Whitaker v. Oak and Fort Enterprise (U.S.), Inc

Filing 29

ORDER Denying 24 25 Motion to Dismiss; Sua Sponte Dismissing Unruh Act Claim Without Prejudice. Signed by Judge Edward J. Davila on 8/1/2022. (ejdlc3, COURT STAFF) (Filed on 8/1/2022)

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1 2 3 4 UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT 5 NORTHERN DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA 6 7 BRIAN WHITAKER, Case No. 5:21-cv-00668-EJD Plaintiff, 8 v. United States District Court Northern District of California 9 10 OAK AND FORT ENTERPRISE (U.S.), INC, 11 Defendant. ORDER DENYING MOTION TO DISMISS; SUA SPONTE DISMISSING UNRUH ACT CLAIM WITHOUT PREJUDICE Re: Dkt. Nos. 24, 25 Plaintiff Brian Whitaker (“Plaintiff”) filed this action against Oak and Fort Enterprise 12 13 (U.S.), Inc (“Defendant”) for violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (“ADA”), 14 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq., and the Unruh Civil Rights Act (“Unruh Act”), Cal. Civ. Code §§ 51– 15 53, based on an allegedly inaccessible sales counter at the Oak + Fort located at or about 2855 16 Stevens Creek Blvd, Santa Clara, CA 95050 (“Store”). Pending before the Court is Defendant’s 17 Motion to Dismiss for Lack of Subject Matter Jurisdiction. Def.’s Notice of Mot. and Mot. to 18 Dismiss Pl.’s Compl. for Lack of Subject Matter Jurisdiction Pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(1), 19 Dkt. Nos. 24, 25 (“Mot.”). Having considered the Parties’ submissions, the relevant law, and the 20 record in this case, the Court will deny Defendant’s motion to dismiss. However, the Court will 21 sua sponte dismiss Plaintiff’s Unruh Act claim without prejudice. 22 I. BACKGROUND 23 Plaintiff is a level C-4 quadriplegic who uses a wheelchair for mobility. Compl. for 24 Damages and Injunctive Relief (“Compl.”) ¶ 20, Dkt. No. 1. Plaintiff visited the Store in January 25 2021. Id. ¶ 8. During Plaintiff’s visit, the Store’s ADA compliant sales counter was allegedly 26 blocked by a clothing rack, rendering the sales counter inaccessible and the Store noncompliant. 27 28 1 Case No. 5:21-cv-00668-EJD ORDER DENYING MOTION TO DISMISS; SUA SPONTE DISMISSING UNRUH ACT CLAIM WITHOUT PREJUDICE United States District Court Northern District of California 1 Pl.’s Resp. in Opp’n to Def.’s Mot. to Dismiss Compl. (“Opp’n”) at 4, Dkt. No. 26. Plaintiff hired 2 investigator Tim Wegman who submitted photographs from his investigation that confirmed the 3 sales counter was blocked on January 21, 2021. Decl. of Tim Wegman in Support of Pl.’s Opp’n 4 to Def.’s Mot. to Dismiss (“Wegman Decl.”), Dkt. No. 26-1; Wegman Decl. Ex. 1, Dkt. No. 26-2. 5 At a joint site inspection on July 7, 2021, Defendant’s counsel “advised Plaintiff’s counsel 6 and inspector that the [ADA compliant sales counter] was in compliance” and that the clothing 7 rack had been moved out of the way. Mot. at 6. On August 31, 2021, Defendant hired Certified 8 Access Specialist (“CASp”) Bassam Altwal to conduct an inspection of the Store. Id. at 5. Altwal 9 subsequently certified that the entire Store was ADA compliant and that the Store met the 10 requirements of the 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design (“2010 ADAS”) and the 2013 11 California Building Code (“CBC”). Defendant now argues that Plaintiff’s ADA claim should be dismissed as moot because the 12 13 only relief available to a private plaintiff under the ADA is injunctive relief and Defendant has 14 already provided Plaintiff that relief by ensuring its Store is ADA compliant. Id. at 8. 15 16 II. LEGAL STANDARD Rule 12(b)(1) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure allows a defendant to raise the 17 defense of lack of subject matter jurisdiction by motion. “Mootness . . . pertain[s] to a federal 18 court’s subject-matter jurisdiction under Article III, [so it is] properly raised in a motion to dismiss 19 under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1).” White v. Lee, 227 F.3d 1214, 1242 (9th Cir. 20 2000). A challenge to subject matter jurisdiction may be facial or factual. Safe Air for Everyone 21 v. Meyer, 373 F.3d 1035, 1039 (9th Cir. 2004). Where the attack is facial, the Court determines 22 whether the allegations contained in the complaint are sufficient on their face to invoke federal 23 jurisdiction, accepting all material allegations in the complaint as true and construing them in 24 favor of the party asserting jurisdiction. Id. at 1039; Warth v. Seldin, 422 U.S. 490, 501 (1975). 