Schutza v. Cuddeback et al

Filing 7

ORDER granting Defendants' 5 Motion to Dismiss for Lack of Jurisdiction. Court grants Defendants' motion to dismiss Plaintiff's state law claim under 28 USC 1367(c). Court retains jurisdiction over the ADA claim. Defendants shall file an answer to the ADA claim by 4/24/2017. Signed by Judge Cynthia Bashant on 4/10/2017. (jah)

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1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT 10 SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA 11 12 SCOTT SCHUTZA, 13 Case No. 16-cv-02746-BAS-KSC Plaintiff, 14 ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANTS’ MOTION TO DISMISS STATE LAW CLAIM [ECF No. 5] v. 15 16 17 WILLIAM B. CUDDEBACK; LOU G. CUDDEBACK; INTERSTATE GROUP LLC, 18 Defendants. 19 20 21 On November 07, 2016, Plaintiff Scott Schutza commenced this civil action against 22 Defendants William Cuddeback, Lou Cuddeback, and Interstate Group, LLC 23 (“Defendants”) alleging violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. § 24 12101, et seq. (“ADA”), and California’s Unruh Civil Rights Act §§ 51–53 (“Unruh Act”). 25 Defendants now move to dismiss the state law claim for lack of subject matter jurisdiction 26 under 28 U.S.C. § 1367. Plaintiff has not opposed.1 27 28 The Court would be within its discretion to grant Defendants’ motion to dismiss based on Plaintiff’s failure to file an opposition. See CivLR 7.1(f)(3)(c) (“If an opposing party fails to file the papers in the 1 1 16cv2746 1 The Court finds this motion suitable for determination on the papers submitted and 2 without oral argument. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 78(b); CivLR 7.1(d)(1). For the following 3 reasons, the Court GRANTS Defendants’ motion to dismiss Plaintiff’s state law claim.2 4 (ECF No. 5.) 5 I. BACKGROUND 6 Plaintiff Scott Schutza is a paraplegic who uses a wheelchair for mobility. (Compl. 7 ¶ 1.) Defendants own the real property known as “TrailersPlus” located at or about 12024 8 Woodside Avenue, Lakeside, California. (Id. ¶¶ 2–5.) 9 In February 2016, Plaintiff went to TrailersPlus in search of a trailer. (Id. ¶ 10.) 10 However, as a result of his physical disabilities, Plaintiff alleges he was unable to access 11 or use the property because of various access barriers, including barriers in the parking lot, 12 at the entrance door, in the establishment itself, and in the restroom area. (Id. ¶¶ 22–27.) 13 Plaintiff contends that he personally encountered said problems, and consequently, was 14 denied full and equal access of the property. (Id. ¶ 28.) 15 On November 7, 2016, Plaintiff sued Defendants for violations of the ADA and the 16 Unruh Act. Plaintiff seeks monetary damages under the Unruh Act and injunctive relief 17 under the ADA. (Compl. 9:18–25.) 18 On December 1, 2016, Defendants filed a motion to dismiss Plaintiff’s state law 19 claim pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1367(c). Defendants primarily contend that: (1) Plaintiff’s 20 state law claim raises novel and complex issues of state law due to California’s recent 21 adoption of pleading requirements for disability discrimination lawsuits; (2) the state law 22 claim substantially predominates over the federal law claim because Plaintiff is seeking 23 statutory damages only available under California law; and (3) Plaintiff is engaging in 24 25 26 27 28 manner required by [the Local Rules], that failure may constitute a consent to the granting of a motion or other request for ruling by the court.”); see also Ghazali v. Moran, 46 F.3d 52, 53 (9th Cir. 1995) (“Failure to follow a district court’s local rules is a proper ground for dismissal.”). However, in this case, the Court will proceed to the merits. 2 The Court retains jurisdiction over the ADA claim. 2 16cv2746 1 forum shopping. (EFC No. 5.) 2 II. LEGAL STANDARD 3 The federal supplemental jurisdiction statute provides: 4 [I]n any civil action of which the district courts have original jurisdiction, the district courts shall have supplemental jurisdiction over all other claims that are so related to claims in the action within such original jurisdiction that they form part of the same case or controversy under Article III of the United States Constitution. 