Ninth Circuit Makes Clear In Trilogy of Choices That Incapacity Entry Complaints With out Particular Barrier Allegations Will Be Dismissed
Seyfarth Synopsis: In the trilogy of cases of access to disabilities, Ninth Circuit comes to the conclusion that complaints must expressly assert illegal conditions.
Over the years, the ADA Title III complaints filed by the plaintiff’s bar have become increasingly vague in relation to the alleged obstacles. This is no accident: some have stated outright that they keep these allegations vague so that companies cannot easily remove the alleged obstacles to discussing the lawsuits.
The ninth circle puts an end to this strategy. A trilogy of rulings just issued clarified that the stricter brief set out in the Iqbal / Twombly cases would continue to apply to determine whether a disability access claimant’s allegations were eligible for relief. All three cases involved the same plaintiff – Brian Whitaker – a serial disability claimant using a wheelchair for mobility.
In the first case, Whitaker alleged against Panama Joes, Investors, LLC, Whitaker that he had encountered inaccessible “dining areas” in a restaurant and that the restaurant also lacked “accessible toilets” and “accessible patio driveways”. He claimed that these alleged obstacles prevented him from returning to the restaurant.
The Ninth Circle concluded that these allegations were sufficient to establish Whitaker’s standing but not to seek relief under Title III of the ADA. In particular, no facts were alleged to identify the “specific deficiencies in the dining areas” and no description of “how the toilets were inaccessible” or “which driveways were accessible in the patio area”. Without this specificity, the restaurant was not notified of the claims and the allegations did not meet the Iqbal / Twombly plea standard to adequately set out a claim and avoid rejecting the complaint.
The second case, Whitaker v. Body, Art and Soul Tattoos in Los Angeles, LLC, involved a tattoo parlor where Whitaker allegedly had no “open counters”, which caused him “trouble and discomfort.” The Ninth Circle reiterated, but stated that the allegations were too “vague” to claim relief because the “specific deficiencies at the counter” were not identified. She confirmed that the district court granted her application for dismissal on that basis.
In the third case, Whitaker alleged that he encountered “inaccessible service desks” at a car dealership, causing him “trouble and discomfort” and preventing him from returning. The Ninth Circle took another stand, but confirmed the dismissal of the complaint. The court found that under Iqbal / Twombly, Whitaker had to make “well-founded facts, not legal conclusions” in order to seek relief. His complaint, however, “did not answer the basic questions: Were the service counters too low? Or too high? Were they positioned in an area that was inaccessible for some other reason? “Without this detail, no request for relief was made in the complaint and was duly rejected. The Ninth Circle firmly opposed Whitaker’s plea for “milder treatment”, concluding: “We have never claimed that civil rights disputes are exempt from the Iqbal and Twombly briefing standards.”
In any event, Whitaker stood by his allegations and did not amend his complaint to add the necessary factual details – although the district courts allowed him to. While one may wonder why Whitaker chose this path, his appeal arguments provide the answer and some amusement. Whitaker believed that providing details about the nature of the alleged barriers to entry would provide a defendant with sufficient information to correct and discuss his ADA claims. The Ninth Circle was not convinced and replied that “Defendants should be encouraged to remove obstacles from their facilities. This is an important goal of the ADA. “
As can be seen from this trilogy of cases, in disability access cases, plaintiffs and attorneys are required to provide sufficient factual information to alert defendants to the types of obstacles they allegedly have personally encountered and which they claim to be unrestricted and equal Denied access to make a claim.