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Stevens v. Optimum Health Institute

May 5, 2010

NANCY STEVENS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
OPTIMUM HEALTH INSTITUTE, ROBERT NEES, AND DOES 1 THROUGH 20, INCLUSIVE, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hayes, Judge

ORDER

The matter before the Court is Defendants' Amended Motion to Dismiss. (Doc. # 16).

BACKGROUND

On November 13, 2009, Plaintiff initiated this action by filing her Complaint. (Doc. # 1). On January 13, 2010, Plaintiff filed her Second Amended Complaint ("SAC"), which is the operative pleading in this case. (Doc. # 8). Plaintiff, a blind woman, alleged Defendants Optimum Health Institute and Robert Nees violated the California Unruh Civil Rights Act, Cal. Civ. Code § 51, et. seq., by denying her services in a business establishment and the California Disabled Persons Act ("DPA"), Cal. Civ. Code § 54, et. seq., by denying her access to a place of public accommodation because of her disability. Id. On February 26, 2010, Defendants Optimum Health Institute and Robert Nees filed a motion to dismiss. (Doc. # 16).

FACTUAL ALLEGATIONS OF THE SECOND AMENDED COMPLAINT

Plaintiff is a resident of Bend, Oregon. (Doc. # 8 at ¶ 1). Plaintiff is disabled under the California Disabled Persons Act because she is visually impaired. Id. at ¶ 6. Plaintiff uses a guide dog because of her visual impairment. Id. at ¶ 7. Optimum Health Institute is a California corporation with its primary place of business in Lemon Grove, California. Id. at ¶ 3. Optimum Health Institute is a public accommodation and makes its services available to the general public. Id. at ¶¶ 3, 8. Robert Nees, also a California resident, is "an officer of Optimum Health and [is] responsible for implementing and enforcing the policies, practices, and procedures of Optimum Health." Id. at ¶ 4. "Beginning in February 2009 and continuing to the present," Defendants refused to allow Plaintiff to participate in their programs at Optimum Health Institute "unless she was accompanied by a 'Sherpa' to provide assistance to her." Id. at ¶ 8. Plaintiff was denied "full and equal access" to Optimum Health Institute's services "because Plaintiff has a guide dog and because the subject facility 'has stairs.'" Id.

Plaintiff seeks damages, declaratory relief, and injunctive relief pursuant to the Unruh Civil Rights Act and the Disabled Persons Act. Id. at ¶¶ 17, 20, 23.

CONTENTIONS OF THE PARTIES

Defendants contend that the Unruh Civil Rights Act is not applicable to "non-profit religious corporation[s]." Doc. # 16-1 at 5. "It is simply not possible to conclude that OHI is a business establishment because it is instead a church." Id. Defendants contend that the Unruh Civil Rights Act does not apply to "churches . . . or individuals who act on behalf of religious organizations . . . ." Id. Defendants contend that the Disabled Persons Act also does not apply to churches because they are not places of public accommodation. Id. at 10. Defendants contend that the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), "which has been incorporated into Unruh and the DPA, notes that churches are not public accommodations." Id. Defendants contend that the "SAC's reference to OHI as a public accommodation is not sufficient to meet Plaintiff's pleading burden because there is no factual or legal support for that claim." Id. at 11.

Defendants request the Court take judicial notice of a certified copy of Optimum Health Institute's articles of incorporation as a religious nonprofit corporation under California law (Exhibit A); a certificate of status from the Secretary of State of California showing that Optimum Health Institute remains in good standing as a nonprofit corporation (Exhibit B); letters from the Internal Revenue Service showing Optimum Health Institute's tax exempt status (Exhibits C, I, and J); a letter from the California Franchise Tax Board showing Optimum Health Institute's tax exempt status (Exhibit K); a certified copy of a judgment in favor of Optimum Health Institute in a state court Fair Employment and Housing Act lawsuit (Exhibit D); and excerpts from the Optimum Health Institute website (Exhibits E-F). (Doc. # 16-2).

Plaintiff contends that she has properly alleged facts which would establish that Optimum Health Institute is a place of public accommodation. (Doc. # 21 at 9). Plaintiff contends that there is "[n]o [b]lanket [e]xemption from the Unruh Act for [n]on-[p]rofit [r]eligious [e]ntities." Id. at 13. Plaintiff contends that case law allowing discrimination in the membership decisions of private organizations does not apply to business transactions with non-members. Id. at 14. Plaintiff contends that Optimum Health Institute "sells access to its health center to anyone -- 'adherents' and 'guests' alike, regardless of personal religious beliefs or values," which negates any argument that admission to the facility is limited to members or even people who share the same belief system. Id. at 19. Plaintiff contends that the exception to the ADA for religious entities is not incorporated into California law and that religious facilities are places of public accommodation for the purposes of the Disabled Persons Act. Id. at 16-17.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) permits dismissal for "failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted." Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a) provides: "A pleading that states a claim for relief must contain . . . a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2). Dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6) is appropriate where the complaint lacks a cognizable legal theory or sufficient facts to support a cognizable legal theory. See Balistreri v. Pacifica Police Dep't, 901 F.2d 696, 699 (9th Cir. 1990).

To sufficiently state a claim for relief and survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, a complaint "does not need detailed factual allegations" but the "[f]actual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). "[A] plaintiff's obligation to provide the 'grounds' of his 'entitle[ment] to relief' requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do." Id. (quoting Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2)). When considering a motion to dismiss, a court must accept as true all "well-pleaded factual allegations." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, --- U.S. ----, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1950 (2009). However, a court is not "required to accept as true allegations that are merely conclusory, unwarranted deductions of fact, or unreasonable inferences." Sprewell v. Golden State Warriors, 266 F.3d 979, 988 (9th Cir. 2001); see, e.g., Doe I v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 572 F.3d 677, 683 (9th Cir. 2009) ("Plaintiffs' general statement that Wal-Mart exercised control over their day-to-day employment is a conclusion, not a factual allegation stated with any specificity. We need not accept Plaintiffs' unwarranted conclusion in reviewing a ...


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