5 6 7 8 28 U.S.C. § 1367(a). Supplemental jurisdiction is mandatory unless prohibited by § 9 1367(b), or unless one of the exceptions in § 1367(c) applies. Under § 1367(c), a district 10 11 12 13 14 15 court may decline supplemental jurisdiction over a state law claim if: (1) the claim raises a novel or complex issue of State law, (2) the claim substantially predominates over the claim or claims over which the district court has original jurisdiction, (3) the district court has dismissed all claims over which it has original jurisdiction, or (4) in exceptional circumstances, there are other compelling reasons for declining jurisdiction. 16 17 28 U.S.C. § 1367(c). Underlying the § 1367(c) inquiry are considerations of judicial 18 economy, convenience and fairness to litigants, and comity. “[I]f these are not present a 19 federal court should hesitate to exercise jurisdiction over state law claims[.]” United Mine 20 Workers v. Gibbs, 383 U.S. 715, 726 (1966). 21 Under § 1367(c), “a district court can decline jurisdiction under any one of [the 22 statute’s] four provisions.” San Pedro Hotel Co. v. City of L.A., 159 F.3d 470, 478 (9th Cir. 23 1998). When a district court declines supplemental jurisdiction over a state law claim 24 pursuant to one of the first three provisions of the statute—that is, §§ 1367(c)(1)–(3)—the 25 court need not state its reasons for dismissal. Id. However, when the court declines 26 supplemental jurisdiction pursuant to the statute’s “exceptional circumstances” 27 provision—that is, § 1367(c)(4)—the court must “articulate why the circumstances of the 28 case are exceptional,” and consider whether values of judicial economy, convenience, 3 16cv2746 1 fairness, and comity provide compelling reasons for declining jurisdiction. Exec. Software 2 N. Am., Inc. v. U.S. Dist. Court, 24 F.3d 1545, 1552 (9th Cir. 1994). 3 III. DISCUSSION 4 A. The ADA 5 The ADA prohibits discrimination “on the basis of disability in the full and equal 6 enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations of 7 any place of public accommodation by any person who owns, leases (or leases to), or 8 operates a place of public accommodation.” 42 U.S.C. § 12182(a). A sales or rental 9 establishment is a “public accommodation” for purposes of the ADA. 42 U.S.C. § 10 12181(7)(E). 11 To prevail on a claim under the ADA, a plaintiff must prove that (1) he or she has a 12 disability; (2) the defendant operates, leases, or owns a place of public accommodation; 13 and (3) the plaintiff was denied appropriate accommodations by the defendant because of 14 his or her disability. Molski v. M.J. Cable, Inc., 481 F.3d 724, 730 (9th Cir. 2007). “[A] 15 plaintiff need not show intentional discrimination in order to make out a violation of the 16 ADA.” Lentini v. Cal. Ctr. for the Arts, Escondido, 370 F.3d 837, 846 (9th Cir. 2004). 17 Under the ADA, “damages are not recoverable . . . only injunctive relief is available.” 18 Wander v. Kaus, 304 F.3d 856, 858 (9th Cir. 2002) (citing 42 U.S.C. § 12188(a)(1)). 19 B. The Unruh Act 20 The Unruh Act provides in part that “[a]ll persons within the jurisdiction of 21 [California] are free and equal, and no matter what their . . . disability . . . are entitled to 22 the full and equal accommodations, advantages, facilities, privileges, or services in all 23 business establishments of every kind whatsoever.” Cal. Civ. Code § 51(b). The Unruh Act 24 also provides that a violation of the federal ADA constitutes a violation of § 51 of the 25 Unruh Act. Cal. Civ. Code § 51(f). 26 As a general matter, a claim under the Unruh Act requires a plaintiff to allege an 27 intentional act or omission on behalf of defendant. See Org. for the Advancement of 28 Minorities v. Brick Oven Rest., 406 F. Supp. 2d 1120, 1129 (S.D. Cal. 2005). Thus, “[a] 4 16cv2746 1 violation of the Unruh Act may be maintained independent of an ADA claim where a 2 plaintiff pleads ‘intentional discrimination in public accommodations in violation of the 3 terms of the [Unruh] Act.’” Schutza v. McDonald's Corp., 133 F. Supp. 3d 1241, 1247 4 (S.D. Cal. 2015) (citations omitted). However, a showing of intentional discrimination is 5 not required where a plaintiff brings an Unruh Act claim on the grounds that a defendant 6 has violated the ADA. See Munson v. Del Taco, Inc., 208 P.3d 623, 628–29 (Cal. 2009); 7 see also Lentini, 370 F.3d at 847 (“[N]o showing of intentional discrimination is required 8 where the Unruh Act violation is premised on an ADA violation.”). 