicial District Court, 128 Nev. 441 P. 3d 734 (2012), a resort sought indemnity from its consultant for costs associated with retrofitting to comply with the ADA. The Court held permitting these types of indemnity claims would allow owners to contractually maneuver themselves to ignore the nondelegable responsibilities under the ADA.  If owners were permitted to pursue indemnity for their own ADA violations, Congress’s goal of preventing discrimination would be frustrated. Thus, the Court held the ADA preempts indemnity claims brought by owners for their violations.

Unlike Rolf Jensen, the Court found UNR was not seeking indemnity. Rather, UNR was asking Worth to pay for the shortcomings in its contractual performance. The Court noted that public entities must contract with private contractors, such as architects, to create or remedy structures to ensure they are ADA-compliant. The Court found those public entities should be able to require vendors to provide services in accordance with ADA principles.

The Court held the state law claims at issue in this case were not preempted by the ADA, because they did not pose “an obstacle to the accomplishment of Congress’s objectives.” Congress’s objectives in enacting the ADA are to prevent and remedy discrimination against individuals with disabilities. Allowing UNR to collect damages based on Worth’s non-performance, the Court found, did not undermine those Congressional objectives