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J. Paul Charlebois v. Angels Baseball

June 30, 2011

J. PAUL CHARLEBOIS,
PLAINTIFFS,
v.
ANGELS BASEBALL, LP; CITY OF ANAHEIM, ET AL, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: David O. Carter United States District Judge

ORDER GRANTING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR CLASS CERTIFICATION

Before the Court is Plaintiff J. Paul Charlebois ("Plaintiff")'s Motion for Class Certification. After considering the moving, opposing, replying, and supplemental papers, and two rounds of oral argument by counsel in January 2011 and June 2011, the Court hereby GRANTS Plaintiff's Motion.

I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

In 2003 the current Angels ownership acquired the Major League Baseball team known as the Anaheim Angels. The Stadium underwent several renovations, most recently in 1998. Defendants' Opposition to Plaintiff's Original Motion for Class Certification ("Opp'n"), 2. The City of Anaheim approved these renovations at multiple stages. Plaintiff's Original Motion for Class Certification ("Motion"), 3.

Plaintiff is a longtime baseball fan living in Los Angeles County who relies on a wheelchair for mobility. Declaration of J. Paul Charlebois ("Charlebois Decl."), ¶ 2. Plaintiff has attended several Angels home games over the past four years. Id. at ¶ 3. This lawsuit arises out of an experience he had on July 12, 2009, when he attended a baseball game (the Yankees v. Angels) at Anaheim Stadium with Scott Schutzman ("Schutzman") and Eugene Feldman ("Feldman"). Id. Plaintiff alleges that he was provided a seat in Section 322 on the Club level and that he expected to sit near that seat and to have the option of using the services provided to other ticket holders in that section. Instead, when Schutzman accompanied him and Feldman to the Section, Plaintiff found that the seats were not wheelchair accessible. After inquiring from the usher about where to obtain wheelchair accessible seating on the Club levels, he was informed that only two seats on the entire Club level were wheelchair accessible, and that both were occupied. According to Plaintiff, the usher then told him that if he wished to use the seats in Section 322, he would need to be carried down to them. Plaintiff found this to be humiliating and insensitive. Id. at ¶¶ 5-6. As a result, Plaintiff went to the Terrace level, where he knew there were accessible seats, but missed much of the game during the time it took to get there. Furthermore, Plaintiff alleges that the sight lines in the Terrace level were inferior, as they were in the last row of the level. Id. at 6. There were also no waiting services in that level, as on the Club level. Id.

Plaintiff further alleges that Defendants Angels Baseball LP ("Angels") and Defendant City of Anaheim ("Anaheim") (collectively "Defendants") fail to provide a reasonable means for wheelchair users to purchase or exchange wheelchair accessible seats. There is no way for wheelchair users to purchase accessible seats electronically or to exchange tickets without appearing physically at the box office or mailing the tickets to the Stadium before the game. See Declaration of Eugene Feldman ("Feldman Decl.") at ¶¶ 4, 6.

Plaintiff avers that Defendants have violated the law by failing and refusing to properly disperse wheelchair and companion seating throughout the Stadium. Motion, 3-4. More specifically, Plaintiff argues that the Stadium only includes two wheelchair accessible seats on the entire Club level section--a section that also provides waiting services, which are particularly valuable to those in wheelchairs. Id. at 4. Plaintiff argues that that small number of seats falls significantly below the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA") requirement that each level have 1% wheelchair accessible seats available. See Corrected Declaration of Mark J. Mazz ("Mazz Decl."), 6. According to Plaintiff's evidence, Angels' Stadium has a total of 287 wheelchair spaces, but is required under the ADA to have at least 439 spaces. Id. at 7. Plaintiff also notes that two levels in the Stadium have no accessible seating, and that 64% of the wheelchair accessible seating is in the Terrace level, where the views are obstructed. Motion, 4.

Plaintiff's Complaint alleges violations of the Unruh Civil Rights Act, Cal. Civ. Code §§ 51-52; the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. 12101 et seq.; the Disabled Persons Act, Cal. Civ. Code § 54.1; the California Business and Professions Code § 17200; and alleges discrimination by a state funded program or activity under Cal. Gov. Code § 1135. The class claims are "those disability related claims" in the Complaint: (1) that the Stadium fails to provide adequate wheelchair accessible seating throughout the Stadium and in the Club level; (2) that Defendants lack an accessible ticketing system for wheelchair users to purchase and exchange accessible seats; and (3) that Defendants failed to train all of its employees in order to properly accommodate the requests of wheelchair users. In its present Motion, Plaintiff asks the Court to certify its class so that Plaintiff may proceed to seek injunctive relief.