9 Unlike the ADA, the Unruh Act allows for recovery of monetary damages. A 10 plaintiff may recover actual damages for each and every offense “up to a maximum of three 11 times the amount of actual damage but in no case less than four thousand dollars 12 ($4,000)[.]” Cal. Civ. Code § 52(a). “The litigant need not prove she suffered actual 13 damages to recover the independent statutory damages of $4,000.” Molski, 481 F.3d at 731 14 (citing Botosan v. Paul McNally Realty, 216 F.3d 827, 836 (9th Cir. 2000)). 15 IV. ANALYSIS 16 A. Plaintiff’s State Law Claim Substantially Predominates 17 Defendants argue that Plaintiff’s state law claim substantially predominates over his 18 ADA claim under § 1367(c)(2). The Court agrees for two main reasons. 19 First, when considering the number of violations alleged by Plaintiff, the total 20 amount of damages available to him under the Unruh Act—a minimum of $4,000 for each 21 offense—indicates that Plaintiff’s predominant focus is recovering monetary damages 22 under state law. At a minimum, Plaintiff alleges the following nine individual violations: 23 (1) the raised threshold at the entrance door is greater than the permitted threshold for the 24 type of door; (2) the entrance is inaccessible to Plaintiff; (3) parking is inaccessible to 25 Plaintiff; (4) there are no parking spaces designed and reserved for persons with 26 disabilities; (5) there is no lowered portion of transaction counters for persons in 27 wheelchairs; (6) the restroom doorway clear passage is inaccessible to Plaintiff; (7) the 28 restroom does not have grab bars for use by persons with disabilities; (8) the sink lacks 5 16cv2746 1 knee clearance for wheelchair use; and (9) the restroom mirror is mounted higher than the 2 maximum permitted. (Compl. ¶¶ 13–27.) These nine allegations, if proven, would entitle 3 Plaintiff to a minimum monetary award of $36,000. In contrast, under the ADA, Plaintiff 4 would only be entitled to injunctive relief. Thus, under the circumstances presented, the 5 Court finds that the monetary damages sought by Plaintiff under the Unruh Act 6 substantially predominate over federal injunctive relief. See Brick Oven Rest., 406 F. Supp. 7 2d at 1131 (finding that statutory damages available under the Unruh Act substantially 8 predominated over injunctive relief available under the ADA where the plaintiff alleged 9 distinct violations that, if proven, would entitle him to an award of $56,000); see also 10 Molski v. Hitching Post I Rest., Inc., No. CV 04-1077SVWRNBX, 2005 WL 3952248, at 11 *7 (C.D. Cal. May 25, 2005) (finding that statutory damages available under the Unruh 12 Act substantially predominated over injunctive relief available under the ADA where the 13 plaintiff alleged 13 allegations that, if proven, would entitle plaintiff to an award of 14 $52,000). 15 Second, Plaintiff places intentionality at the heart of his claims for relief (see Compl. 16 ¶ 35), which when combined with the amount of monetary relief sought, strongly suggests 17 the Unruh Act claim substantially predominates. As the Court noted earlier, intentional 18 discrimination is unnecessary to establish a violation under the ADA. However, 19 intentionality is relevant to Plaintiff’s state law claim because it allows Plaintiff to maintain 20 an independent action under the Unruh Act. See Earll v. eBay, Inc., No. 5:11-CV-00262- 21 JF HRL, 2011 WL 3955485, at *3 (N.D. Cal. Sept. 7, 2011) (“A violation of the Unruh 22 Act may be maintained independent of an ADA claim where a plaintiff pleads intentional 23 discrimination in public accommodations in violation of the terms of the Act.”). 24 Furthermore, resolving the issue of intentional discrimination “entails application of state- 25 law standards.” Schutza, 133 F. Supp. 3d at 1247 (finding that plaintiff’s allegations of 26 intentional discrimination was one of the main reasons why plaintiff’s state law claims 27 substantially predominated over his ADA claim). Thus, Plaintiff’s allegation of intentional 28 discrimination bolsters the conclusion that his Unruh Act claim substantially predominates 6 16cv2746 1 over his ADA claim. In sum, the Court finds that Plaintiff’s state law claim under the Unruh Act 2 3 substantially predominates over his federal claim under the ADA. 4 B. There Are Exceptional Circumstances Supported by Compelling Reasons 5 for Declining Supplemental Jurisdiction 6 In considering values of judicial economy, convenience, fairness, and comity, the 7 Court finds compelling reasons for declining supplemental jurisdiction in this case. See 8 Exec. Software N. Am., Inc., 24 F.3d at 1557. 