If you’re not all in, you need to get out quickly. That seems to be a theme that runs through many of this week’s roundup of recent decisions. As we will see several times below, ADA lawsuits generally require a decision to surrender or fight to the death at the beginning of the case. Anything usually results in money wasted on attorneys’ fees. That said, defendants continue to succeed in some cases, justifying a close look at the particular court and its history before making a decision on how to proceed. More
Billy Joel had a major pop hit in 1977 with “Get it Right the First Time” from “The Stranger.” Forty years later Starbucks has proven just how true this is. In Crandall v. Starbucks Corp., 2017 WL 1246749 (N.D. Cal. Apr. 5, 2017) the Court reminded Starbucks and every other public accommodation that “get it right the next time” is not the same thing as getting it right the first time. In fact, it is the difference between winning and losing.
The issue of interest in Crandall v. Starbucks concerned access to a counter that was blocked by a point of sale display. This is not a first for Starbucks as we described a couple of years ago in POS Marketing and ADA Compliance – you can’t have it both ways. In the earlier Kalani v. Starbucks case the defense was that POS sales items were only temporary barriers because they could be easily removed. The Court disagreed because, in its view, the POS displays were intended to be permanent even though they could be moved.The displays at issue in Crandall were a standing display placed so close to the counter that it intruded into the required 36 inches of clearance as well as displays on the counter itself. Some time after the lawsuit was filed the standing display was moved out of the way and the counter displays were removed. This, according to Starbucks, eliminated the need for any relief and required a defense summary judgment.
The Court disagreed, noting that the changes were not structural or permanent because the displays at issue were easily movable. Equally important, there was no evidence that Starbucks had adopted any policy against on-counter displays or concerning the placement of merchandise displays. Because Starbucks could re-create the barriers to access at any time the case was not moot.
So far, so bad, but worse was coming. The Court found the existence of a violation at the time the plaintiff visited and on two later occasions was established as a matter of law, refused to credit Starbucks’ argument that its employees would always move the displays to a correct position, and granted summary judgment for the plaintiff. “Get it right the first time” and there’s no lawsuit at all. “Get it right the next time” and you’ll be paying the plaintiff’s attorneys fees while contemplating a permanent injunction. In cases involving things like displays that employees place and move, getting it right the first time means having a policy in place before there is a lawsuit that requires employees to maintain an accessible premises.*
Crandall v Starbucks includes a complaint that the required route was not 36 inches wide, but it seems the Court granted summary judgment for the plaintiffs because it was undisputed “that when there are customers in the store the displays make the path of travel too narrow.” Id. at *14. The Court also found that accessible routes might be blocked in the future based on the “absence of any policy preventing customers from moving chairs around to other tables in a manner that might block the path of travel.” In both cases the problem identified by the Court is not any structural feature of the restaurant, or even a problem with where the furniture was placed by the staff, but rather a problem with the conduct of other customers.
It isn’t difficult to imagine that in an informal space like a coffee house or bar customers will feel free to move chairs and even tables, and may congregate in areas that are part of an accessible route. The ADA prohibition on “discrimination” applies to the design and construction of public accommodations and the removal of “architectural barriers and communication barriers that are structural in nature.” It doesn’t say anything about regulating the behavior of other customers. Starbucks has not been afraid in the past to take cases to the Ninth Circuit, and it would be nice in this case to get a definitive rejection of the notion that businesses are required to regulate customer behavior in order to comply with the ADA. In the meantime, businesses that are crowded or are pushing the limits of accessibility should be be careful.
*In a ruling this week a Magistrate Judge in the Western District of Pennsylvania approved class certification for a lawsuit against Steak & Shake that appears to rest primarily on a failure to properly maintain its parking lots. Last year this time we blogged about a similar lawsuit against Cracker Barrel restaurants brought by the same law firm. Does the ADA Require a Compliance Policy? Every temporary barrier caused by a lack of maintenance can turn into a permanent injunction if the right policies are not in place before a lawsuit is filed.
Fight fight fight fight fight. It’s a great way for lawyers to make money, but it may not be the best way to win an ADA case. A look at the cases shows why having a good ADA policy and the right attitude toward ADA violations are critical in the defense of an ADA case.
We can start with the contrast between Moras v. Albertson’s LLC, 2016 WL 5661985 (D. Idaho Sept. 29, 2016) and Heinzl v. Cracker Barrel Old Country Stores, Inc., 2016 WL 2347367 (W.D. Pa. Jan. 27, 2016). Both cases involved chain stores with multiple locations and accessibility problems in their parking lots. In both cases the defendant moved for summary judgment based on having corrected the ADA violations, and in both the plaintiff conceded that the remediation work had been done. Beyond that, however, there were significant differences in the two defendants’ approach to the cases. More
Point of sale merchandising has ADA implications that many retailers overlook. POS devices that are not accessible by the blind are claimed to violate the ADA and have attracted the attention of major disabilities rights groups.* A recent case from California, Johnson v. Lababedy, 2016 WL 4087061 (E.D. Cal. Aug. 2, 2016) serves as a reminder of how more mundane sales efforts also have ADA implications, and that just how the ADA applies may require some careful analysis for both plaintiffs and businesses. More
By Richard Hunt in Accessibility Litigation Trends, ADA, ADA Attorney's Fees, ADA FHA Litigation General, ADA Policies, Policies and Procedures FHA ADA, Restaurants, Retail, Shopping Centers Tags: ada litigation, ADA Policies, private lawsuits, restaurants, retail
One of the many ADA risks that businesses face is the risk of sliding into non-compliance through maintenance failures. This seems to come up most often in the context of parking, because the markings required for accessible parking are exposed to the weather and to wear from car tires. I recently settled a case of this type, and a reported opinion from California was a reminder of how important maintenance can be.
In Lozano v. C.A. Martinez Family Ltd. P’ship, 2015 WL 5227869, at *4 (S.D. Cal. Sept. 8, 2015), the complaint concerned nothing more complicated than striping accessible parking. The paint had faded and on repeated occasions over months the access aisles were blocked. As soon as the lawsuit was filed the owner repainted, but that was too late for the Court, which found that a policy of re-striping that apparently had not been followed would not let the owner escape an injunction and, of course, paying fees to the plaintiff’s attorney. More