II. LEGAL STANDARD

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23 governs class actions. Fed. R. Civ. P. 23. A party seeking class certification must demonstrate the following prerequisites: "(1) numerosity of plaintiffs; (2) common questions of law or fact predominate; (3) the named plaintiff's claims and defenses are typical; and (4) the named plaintiff can adequately protect the interests of the class." Hanon v. Dataproducts Corp., 976 F.2d 497, 508 (9th Cir. 1992) (citing Fed. R. Civ. P. 23(a)).

A district court must engage in a "rigorous analysis" to determine whether the party seeking certification has met the prerequisites of Rule 23(a). Valentino v. Carter-Wallace, Inc., 97 F.3d 1227, 1233 (9th Cir. 1996) (quoting In re Am. Med. Sys.,75 F.3d 1069, 1079 (6th Cir. 1996)).

The party may not rest on mere allegations, but must provide facts to satisfy these requirements. Doninger v. Pac. Northwest Bell, Inc., 564 F.2d 1304, 1309 (9th Cir. 1977).

In addition to satisfying the four prerequisites of numerosity, commonality, typicality, and adequacy, a party must also demonstrate either: (1) a risk that separate actions would create incompatible standards of conduct for the defendant or prejudice individual class members not parties to the action; or (2) the defendant has treated the members of the class as a class, making appropriate injunctive or declaratory relief with respect to the class as a whole; or (3) common questions of law or fact predominate over questions affecting individual members and that a class action is a superior method for fairly and efficiently adjudicating the action. Fed. R. Civ. P. 23(b).

The decision to grant or deny a motion for class certification is committed to the trial court's broad discretion. See, e.g., Yamamoto v. Omiya, 564 F.2d 1319, 1325 (9th Cir. 1977). In determining whether a plaintiff has satisfied the requirements of Rule 23, a court may not inquire into whether the plaintiff will prevail on the merits of the case. Eisen v. Carlisle & Jacquelin, 417 U.S. 156, 177-78, 94 S. Ct. 2410 (1974). However, though a court must accept the substantive allegations in the complaint as true, In re Coordinated Pretrial Proceedings in Petroleum Prods. Antitrust Litig., 691 F.2d 1335, 1342 (9th Cir. 1982), in some cases it may be necessary for the court to look beyond the pleadings to determine whether the plaintiff has satisfied the certification requirements. Gen. Tel. Co. of S.W. v. Falcon, 457 U.S. 147, 160, 102 S. Ct. 2364 (1982).

III. DISCUSSION

A. Ascertainability

In order to properly ascertain a class, the definition must specify a "distinct group of plaintiffs whose members [can] be identified with particularity." Campbell v. PricewaterhouseCoopers, LLP, 253 F.R.D. 586, 593 (E.D. Cal. 2008) (quoting Lerwill v. In-flight Motion Pictures, Inc., 582 F.2d 507, 512 (9th Cir. 1978)). "A class definition is sufficient if the description of the class is 'definite enough so that it is administratively feasible for the court to ascertain whether an individual is a member.'" In re TFT-LCD (Flat Panel) Antitrust Litigation, 267 F.R.D. 583 (N.D. Cal. 2010) (quoting O'Connor v. Boeing North American Inc., 184 F.R.D. 311, 319 (C.D.Cal.1998)). Objective criteria must be used to ascertain class members. 5 James W. Moore, Moore's Federal Practice, § 23.21[1].

Plaintiff's Motion defines the Proposed Class as follows:

Any mobility impaired person who has attended or desires to attend a baseball game at the Stadium but who has been or may be denied equal access to wheelchair accessible seating, amenities, privileges, services and facilities of the Stadium on account of his/her disability.

Defendants argue that this definition does not provide for an ascertainable class. Defendants first insist that the term "mobility impaired person" will necessarily demand a factualized inquiry into each class member's disability. Opp'n, 5. In his reply brief, Plaintiff refutes Defendants' objection but also ...


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