9 In 2012, California adopted heightened pleading requirements for disability 10 discrimination lawsuits under the Unruh Act, including provisions requiring high- 11 frequency litigants to verify and specify their allegations. See Cal. Code Civ. Proc. § 12 425.50.3 The purpose of these heightened pleading requirements is to deter baseless claims 13 and vexatious litigation. See e.g., SB 1186, Chapter 383 § 24 (Ca. 2012). 14 The Court notes that Plaintiff Schutza has filed over one hundred cases in this and 15 other courts alleging disability discrimination.4 As a high-frequency litigant primarily 16 seeking relief under state law, the Court finds it would be improper to allow Plaintiff to use 17 federal court as an end-around to California’s pleading requirements. Therefore, as a matter 18 of comity, and in deference to California’s substantial interest in discouraging unverified 19 disability discrimination claims, the Court declines supplemental jurisdiction over 20 Plaintiff’s Unruh Act claim. See Cross v. Pac. Coast Plaza Invs., L.P., No. 06 CV 2543 JM 21 RBB, 2007 WL 951772, at *5 (S.D. Cal. Mar. 6, 2007) (declining to exercise supplemental 22 jurisdiction over plaintiff’s Unruh Act claims in the interest of comity and noting this 23 24 25 26 27 28 3 A plaintiff alleging disability discrimination under the Unruh Act must: (1) explain the specific access barrier(s) encountered; (2) how the barrier(s) denied full and equal access on each particular occasion; and (3) the specific date of each particular occasion. Additionally, except for complaints that allege injury or damage, a complaint filed by or on behalf of a high-frequency litigant must state the number of claims the plaintiff has filed in the previous 12 months and the reason and purpose for the plaintiff’s desire to access the defendant’s business. See Cal. Code Civ. Proc. § 425.50. 4 According to PACER, Plaintiff Scott Schutza is a plaintiff in 127 cases as of March 27, 2017. 7 16cv2746 1 interest has become more compelling “as the courts struggle to resolve what is at the 2 moment an irreconcilable tension between the ADA and the Unruh Act”); Hitching Post I 3 Rest., 2005 WL 3952248 at *8–9 (finding comity to be a compelling reason for declining 4 supplemental jurisdiction over state claims on the ground that California courts should have 5 the ability to interpret state disability laws). 6 Finally, and relatedly, the Court agrees with Defendants’ contention that Plaintiff is 7 engaging in forum-shopping by bringing his action in federal court and attempting to avoid 8 California’s heightened pleading requirements for disability discrimination claims. It is 9 unclear what advantage—other than avoiding state-imposed pleading requirements— 10 Plaintiff gains by being in federal court since his sole remedy under the ADA is injunctive 11 relief, which is also available under the Unruh Act. Federal courts may properly take 12 measures to discourage forum-shopping, see, e.g., Hanna v. Plumer, 380 U.S. 460, 467– 13 68 (1965), and here, where Plaintiff has filed over one hundred disability discrimination 14 cases, and settled more than fifty of them in a two-year period,5 the Court finds this to be 15 a compelling reason to decline supplemental jurisdiction. See, e.g., Brick Oven Rest., 406 16 F. Supp. 2d at 1132 (“Because a legitimate function of the federal courts is to discourage 17 forum shopping and California courts should interpret California law . . . compelling 18 reasons exist to decline supplemental jurisdiction over plaintiff’s state law claims.”). 19 V. CONCLUSION 20 For the foregoing reasons, the Court finds that (1) Plaintiff’s state law claim under 21 the Unruh Act substantially predominates over his federal claim under the ADA, and (2) 22 there are otherwise exceptional circumstances—including comity and this Court’s interest 23 in discouraging forum-shopping—for declining supplemental jurisdiction over the Unruh 24 Act claim. Accordingly, the Court GRANTS Defendants’ motion to dismiss Plaintiff’s 25 state law claim under 28 U.S.C § 1367(c). (ECF No. 5.) The Court retains jurisdiction over 26 the ADA claim. Defendants shall file an answer or otherwise respond to the ADA claim no 27 28 5 According to PACER, Plaintiff has settled 56 disability cases since 2015. 8 16cv2746 1 2 later than April 24, 2017. IT IS SO ORDERED. 3 4 DATED: April 10, 2017 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 9 16cv2746

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