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Heinzl v. Starbucks Corporation

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

March 9, 2015

SARAH HEINZL, individually and on behalf of all others similarly situated, Plaintiff,
v.
STARBUCKS CORPORATION, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

ROBERT C. MITCHELL, Magistrate Judge.

Plaintiff, Sarah Heinzl, brings this action individually and on behalf of all others similarly situated against Defendant, Starbucks Corporation ("Starbucks"), alleging violations of Title III of the Americans With Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 12181 to 12189 (ADA). Specifically, she alleges that the facilities at Starbucks are not fully accessible to and independently usable by individuals who use wheelchairs for mobility, as she does, because of various barriers in the parking lots and along the routes to the building entrances.

Presently before the Court is Defendant's motion to dismiss the Complaint. Defendant challenges Plaintiff's standing to bring this action, at least with respect to Starbucks locations she has not visited, and contends that she has sued the incorrect party, and/or that she has failed to join necessary and indispensable parties because Starbucks does not own, occupy or control the "place of public accommodation" at issue, i.e., the parking lots in question, but is only a tenant. For the reasons that follow, the motion will be denied.

Facts

Plaintiff states that she is a resident of the Brookline neighborhood in the South Hills area of Pittsburgh in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania who has a mobility disability and is limited in the major life activity of walking, causing her to be dependent upon a wheelchair for mobility. (Compl. ¶¶ 2, 15, 26.)[1] She has visited Defendant's property located at 1050 Park Manor Boulevard in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania ("Subject Property 1"), Defendant's property located at 971 Greentree Road in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania ("Subject Property 2"), and Defendant's property located at 3145 Bankesville Road in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania ("Subject Property 3"). During these visits, she has experienced unnecessary difficulty and risk due to excessive slopes in purportedly accessible parking spaces and access aisles and along the routes to the entrances of the facilities. (Compl. ¶¶ 18-21.)

She also indicates that, on her behalf, investigators examined these three locations and nineteen other retail Starbucks locations in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Maryland and New Jersey and found the following violations: 1) the surfaces of one or more access aisles and one or more purportedly accessible parking spaces had running and/or cross slopes exceeding 1:48 (i.e., 2.1%); 2) a portion of the route to the store entrance had a running slope exceeding 1:20 (i.e., 5.0%); 3) a grate in a purportedly accessible space had openings large enough to allow the passage of a ½ inch sphere; 4) the running slope of a curb ramp exceeded 1:12 (i.e., 8.3%); 5) no level landing was provided at the top of the curb ramp; 6) the route to the facility's entrance had a cross slope exceeding 1:48 (i.e., 2.1%); 7) no spaces were designated as "van accessible"; 8) signs designating spaces as "accessible" were mounted less than 60 inches above the finished surface of the parking area; 9) a curb ramp located on the route to the building entrance had a flare with a slope exceeding 1:10 (i.e., 10.0%); and 10) one or more purportedly accessible spaces were not marked with required signs. (Compl. ¶ 22.)

Plaintiff indicates that she lives near Subject Property 1 and visits it approximately 6-10 times per year; that she frequently travels through the neighborhood where Subject Property 2 is located 4.24 miles from her residence and she visits it approximately three times per month; that Subject Property 3 is located approximately 2.97 miles from her residence in a shopping center adjacent to a grocery store where she regularly shops and she estimates that she visits it approximately 1-2 times per month; and that she intends to return to the Subject Properties regularly, but that numerous architectural barriers deter her from doing so. (Compl. ¶¶ 26-30.)

Procedural History

Plaintiff filed this action on September 25, 2014. On January 19, 2015, Defendant filed a motion to dismiss (ECF No. 13). On February 17, 2015, Plaintiff filed a brief in opposition (ECF No. 22). On February 24, 2015, Defendant filed a reply brief (ECF No. 24).

