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Scott N. Johnson v. United Rentals Northwest

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT EASTERN DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA


July 12, 2011

SCOTT N. JOHNSON,
PLAINTIFF,
v.
UNITED RENTALS NORTHWEST, INC.,
INDIVIDUALLY AND D/B/A UNITED RENTALS; U.S. RENTALS, INC., A
CALIFORNIA CORPORATION; NANCY BERRY, DEFENDANTS.

ORDER DENYING DEFENDANTS‟ MOTION TO DISMISS AND MOTION FOR A MORE DEFINITE STATEMENT

This matter comes before the Court on Defendants United Rentals Northwest, Inc., U.S. Rentals, Inc., and Nancy Berry‟s (collectively "Defendants") Motion to Dismiss (Doc. #8) Plaintiff Scott Johnson‟s ("Plaintiff") Complaint (Doc. #1) pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1). Defendants, alternatively, move for a more definite statement (Doc. #8). Plaintiff opposes the motions (Doc. #14).*fn1 For the reasons set forth below, Defendants‟ Motion to Dismiss and Motion for a More Definite Statement are denied.

I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

Plaintiff brings this action for injunctive relief and damages pursuant to Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA") and sections 51(f) and 52 of the California Civil Code ("Unruh Act"). Plaintiff‟s Complaint ("Comp."), (Doc. #1).

Plaintiff is considered a disabled individual under the ADA and Unruh Act, and Defendants are the owners, operators, managers, lessees or lessors of both locations of "United Rentals," the 9 properties at issue in this case ("Defendants‟ stores"). Id. at ¶¶ 1-3, 9.

On May 27, June 3, June 8, and October 13, 2010, Plaintiff alleges he encountered architectural barriers in violation of the ADA while visiting one or both of Defendants‟ stores in Lodi and Sacramento, California, which are considered "public accommodations" under the ADA and Unruh Act. Comp. at ¶¶ 2, 4. Plaintiff further alleges that the same architectural barriers deterred him from visiting Defendants‟ stores on two other occasions "during this past year" and remained in existence at the time Plaintiff filed his complaint. Id. at ¶ 4.

II. OPINION

A. Legal Standard

1. Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1)

Rule 12(b)(1) provides that a motion to dismiss may be made on the basis of a "lack of subject-matter jurisdiction." FED. R. CIV. P. 12(b)(1). A Rule 12(b)(1) motion tests "whether the plaintiff has a right to be in the particular court. . . ." Trs. of Screen Actors Guild-Producers Pension & Health Plans v. NYCA, Inc., 572 F.3d. 771, 775 (9th Cir. 2009) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). Federal courts are limited in jurisdiction, and it is presumed that a case lies outside the jurisdiction of the court unless the plaintiff proves otherwise. Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of Am., 511 U.S. 375, 377 (1994); Stock W., Inc. v.

Confederated Tribes, 873 F.2d 1221, 1225 (9th Cir. 1989).

2. Supplemental Jurisdiction

When a district court has original jurisdiction over a claim, 9 it "shall have supplemental jurisdiction over all other claims that are so related to claims in the action . . . that they form part of the same case or controversy . . . ." 28 U.S.C. § 1367(a). A state claim is part of the same "case or controversy" as a federal claim when the two ""derive from a common nucleus of operative fact and are such that a plaintiff would ordinarily be expected to try them in one judicial proceeding.‟" Kuba v. 1-A Agricultural Ass‟n, 387 F.3d 850, 855-56 (9th Cir. 2004) (quoting Trs. Of the Constr. Indus. & Laborers Health & Welfare v. Desert Valley Landscape & Maint., Inc., 333 F.2d 923, 925(9th Cir. 2003)).

Under section 1367, a court has discretion to: decline to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over a claim [] if: (1) the claim raises a novel or complex issue of State law, (2) the claim substantially predominates over the claim [] 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.

