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Multiple DWI Convictions Don’t Create A “Record of” Alcoholism Under ADA; Driving Restrictions Don’t Support “Regarded As” Claim

A Minnesota resident lost his bid to show that state laws and rules under which he lost driving privileges due to several driving-while-impaired (DWI) offenses gave rise to violations of the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA). The federal court of appeals in St. Louis affirmed a lower court’s dismissal of his complaint for failing to allege he is a qualified individual under the ADA. Scheffler v. Dohman, Commissioner of Public Safety,  __ Fed. App’x __ (8th Cir., No. 13-3785, May 12, 2015).

Scheffler was repeatedly arrested for DWI since 1994. After his third arrest in 1997, his driving privileges were canceled subject to a one-year abstinence-only rehabilitation program. Scheffler successfully completed the program and received a license in 1998, which restricted him from using alcohol. In 1999, however, his license was cancelled, and he was required to complete a three-year alcohol rehabilitation program. Scheffler did so, and in 2002 he received a restricted license. In 2010, Scheffler again was arrested for DWI. He was directed either to complete a six-year rehabilitation program or submit to an Ignition Interlock Program in order to receive a new restricted driver’s license.

Scheffler brought suit, claiming ADA violations and seeking an injunction requiring the State to restore his driving privileges without restriction. The State moved to dismiss. The district court granted the motion, finding Scheffler failed to allege a disability under the ADA.

The court of appeals agreed. Noting that Scheffler did not allege that he met the ADA’s definition of a disabled person due to his alcoholism (he did not claim he was an alcoholic or that his alcoholism causes him to be substantially limited in a major life activity), it related that Scheffler argued instead his multiple DWI convictions created a record of alcoholism under ADA’s second prong of the definition of disability. “However,” the Eighth Circuit said, “as the district court correctly found, ‘[d]riving while intoxicated on multiple occasions does not, in and of itself, establish that [Scheffler] is an alcoholic.’” Additionally, the court observed, there was no allegation that Scheffler ever was diagnosed as an alcoholic, nor did his complaint allege he suffered from a substantial limitation to a major life activity due to alcoholism. Thus, he failed to allege he was disabled under the “record of” prong of the ADA definition.

The court also rejected Scheffler’s argument that he was unlawfully “regarded as” an alcoholic under the ADA’s third prong of the disability definition, merely because the State imposed restrictions on his driving. Again, the fact that Scheffler received several DWI convictions did not mean he is an alcoholic, the Court said. “Nor does the State, in imposing restrictions on drivers who incur multiple DWI offenses, necessarily perceive that person as an alcoholic.” In the absence of any other facts supporting his “regarded as” claim, the Eighth Circuit agreed with the lower court that Scheffler had failed to allege that the State, by its actions, regarded him as having an impairment under the ADA.

Jackson Lewis P.C. © 2020National Law Review, Volume V, Number 154


About this Author

Roger Kaplan employee drug testing attorney, Jackson Lewis Law Firm

Roger S. Kaplan is a Principal in the Long Island, New York, office of Jackson Lewis P.C. He has worked with many employers to help assure their drug and abuse testing policies and procedures comply with the state and federal laws and to develop effective testing strategies. He has frequently addressed business and professional groups on substance abuse testing issues.

Mr. Kaplan has represented clients and appeared before executive departments and administrative agencies, such as the United States Department of Labor (...