Johnson v. Compton et al

Filing 22

ORDER signed by District Judge John A. Mendez on 04/07/17 ORDERING that defendant El Monte's 8 Motion for Summary Judgment is GRANTED. (Benson, A)

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1 2 3 4 5 6 UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT 7 EASTERN DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA 8 9 SCOTT JOHNSON, 10 13 2:16-cv-02961-JAM-CKD Plaintiff, 11 12 No. v. LARRY D. COMPTON; EL MONTE RENTS, INC., a California Corporation; and Does 1-10, 14 ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANT EL MONTE’S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT Defendants. 15 Plaintiff Scott Johnson (“Johnson”) brings this action against 16 17 Defendants Larry Compton (“Compton”) and El Monte Rents, Inc. 18 (“El Monte”), alleging violations of the ADA and California law. 19 ECF No. 1. 20 which Johnson opposes, ECF No. 18. 1 El Monte now moves for summary judgment, ECF No. 8, 21 I. 22 FACTS AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND 23 Johnson, a quadriplegic, visited or attempted to visit 24 property located at 4100 Florin-Perkins Road in Sacramento (the 25 “Property”) multiple times from June to November 2016. Compl. 26 27 28 1 This motion was determined to be suitable for decision without oral argument. E.D. Cal. L.R. 230(g). The hearing was scheduled for March 21, 2017. 1 1 ¶ 20. 2 2 El Monte’s Statement of Undisputed Facts (“UF”) # 1, ECF No. 18- 3 1. 4 In 2008, Compton leased (and still leases) the Property to his 5 own company, Lucky Ventures. 6 Compton has owned the Property since 1997. Pl.’s El Monte has never owned or leased the Property. UF ## 2, 4. UF # 3. El Monte rents RVs through “dealer agents” such as Lucky 7 Ventures. 8 entered into a contract (“the Agreement”), in which Lucky 9 Ventures agreed to make El Monte’s RVs available at the Property. 10 UF ## 5, 6. In 2008, El Monte and Lucky Ventures Compton Decl., Exh. 1, ECF No. 10; UF ##6, 8. 11 The Agreement requires, among other things, that Lucky 12 Ventures conduct business for at least six days per week, allow 13 El Monte to install signs and advertising materials on the 14 Property, comply with governmental laws and regulations, and 15 defend and indemnify El Monte “from any and all claims . . . 16 caused by or arising directly or indirectly out of any condition 17 of the premises.” 18 states: “El Monte RV hereby appoints [Lucky Ventures] its agent 19 for the sole purpose of operating a non-exclusive rental agency 20 at the aforesaid location in accordance with this Agreement and 21 [Lucky Ventures] hereby accepts said appointment.” 22 1. Agreement at 2, 4, 5, 7. The Agreement also Agreement at 23 El Monte argues it does not own, lease, or operate a 24 business on the Property, and therefore Johnson cannot hold El 25 2 26 27 28 Johnson alleges, but does not provide any evidence to show, he visited El Monte Rentals on several occasions and encountered barriers that violated the ADA. The Court nevertheless accepts these facts as true for purposes of this motion because El Monte does not contest that Johnson visited the property and encountered barriers. 2 1 Monte liable for any of the Property’s ADA violations. 2 1. 3 4 II. Mot. at OPINION The ADA states: “[n]o individual shall be discriminated 5 against on the basis of disability in the full and equal 6 enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, 7 advantages, or accommodations of any place of public 8 accommodation by any person who owns, leases (or leases to), or 9 operates a place of public accommodation.” 10 42 U.S.C. § 12182. Johnson concedes that El Monte never owned or leased the 11 Property. 12 motion, therefore, is whether El Monte “operates a place of 13 public accommodation” so as to give rise to liability for ADA 14 violations. 15 UF #2, 4. The sole question presented by El Monte’s The ADA does not define “operates.” The Ninth Circuit has 16 stated “to operate means to put or keep in operation, to control 17 or direct the functioning of, or to conduct the affairs of; 18 manage.” 