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Johnson v. Amtrak

June 26, 2009

ERNEST N. JOHNSON, PLAINTIFF,
v.
AMTRAK, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Schiller, J.

MEMORANDUM

Plaintiff Ernest Johnson, a disgruntled former Amtrak passenger who suffers from diabetes and colitis, asserts that Defendant National Railroad Passenger Corporation ("Amtrak") discriminated against him in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA") and the Rehabilitation Act ("RA") during a May, 2006 round trip from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to Albuquerque, New Mexico. Currently before the Court is Amtrak's motion for summary judgment. For the following reasons, the motion is granted.

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff purchased tickets for a May, 2006, round trip from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to Albuquerque, New Mexico for a vacation. (Def.'s Statement of Undisputed Facts [hereinafter Def.'s SOF] ¶¶ 12, 14; Pl.'s Ans. and Resp. to Def.'s Statement of Facts [hereinafter Pl.'s SOF] ¶¶ 12, 14.) At the time of this trip, Plaintiff was a fifty-eight year old diabetic who also suffered from colitis; he continues to suffer from these ailments. When Plaintiff reserved tickets by phone, he informed the Amtrak representative of his diabetes and colitis, and requested a "handicapped spot" with "[a] bathroom, sleep accommodations, [and] three meals a day." (Def.'s SOF ¶ 16; Pl.'s SOF ¶ 16; Rankin Decl. Ex. A [Pl.'s Dep.] at 73-74.) Plaintiff also confirmed that the sleeper compartments had a private bathroom. (Pl.'s Dep. at 77.) Although he remembers explaining his conditions to the Amtrak representative, Plaintiff could not recall stating that he needed a diabetic diet. (Def.'s SOF ¶ 18; Pl.'s SOF ¶ 18; Pl.'s Dep. at 211.)

Although Plaintiff requested a sleeper compartment with a private bathroom for every leg of his trip, sleeper compartments were not available for the Philadelphia to Pittsburgh leg of his outgoing trip and the New York to Philadelphia leg of his return trip. (Pl.'s Dep. at 77, 105, 177-78; Everson Decl. ¶ 9 & Ex. C [System Timetable Spring-Fall 2006].) Plaintiff therefore did not pay for a sleeper for the Philadelphia to Pittsburgh leg of his trip, since no such compartment was available. (Pl.'s Dep. at 105.) He acknowledged that he "knew they wasn't gonna have a sleeper [on that leg], 'cause they told me that." (Id.) Regarding the New York to Philadelphia leg, Plaintiff "[didn't] really know if they provided a sleeper" because of the short distance of the trip. (Id. at 177-78.)

Plaintiff's tickets indicate that, instead of booking a sleeper for the Philadelphia to Pittsburgh leg of his outgoing trip and the New York to Philadelphia leg of his return trip, he reserved an "access coach" ticket, which offered him more space than a regular seat. (Everson Decl. ¶ 8 & Ex. B [Pl.'s Tickets]; Rankin Decl. Ex. B [Pl.'s Ticket Stubs].) Amtrak's records reflect that Plaintiff was not charged extra money for sleeper accommodations for these legs of his trip. (Everson Decl. Ex. A [Pl.'s Reservation and Travel History] at NRPC0142 ll. 37-57.) Since Plaintiff notified Amtrak of certain back, neck and knee injuries, Amtrak gave him a 15% discount off his rail fare and sleeper accommodation charges because he was a "mobility impaired passenger." (Everson Decl. ¶¶ 4, 8 & Ex. A at NRPC0141 & Ex. B; Pl.'s Dep. at 75.) However, Plaintiff stated that he never received this discount. (Pl.'s Dep. at 81-82.) The total cost of the tickets was $2,695.94. (Everson Decl. Ex. H [Letters from Pl.'s Attorney to Amtrak].)

At the time of Plaintiff's Amtrak trip, Plaintiff's diabetes treatment included oral medication and a regulated diet. (Def.'s SOF ¶ 4; Pl.'s SOF ¶ 4.) He was also required to check his blood sugar levels and use diabetic equipment to regulate his diabetes. (Dinoto Decl. Ex. A [Letter from Dr. Ahmed].) Other than avoiding foods with sugar, Plaintiff could not recall the specifics of his diet plan, other than generally noting that "[i]t has to be a very healthy diet, you know, vegetables, things of that nature." (Pl.'s Dep. at 37-39, 207.) Although Plaintiff was not taking insulin at the time of his trip, he currently injects himself with insulin twice a day to care for his diabetes. (Id. at 36, 42, 204.)

Plaintiff was, and still is, on medication for his colitis; he also has certain dietary restrictions and must use the restroom after every meal. (Def.'s SOF ¶ 6; Pl.'s SOF ¶ 6; Pl.'s Dep. at 45-46, 209; Pl.'s Ex. B [Prescription Blank from Dr. Cohen].) However, Plaintiff could not identify any specific foods that he was required to avoid as a result of his colitis. (Pl.'s Dep. at 46.)

