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Heinzl v. Starbucks Corporation

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

May 18, 2015

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

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

ROBERT C. MITCHELL, Magistrate Judge.

On January 19, 2015, Defendant, Starbucks Corporation, filed a motion to dismiss the complaint brought by Plaintiff, Sarah Heinzl, alleging violations of Title III of the Americans With Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. ยงยง 12181 to 12189 (ADA). Specifically, Plaintiff alleged 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.

Defendant's motion contended that: 1) Plaintiff lacked standing to bring this action, at least with respect to Starbucks locations she has not visited; and 2) Plaintiff had sued the incorrect party, and/or that she had 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. Defendant attached to its motion redacted copies of the leases for all 22 Starbucks locations cited in the Complaint (ECF No. 20 Exs. C-X), each of which, it asserted, contained express provisions allocating to the landlords the responsibility for the parking lots and other common areas and/or for compliance with laws, including the ADA.

On March 9, 2015, a Memorandum Opinion and Order was entered (ECF No. 37) ("the March 9 Order"), which denied Defendant's motion. The Court concluded that: 1) Plaintiff satisfied the requirements of standing, both under the intent to return test and under the deterrent effect test because she encountered architectural barriers at the Subject Locations, which are close to her home and/or which she has visited frequently, and she expressed an intent to return even though the barriers remain, and she did not have to visit all the other locations for purposes of standing as that was an issue of class certification which was not before the Court; and 2) Defendant failed to demonstrate that it was an improper party or that Plaintiff had not joined necessary and indispensable parties based upon the leases, both because they could not be considered in the context of a motion to dismiss and also because the ADA imposes liability on both landlords and tenants and, to the extent the landlords were necessary parties, Starbucks did not demonstrate that they could not be joined in this action; in fact, it had many options- implead the landlords, notify them and request their assistance, remedy the problems and seek reimbursement, and even "vouch in" landlords over whom the Court would not have personal jurisdiction such that they would be required to defend themselves or risk being precluded from relitigating the issue in the future.

Prior to the issuance of the March 9 Order denying Defendant's motion to dismiss, on March 3 and March 4, 2015, Defendant filed four motions for protective order (ECF Nos. 28, 30, 32, 34). In these motions, Defendant sought to limit discovery in this case on the grounds that Starbucks did not control or occupy the parking lots where the alleged ADA violations existed and the discovery requests were overbroad and unduly burdensome because they were not limited to the 22 stores cited in the Complaint. On March 16, 2015, an order was entered (ECF No. 39), dismissing all four motions for protective order in light of the Court's March 9 Order on the motion to dismiss.

Between April 9, and April 15, 2015, Defendant filed motions for reconsideration as to all four motions for protective order (ECF Nos. 45, 50, 51, 52). Plaintiff filed a consolidated response on May 11, 2015 (ECF No. 61).

Standard of Review

The Court of Appeals has stated that:

"The purpose of a motion for reconsideration, " we have held, "is to correct manifest errors of law or fact or to present newly discovered evidence." Harsco Corp. v. Zlotnicki, 779 F.2d 906, 909 (3d Cir. 1985). Accordingly, a judgment may be altered or amended if the party seeking reconsideration shows at least one of the following grounds: (1) an intervening change in the controlling law; (2) the availability of new evidence that was not available when the court granted the motion for summary judgment; or (3) the need to correct a clear error of law or fact or to prevent manifest injustice. See North River Ins. Co. v. CIGNA Reinsurance Co., 52 F.3d 1194, 1218 (3d Cir.1995).

Max's Seafood Cafe ex rel. Lou-Ann, Inc. v. Quinteros, 176 F.3d 669, 677 (3d Cir. 1999). "It is improper on a motion for reconsideration to ask the Court to rethink what [it] had already thought through rightly or wrongly." Glendon Energy Co. v. Borough of Glendon, 836 F.Supp. 1109, 1122 (E.D. Pa. 1993) (internal citation and quotes omitted).

Defendant contends that: 1) a recent case from the Ninth Circuit has created a change in controlling law and undermines this Court's conclusions in the March 9 Order, which served as the basis for the March 16 order denying the motions for protective order; 2) this Court overlooked certain arguments in Defendant's original motions; and 3) allowing Plaintiff entry to inspect Defendant's facilities would constitute a manifest injustice.

Plaintiff responds that: 1) the Ninth Circuit case does not represent a change in controlling law and was in a different procedural posture from this case in any event; 2) the Court did not overlook any arguments but addressed them in the March 9 Order; and 3) the manifest injustice argument again relies on the leases and has been considered and rejected.

Intervening Change in Controlling Law

The Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit has held that "decisions of a sister court of appeals never have the strong bite of precedent in this court. Jurisprudentially speaking, they are considered persuasive argument only, and we are free to accept or reject any of their decisions." Donovan v. Punxsutawney Area Sch. Bd., 336 F.3d 211, 223 (3d Cir. 2003). Thus, ...


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