Federal question jurisdiction is based on the ADA claim, 28 U.S.C. § 1331; 42 U.S.C. § 12188(a). She alleges that the cited violations constitute "a failure to remove architectural barriers" in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 12182(b)(2)(A)(iv) and a failure to alter, design or construct accessible facilities after the effective date of the ADA in violation of § 12183(a)(1) and the appropriate regulations, which will deter her and similarly situated individuals from returning to Defendant's facilities and that, without injunctive relief, she will be unable to fully access Defendant's facilities in violation of her rights under the ADA. (Compl. ¶¶ 12, 40-48.)

She also brings this action on behalf of all others similarly situated pursuant to Rule 23(a) and (b)(2) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. (Compl. ¶¶ 32-37.) See seeks a declaratory judgment that Defendant is in violation of the specific requirements of Title III of the ADA and its implementing regulations, a permanent injunction directing Defendant to take all steps necessary to remove the architectural barriers and bring its facilities into ADA compliance, an order certifying the class she proposes and naming her as class representative and appointing her counsel as class counsel, payment of costs of suit, payment of reasonable attorney's fees and any other relief the Court deems just, equitable and appropriate. (Compl. at 14-15.)

In its motion, Defendant argues that: 1) Starbuck's does not own, occupy or control the parking lots with the alleged violations, but is only one of many tenants at the locations, and the lease agreements clearly assign control of the common areas to the landlords; 2) Plaintiff has either sued the wrong party or failed to join necessary and indispensable parties, namely the landlords, and joining them would not be feasible; 3) Plaintiff lacks standing under the intent to return theory because she has alleged only that she is likely to return to the three Subject Properties and not the other 19 locations cited in the Complaint; 4) she lacks standing under a deterrent effect theory because she cannot allege that she has knowledge regarding barriers at Starbucks locations she has not visited; and 5) she cannot create standing by making class action allegations.

Plaintiff responds that: 1) she has demonstrated an intent to return to the Subject Properties based upon past discriminatory conduct, a reasonable inference that the conditions will continue and a reasonable inference that her stated intent to return to the Subject Property is plausible; 2) she satisfies the deterrent effect test based upon the barriers she has encountered at the Subject Properties that impede her safe access thereto; 3) the scope of her claims should be determined by application of Rule 23 and she does not have to visit every Starbuck's location to establish standing; 4) whether Defendant leases, occupies or controls the parking facilities is an issue of fact that cannot be determined at this stage of the proceedings; and 5) under the ADA, both landlord and tenant are liable (although they can allocate responsibility between themselves contractually), whether or not the landlords are "necessary" to this case is an issue of fact that cannot be determined at this stage of the proceedings and Defendant has not even argued that all the landlords are indispensable (it is possible the Court might not have personal jurisdiction over every out-of-state landlord, but such parties can be dismissed or "vouched in").

In a reply brief, Defendant argues that: 1) the issue of control is properly determined in a Rule 12(b)(6) motion based on the leases that it has provided; 2) this case is different from the others Plaintiff has brought because Starbucks has argued that the landlords cannot be joined and because Starbucks has argued that it does not "operate" the place of public accommodation at issue (the parking lots); and 3) class action allegations cannot create standing which does not otherwise exist.

Standing

"A motion to dismiss for want to standing is... properly brought pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1), because standing is a jurisdictional matter." Ballentine v. United States, 486 F.3d 806, 810 (3d Cir. 2007) (citations omitted). The Court of Appeals has explained that:

In evaluating whether a complaint adequately pleads the elements of standing, courts apply the standard of reviewing a complaint pursuant to a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim: "Court[s] must accept as true all material allegations set forth in the complaint, and must construe those facts in favor of the nonmoving party." Ballentine, 486 F.3d at 810 (citing Warth v. Seldin, 422 U.S. 490, 501, 95 S.Ct. 2197, 45 L.Ed.2d 343 (1975)); see also Baldwin v. Univ. of Pittsburgh Med. Ctr., 636 F.3d 69, 73 (3d Cir. 2011) ("A dismissal for lack of statutory standing is effectively the same as a dismissal for failure to state a claim."). The Supreme Court most recently explained this standard in Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007), and Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009): "[A] complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1949 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570, 127 S.Ct. 1955)....