Plaintiff consulted his diabetes and colitis doctors prior to his trip. (Id. at 50.) Plaintiff could not remember his doctors' instructions in specific detail, but recalled that they were intended to help him "eat properly:"

I have to eat three meals a day. I have to eat on time. You know, instructions of that nature. I have to eat a certain time of day and I can't eat after certain hours. So I have to stay on a - you know, a regular - my regular diet, you know, breakfast, lunch and dinner. That was the purpose for me getting a sleeper. (Id. at 50.) Plaintiff also testified at his deposition that he needed a sleeper because he requires access to a bathroom and food, and he "need[s] the space to get around in." (Id. at 63.)

Although Plaintiff likes to fish and go to the movies, he cannot partake in those activities as much because of his diabetes and colitis. (Id. at 52-53.) This is in part because diabetes "takes a lot of [one's] energy." (Id. at 54.) However, Plaintiff's conditions do not prevent him from driving. (Id. at 56, 60.) Indeed, he drives himself to doctors appointments that are up to forty minutes away and travels approximately once a year. (Id. at 46-47, 58.) Additionally, Plaintiff is capable of taking his medication without assistance and does not need assistance going to the restroom. (Id. at 229.) Plaintiff eats out at restaurants "every now and then," even though the restrooms in those restaurants may be a "walking distance" away. (Id. at 65, 67). Plaintiff testified at his deposition that his "whole life has changed" as a result of his diabetes and colitis, but was unable to offer any specifics as to the manner in which it has changed. (Id. at 55-56.)

On May 3, 2006, Plaintiff embarked on the first leg of his Amtrak trip. He was scheduled to travel on train number 43 from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh, but a derailment damaged the tracks on the Pittsburgh line. (Rankin Decl. Ex. B; Everson Decl. Ex. D [Derailment Report].) Accordingly, Amtrak terminated service on the 43 train at Harrisburg and bused all of the passengers, including Plaintiff, the remainder of the distance to Pittsburgh. (Def.'s SOF ¶ 23; Pl.'s SOF ¶ 22; Everson Decl. Ex. D.) There was a restroom on the bus, which Plaintiff used a few times, despite describing it as "messed up" and "hard to use." (Pl.'s Dep. at 103.) At some point during the trip the bus stopped at a rest stop. Plaintiff ate at the rest stop and again in Pittsburgh at a restaurant "around the corner" from the train station. (Id. at 109; Def.'s SOF ¶ 25; Pl.'s SOF ¶ 25.)

On the Pittsburgh to Chicago and Chicago to Albuquerque legs of Plaintiff's outgoing trip, Plaintiff was provided with the sleeper compartments with private bathrooms that he had paid for, and had access to bathroom facilities and food. (Def.'s SOF ¶ 26; Pl.'s SOF ¶ 26.) Plaintiff also ate food at a restaurant in Chicago "outside of the train station" while waiting for his connection to Albuquerque. (Def.'s SOF ¶ 27; Pl.'s SOF ¶ 27.) Plaintiff has no complaints concerning these legs of his trip. (Pl.'s Dep. at 120, 125.)

While on vacation in Albuquerque, Plaintiff rented a car, ate at local restaurants and went site seeing. (Pl.'s Dep. at 129-30.) Specifically, Plaintiff visited the zoo and historical sites such as churches. (Id.) Plaintiff did not have any physical problems during his stay in Albuquerque. (Id. at 131.)

Plaintiff was scheduled to depart Albuquerque on May 12, 2006 on train number 4, but while train number 4 was en route to Albuquerque, a trespasser ran in front of the train and was killed, delaying the train. (Everson Decl. ¶ 12 & Ex. B & Ex. F [Amtrak Status Report] at NRPC 0122.) Plaintiff received a call from Amtrak regarding the train's status. (Def.'s SOF ¶ 30; Pl.'s SOF ¶ 30.) Although Amtrak's records reflect that the call informed Plaintiff that his train would be delayed and advised him to call Amtrak's 800 number for updates on the train's departure time, Plaintiff claims that he was merely told to arrive at the train station at a particular time. (Everson Decl. ¶ 6 & Ex. A at NRPC0141; Pl.'s Dep. at 131-33.)

When Plaintiff arrived at the Albuquerque train station, the Amtrak representatives there reported that the train was delayed. (Pl.'s Dep. at 135-36.) The train station's bathroom was out of order, so Plaintiff and the other passengers who were waiting were required to use the bathroom next door.*fn1 (Def.'s SOF ¶¶ 35, 37-38; Pl.'s SOF ¶¶ 37-38; Pl.'s Dep. at 138-39, 141-42, 148; Everson Decl. ¶ 5 & Ex. A at NRPC0141 ll. ...


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