The U.S. Supreme Court refused yesterday to review the decision of a Richmond area karate school owner to bar an HIV-positive boy from participating in combat-style classes.
The decision, which came without comment from the justices, closed the door on a three-year battle involving Michael Montalvo, who in 1996 attempted to enroll in a karate class at U.S.A. Bushidokan Karate in Colonial Heights. After the karate school owners learned that Michael had tested positive for HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, they banned him from participating in the program's rough contact exercises, saying that participants often bleed and would be put at "extreme risk."
Luciano Montalvo, Michael's father, sued the karate school under the Americans With Disabilities Act. He said the school had unlawfully discriminated against his son by removing him from the class. Although the karate school's owner offered to provide Michael with private lessons, the family said the boy, then 12, wanted to enjoy the social aspects of the class with his friends.
The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled unanimously in February that while federal law prohibits discrimination against people with AIDS, the law does not require the karate school to admit Michael. Judge Paul V. Niemeyer wrote that while the chance that Michael would bleed and then transmit the virus is low, the consequences for another student would be dire.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there has never been a documented case of HIV spreading through contact during a sporting event. Stephen H. Aden, the Montalvos' family attorney, said yesterday that he believes there has not been sufficient medical proof that would indicate Michael would have been putting others in danger.
"It's time the Supreme Court stepped in and dispelled the hysteria and ignorance about HIV that has permeated the courts and providers of public accommodations," said Aden, who is the litigation director for the Charlottesville-based Rutherford Institute.
"It was an unfortunate situation, and I truly feel for the child," said James Radcliffe, the karate school owner. "It brought a lot of hardship to the child, which I feel was unnecessary, but it was a common-sense issue. There are commonly lots of cuts and scrapes, and it was not a risk that I was willing to put on the other students."
Aden said that Michael, now 15, was forced to move from the Richmond area after the community learned that he was HIV-positive and began to torment family members, slashing their tires and throwing rocks at them. Michael's father died eight months ago, and his mother and sister also have died. Aden would not say what caused their deaths.
Michael is living with family members in an undisclosed East Coast city.
Nathaniel M. Collier III, attorney for the karate school, said yesterday he is unsure what significance the court's decision has because the justices did not comment.
"It is a tough situation because no one wanted to exclude Michael Montalvo from enjoying his life, but no one wanted to put any other child in that situation, either," Collier said.