25 Where the attack is factual, “the court need not presume the truthfulness of the plaintiff’s 26 allegations,” and may review extrinsic evidence beyond the complaint without converting a 27 28 2 Case No. 5:21-cv-00668-EJD ORDER DENYING MOTION TO DISMISS; SUA SPONTE DISMISSING UNRUH ACT CLAIM WITHOUT PREJUDICE 1 motion to dismiss into one for summary judgment. Safe Air for Everyone, 373 F.3d at 1039. 2 “However, when the jurisdictional issue and the merits are ‘intertwined,’ or when the 3 jurisdictional question is dependent on the resolution of factual issues going to the merits, the 4 district court must apply the summary judgment standard in deciding the motion to dismiss.” 5 Miller v. Lifestyle Creations, Inc., 993 F.2d 883 (9th Cir. 1993) (quoting Augustine v. United 6 States, 704 F.2d 1074, 1077 (9th Cir. 1983)). “The question of jurisdiction and the merits of an 7 action are intertwined where a statute provides the basis for both the subject matter jurisdiction of 8 the federal court and the plaintiff’s substantive claim for relief.” Safe Air for Everyone, 373 F.3d 9 at 1039. In this case, the question of whether there are violations of the ADA at the Store is United States District Court Northern District of California 10 11 determinative of both subject matter jurisdiction and the substantive claim for relief. The Court 12 will therefore treat the motion to dismiss for mootness as a motion for summary judgment. Applying the summary judgment standard, the moving party, Defendant, must establish 13 14 that “there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and [Defendant] is entitled to judgment as 15 a matter of law.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 56. The Court must view the evidence in the light most 16 favorable to Plaintiff and draw all reasonable inferences in Plaintiff’s favor. Weil v. Citizens 17 Telecom Servs. Co., LLC, 922 F.3d 993, 1002 (9th Cir. 2019). Once the moving party has made a 18 factual challenge by offering affidavits or other evidence to dispute the allegations in the 19 complaint, the party opposing the motion must “present affidavits or any other evidence necessary 20 to satisfy its burden of establishing that the Court, in fact, possesses subject matter jurisdiction.” 21 St. Clair v. City of Chico, 880 F.2d 199, 201 (9th Cir. 1989); see also Savage v. Glendale Union 22 High Sch. Dist. No. 205, 343 F.3d 1036, 1040 n.2 (9th Cir. 2003). 23 III. 24 25 26 27 28 DISCUSSION A. ADA Claim Defendant contends that Plaintiff’s ADA claim is moot because “Defendant has removed any obstruction[s] that may have existed as alleged in Plaintiff’s [c]omplaint” and the Store is now 3 Case No. 5:21-cv-00668-EJD ORDER DENYING MOTION TO DISMISS; SUA SPONTE DISMISSING UNRUH ACT CLAIM WITHOUT PREJUDICE 1 “completely ADA compliant.” Mot. at 3. In response, Plaintiff notes that the Store’s counter was 2 blocked during both Plaintiff’s visit and his investigator’s visit, and thus Plaintiff argues that the 3 obstructions are a policy violation capable of repetition and are not mooted by Defendant’s mere 4 compliance. See Opp’n at 4. United States District Court Northern District of California 5 Based on the parties’ competing claims, the Court cannot resolve the mootness issue 6 without making a factual finding as to the effectiveness of Defendant’s remediation in 7 demonstrating that “subsequent events made it absolutely clear that the allegedly wrongful 8 behavior could not reasonably be expected to recur.” Opp’n at 10 (citing Friends of the Earth, 9 Inc. v. Laidlaw Envtl. Servs. (TOC), Inc., 528 U.S. 167, 189 (2000)). Defendant’s efforts can be 10 compared to those undertaken in Johnson v. Holden, No. 5:18-CV-01624-EJD, 2020 WL 11 1288404, at *1–2 (N.D. Cal. Mar. 18, 2020). In Holden, plaintiff alleged that during his visits to 12 defendants’ business, the existing ADA-compliant van accessible parking spot was blocked. The 13 court dismissed the claim as moot because defendants presented substantial evidence establishing 14 that there was no danger of future violations. Specifically, defendants immediately remedied the 15 alleged violation after the initiation of the action; hired a CASp to review the site to ensure the 16 alleged barriers no longer existed, and to make other ADA improvements that were not alleged in 17 in the complaint; informed employees not to block the parking space; placed cones and a “tow 18 away” sign around the parking space; wrote a policy and practice manual for the store’s owners, 19 managers, and employees “that stated [d]efendants would provide reasonable accommodations to 20 the disabled so long as it would not fundamentally alter business;” instituted a checklist and log 21 for each shift to ensure the parking space was not being blocked; and signed a three-year contract 22 with another CASp to complete bi-annual inspections to ensure the store remained compliant. 