"A complaint has to show' such an entitlement with its facts." Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 211 (3d Cir. 2009). With respect to 12(b)(1) motions in particular, "[t]he plaintiff must assert facts that affirmatively and plausibly suggest that the pleader has the right he claims (here, the right to jurisdiction), rather than facts that are merely consistent with such a right." Stalley v. Catholic Health Initiatives, 509 F.3d 517, 521 (8th Cir. 2007).

In re Schering Plough Corp. Intron/Temodar Consumer Class Action, 678 F.3d 235, 243-44 (3d Cir. 2012).

The Supreme Court has held that:

In every federal case, the party bringing the suit must establish standing to prosecute the action. "In essence the question of standing is whether the litigant is entitled to have the court decide the merits of the dispute or of particular issues." Warth v. Seldin, 422 U.S. 490, 498, 95 S.Ct. 2197, 45 L.Ed.2d 343 (1975). The standing requirement is born partly of "an idea, which is more than an intuition but less than a rigorous and explicit theory, about the constitutional and prudential limits to the powers of an unelected, unrepresentative judiciary in our kind of government.'" Allen v. Wright, 468 U.S. 737, 750, 104 S.Ct. 3315, 82 L.Ed.2d 556 (1984) (quoting Vander Jagt v. O'Neill, 699 F.2d 1166, 1178-1179 (C.A.D.C. 1982) (Bork, J., concurring)).

Elk Grove Unified Sch. Dist. v. Newdow, 542 U.S. 1, 11 (2004). The Court has explained that:

In Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555, 560-561, 112 S.Ct. 2130, 119 L.Ed.2d 351 (1992), we held that, to satisfy Article III's standing requirements, a plaintiff must show (1) it has suffered an "injury in fact" that is (a) concrete and particularized and (b) actual or imminent, not conjectural or hypothetical; (2) the injury is fairly traceable to the challenged action of the defendant; and (3) it is likely, as opposed to merely speculative, that the injury will be redressed by a favorable decision.

Friends of the Earth, Inc. v. Laidlaw Envt'l Servs (TOC), Inc., 528 U.S. 167, 180-81 (2000). However, the manner in which standing must be supported depends upon the stage of the litigation at which the issue is raised: "At the pleading stage, general factual allegations of injury resulting from the defendant's conduct may suffice, for on a motion to dismiss we presum[e] that general allegations embrace those specific facts that are necessary to support the claim.'" Defenders of Wildlife, 504 U.S. at 561 (quoting Lujan v. National Wildlife Federation, 497 U.S. 871, 889 (1990)).

ADA Title III

Title III of the ADA "prohibits discrimination against the disabled in the full and equal enjoyment of public accommodations." Spector v. Norwegian Cruise Line Ltd., 545 U.S. 119, 128 (2005). Specifically, it requires "places of public accommodation" to "remove architectural barriers... in existing facilities... where such removal is readily achievable, " 42 U.S.C. § 12182(b)(2)(A)(iv), and to "design and construct facilities for first occupancy [no] later than 30 months after July 26, 1990 that are readily accessible to and usable by individuals with disabilities, " § 12183(a). Places of public accommodation include "a restaurant, bar, or other establishment serving food or drink, " § 12181(7)(B), and thus include Starbucks.[2] Failure to meet these requirements constitutes a violation of the ADA which may be enforced by individuals bringing suit for injunctive relief in federal court, § 12188(a).

"Under Title III of the ADA, private plaintiffs may not obtain monetary damages and therefore only prospective injunctive relief is available." Anderson v. Macy's, Inc., 943 F.Supp.2d 531, 538 (W.D. Pa. 2013) (citation omitted). See 42 U.S.C. § 12188(a) (providing that the remedies available to individuals shall be those set forth in 42 U.S.C. § 2000a-3(a), which allows a private right of action only for injunctive relief for violations of Title II of the Civil Rights Act of ...


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