19 (9th Cir. 2004) (citing Neff v. Am. Dairy Queen Corp., 58 F.3d 20 1063, 1066 (5th Cir. 1995)) (internal quotation marks omitted). 21 Put simply, courts must ask whether the defendant “had the power 22 to facilitate any necessary accommodation.” 23 Lentini v. Cal. Cent. for the Arts, 370 F.3d 837, 849 Id. El Monte argues Johnson cannot hold El Monte liable for ADA 24 violations because El Monte “has no control over the alleged 25 discriminatory conditions at the Property.” 26 Monte analogizes its relationship with Lucky Ventures and the 27 Property to the franchisee/franchisor relationships in Neff, 28 Lemmons v. Ace Hardware Corp., 2014 WL 3107842, at *1 (N.D. Cal. 3 Mot. at 11. El 1 Jul. 3, 2014), and U.S. v. Days Inn of Am., 1998 WL 461203, at *1 2 (E.D. Cal. Jan. 12, 1998), where the courts found the plaintiffs 3 could not hold the franchisors liable for ADA violations at the 4 franchisees’ places of business. 5 Mot. at 9-10. The Fifth Circuit decided Neff, but the Ninth Circuit relied 6 on it in Lentini for the definition of “operates” under the ADA, 7 so it is relevant here. 8 court concluded Dairy Queen was not an operator under the ADA 9 even though the franchising agreement gave Dairy Queen the right See Lentini, 370 F.3d at 849. The Neff 10 to set standards for building and equipment maintenance and to 11 veto proposed structural changes at the franchise. 12 at 1068. 13 Neff, 58 F.3d Similarly, in Lemmons, the agreement between Ace Hardware 14 and its franchisee Berkeley Hardware required Berkeley Hardware 15 “to abide by all federal and state laws, including those 16 pertaining to disability access.” 17 *7. 18 not comply with this requirement. 19 “while these contractual terms might provide an additional 20 incentive to Berkeley Hardware to comply with federal and state 21 laws, they do not grant Ace the ‘specific control’ necessary to 22 impose liability on it.” 23 show that Ace retained the authority under the agreement to 24 dictate the physical layout of the store, or that otherwise 25 participated in the alleged acts of discrimination against 26 Plaintiff.” 27 evidence,” the plaintiff could not prove Ace “had control over 28 the store such that it could ensure nondiscrimination against the Lemmons, 2014 WL 3107842, at Ace could terminate the agreement if Berkeley Hardware did Id. Id. Id. The Lemmons court held The Court found “no evidence to The court concluded, “[i]n the absence of such 4 1 2 disabled.” Id. Lastly, in Days Inn, the agreement required the franchisee 3 to “be built and operated in compliance with all local, state and 4 federal laws, ordinances, rules, and regulations.” 5 1998 WL 461203, at *5. 6 “control over the discriminatory conditions” and therefore was 7 not an operator under the ADA. 8 9 Days Inn, The Court found Days Inn did not have Id. at *6. Johnson argues these cases do not apply because they considered a franchisor/franchisee relationship, not a 10 principal/agent relationship. 11 “unlike a franchisee [that] is financially independent from a 12 franchisor . . . Lucky Ventures has to meet performance 13 benchmarks and is paid with employee-like commissions and 14 bonuses, and all the monies collected at the facility are El 15 Monte’s monies.” 16 argues “unlike the mere veto-power that Dairy Queen had over 17 building modifications contemplated by its franchisee in Neff, 18 here El Monte RV has the express right to instruct its agent to 19 make ‘capital improvements’ that it deems necessary for the 20 suitability and appearance of the property.” 21 Opp’n at 6. Johnson contends Id. (emphasis in original). Johnson also Id. at 6-7. Johnson’s attempt to distinguish Neff, Lemmons, and Days Inn 22 fails. The Agreement here requires Lucky Ventures to comply with 23 state and federal laws, just like the agreements in Lemmons and 24 Days Inn, which the courts found insufficient to impose ADA 25 liability on the non-owner franchisors. 