23 Holden, 2020 WL 1288404, at *1–2. 24 Here, by contrast, Defendant has not presented sufficient evidence for the Court to 25 conclude that Plaintiff’s ADA claim is moot. Defendant makes no mention of steps taken to 26 ensure the ADA compliant sales counter will not be blocked again in the future. “[A] defendant’s 27 28 4 Case No. 5:21-cv-00668-EJD ORDER DENYING MOTION TO DISMISS; SUA SPONTE DISMISSING UNRUH ACT CLAIM WITHOUT PREJUDICE 1 voluntary cessation of allegedly wrongful conduct is unlikely to moot a case.” Id. at *4 (citing 2 Already, LLC v. Nike, Inc., 568 U.S. 85, 91 (2013)). A defendant claiming its voluntary 3 compliance moots a case bears the formidable burden of showing the wrongful conduct will not 4 recur. Friends of the Earth, Inc., 528 U.S. at 189. Defendant has not met that burden. 5 Accordingly, Defendant’s motion to dismiss is denied. B. Unruh Act Claim 6 The Court declines to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over Plaintiff’s Unruh Act claim United States District Court Northern District of California 7 8 pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1367(c)(4) because the Court finds that exceptional circumstances warrant 9 declining jurisdiction. See Arroyo v. Rosas, 19 F. 4th 1202, 1211–14 (9th Cir. 2021). This case is 10 in its early stages, so concerns of judicial economy, convenience, fairness to litigants, and comity 11 do not favor retaining jurisdiction. See id. at 1214. Plaintiff’s status as “a frequent filer of ADA 12 and Unruh Act claims seeking federal jurisdiction to circumvent California's procedural barriers to 13 such suits—present[s] the type of exceptional circumstances contemplated by section 1367(c)(4)” 14 to decline supplemental jurisdiction. Whitaker v. Alice & Olivia California Holdings LLC, 2022 15 WL 1135088, at *1 (N.D. Cal. Apr. 18, 2022); Garcia v. Maciel, 2022 WL 395316, at *3 (N.D. 16 Cal. Feb. 9, 2022) (collecting cases). 17 IV. 18 CONCLUSION For the foregoing reasons, Defendant’s motion to dismiss the ADA claim is DENIED. 19 Plaintiff’s claim under the Unruh Act is DISMISSED sua sponte without prejudice to refiling in 20 state court. Considering the dismissal of Plaintiff’s Unruh Act claim, it is not obvious whether 21 Plaintiff would want to continue pursuing his ADA claim separately, rather than proceeding solely 22 on his Unruh Act claim in state court or filing both in state court. Plaintiff is therefore ORDERED 23 to file within ten days either: (1) a motion or stipulation to dismiss his ADA claim; or (2) a status 24 report indicating that he would like to proceed on that claim in this Court. 25 26 27 28 If Plaintiff elects to proceed with his ADA claim in this forum, the Court intends to allow Defendant the option of proceeding with jurisdictional discovery before Plaintiff pursues 5 Case No. 5:21-cv-00668-EJD ORDER DENYING MOTION TO DISMISS; SUA SPONTE DISMISSING UNRUH ACT CLAIM WITHOUT PREJUDICE 1 discovery on mootness and other issues. If Defendant opts for jurisdictional discovery, Defendant 2 will be permitted to take discovery on, among other things, Plaintiff’s intent to return and whether 3 he did, in fact, personally visit the Store. Defendant shall notify the Court within 10 days of 4 Plaintiff’s status report whether it would like a 3-month period of jurisdictional discovery. 5 6 7 8 IT IS SO ORDERED. Dated: August 1, 2022 ______________________________________ EDWARD J. DAVILA United States District Judge 9 10 United States District Court Northern District of California 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 6 Case No. 5:21-cv-00668-EJD ORDER DENYING MOTION TO DISMISS; SUA SPONTE DISMISSING UNRUH ACT CLAIM WITHOUT PREJUDICE

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