26 Days Inn agreements, nothing in the Agreement gives El Monte the 27 power to dictate the “physical layout” or control any of the 28 discriminatory conditions of the parking lot. 5 Like the Lemmons and 1 Additionally, Johnson has not provided any case law 2 indicating that a court should treat principal/agent and 3 franchisee/franchisor relationships differently under the ADA. 4 Johnson also fails to provide any case law to support his 5 contention that a principal can be liable for its agent’s ADA 6 violations. 7 no reason to depart from the rulings in Neff, Lemmons, and Days 8 Inn. 9 Given the absence of such authority, the Court finds Johnson also argues this case more closely resembles 10 Lentini. 11 district court's imposition of liability under the ADA against an 12 individual defendant who was the Director of Center Sales and 13 Event Services, was in a position of authority to dictate who 14 could or could not be admitted to the theater in question, and 15 who actively participated in the discriminatory acts by directing 16 the disabled individual to leave the theater with her service 17 dog. 18 defendant in Lentini, “El Monte is . . . in a position of 19 authority and has the ability to instruct its agent, Lucky 20 Ventures, to make any physical changes at the facility to comply 21 with the ADA.” 22 in at least one major way: Johnson has not submitted any evidence 23 that El Monte “actively participated in the discriminatory acts” 24 against the disabled plaintiff. 25 cite to any portion of the Agreement to support his contention 26 that El Monte has the power to instruct Lucky Ventures to make 27 physical changes to the Property to comply with the ADA. 28 Accordingly, Lentini does not support liability against El Monte. Opp’n at 8. In Lentini, the Ninth Circuit upheld the Lentini, 370 F.3d at 849. Opp’n at 8. Johnson argues like the But Lentini differs from this case Additionally, Johnson does not 6 1 Johnson also argues a defendant “cannot contract away 2 responsibility under the ADA.” Opp’n at 4 (citing Botosan v. 3 Paul McNally Realty, 216 F.3d 827 (2000)). 4 whether an owner of property could “contract away” its 5 responsibility under the ADA to the lessee of the property. 6 Botosan, 216 F.3d at 834. 7 of the property was still liable for ADA violations because the 8 ADA explicitly applies to “any person who owns . . . or leases to 9 . . . a place of public accommodation.” But Botosan concerned The Botosan court held that the owner Id. at 832 (citing 42 10 U.S.C. § 12182). 11 not own the property or lease it to Lucky Ventures. 12 Botosan does not apply. 13 Unlike the defendant in Botosan, El Monte does Thus, Lastly, Johnson argues the Court would serve the purposes of 14 the ADA by “holding principals responsible for the acts and 15 omissions of their agents.” 16 not persuasive because the Court need not engage in a policy 17 analysis. 18 principals are not liable for omissions of their agents in ADA 19 cases. 20 Agreement resembles agreements where other courts held the non- 21 owner defendant could not be liable for ADA violations on the 22 subject property. 23 Ventures does not give El Monte the “power to facilitate any 24 necessary accommodation.” 25 Agreement requires Lucky Ventures, not El Monte, to ensure 26 compliance with applicable laws and regulations. 27 The Court therefore declines to hold El Monte responsible for ADA 28 violations on the Property. Opp’n at 9. This policy argument is With its ruling, this Court does not broadly hold that Rather, the Court holds that in this particular case, the The Agreement between El Monte and Lucky Lentini, 370 F.3d at 849. 7 The Agreement at 7. 1 III. ORDER The Court finds as a matter of law 3 El Monte does not 2 3 “operate” the place of business at issue and therefore grants El 4 Monte’s motion for summary judgment. 5 6 IT IS SO ORDERED. Dated: April 7, 2017 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 3 26 27 28 Whether a franchisor’s contractual rights under a franchise agreement demonstrate that the franchisor “operates” a place of public accommodation is a “purely legal” question and therefore “appropriately resolved through summary judgment.” Neff, 58 F.3d at 1065. 8

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