28 U.S.C. § 1367(c).

3. Bell Requirements for Declining Jurisdiction Jurisdictional dismissals in cases premised on federal-question jurisdiction are exceptional, and a court may decline jurisdiction only if the "requirements specified in Bell v. Hood" 2 are satisfied. Roberts v. Corrothers, 812 F.2d 1173, 1177 (9th 3 Cir. 1987) (citing Sun Valley Gasoline, Inc. v. Ernst Enterprises, 711 F.2d 138, 140 (9th Cir. 1983)). In Bell, "the Supreme Court 5 held that such dismissals are permitted "where the alleged claim 6 under the constitution or federal statutes appears to be immaterial 7 and made solely for the purpose of obtaining federal jurisdiction 8 or where such a claim is wholly insubstantial and frivolous.‟" Id. (quoting Bell v. Hood, 327 U.S. 678, 682-83 (1946)).

4. Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(e) "A party may move for a more definite statement . . . [where a claim] is so vague or ambiguous that the party cannot reasonably prepare a response." FED. R. CIV. P. 12(e). A 12(e) motion cannot succeed "if the complaint is specific enough to notify defendant of the substance of the claim being asserted," and "the detail sought by the motion for a more definite statement is obtainable through discovery." Abarca Franklin County Water District, 2009 WL 1393508 at *2 (E.D. Cal. May 18, 2009) (citing San Bernardino Pub. Employees Ass‟n v. Stout, 946 F.Supp. 790, 804 (C.D. Cal. 1996); Davidson v. Santa Barbara High Sch. Dist., 48 F.Supp.2d 1225, 1228 (C.D. Cal. 1998)).

B. Motion to Dismiss for Lack of Subject-Matter Jurisdiction Defendants argue that Plaintiff‟s claims must be dismissed for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction because the remedial provisions of the Unruh Act present novel and complex issues of unresolved state law, Plaintiff‟s ADA claim is wholly immaterial to this case, and Plaintiff is forum-shopping by initiating this case in the Eastern District. Defendants‟ Motion to Dismiss, Points and Authorities ("MTD") (Doc. #8). The United States Supreme Court‟s "precedent makes clear that whether a court has subject-matter jurisdiction is distinct from whether a court chooses to exercise supplemental jurisdiction." Carlsbad Technology, Inc. v. HIF Bio, Inc., 129 S.Ct. 1862, 1866 (2009) (citing Quackenbush v. Allstate

Ins. Co., 517 U.S. 706, 712 (1996)) (other citations omitted).

Although Defendants conflate the issues of subject-matter and supplemental jurisdiction, the Court will address both Defendants‟ Bell argument and their request that this Court decline to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over Plaintiff‟s state law claim, in turn.

1. Jurisdiction over Plaintiff‟s Federal Claim Defendants argue Plaintiff‟s ADA claim is "wholly immaterial to his case," because Plaintiff seeks only injunctive relief through this claim. MTD at pg. 8-9. Citing Organization for the Advancement of Minorities with Disabilities v. Brick Oven Restaurant, 406 F.Supp.2d 1120 (S.D. Cal. 2005) ("Brick Oven"), for support, Defendants argue Plaintiff‟s sole purpose for asserting a claim under the ADA was to obtain federal jurisdiction. Id. at 9.

In Brick Oven, the court was presented with the issue of whether to dismiss the plaintiff‟s ADA claim under Bell. 406 F.Supp.2d at 1125, 1132. In analogizing Brick Oven to the instant case, Defendants fail to acknowledge the court in that case did not decline to exercise jurisdiction over that plaintiff‟s ADA claim. Id. Instead, the Brick Oven court declined to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over the plaintiff‟s state law claims, under the Unruh Act and Disabled Persons Act, and retained jurisdiction over the plaintiff‟s ADA claim, finding the Bell requirements were not satisfied. Id.

Defendants fail to cite any case demonstrating the existence 3 of the "extraordinary circumstances" contemplated by Bell, nor do Defendants cite any cases binding on this court. See MTD at pg. 8-5 (Brick Oven is a Southern District of California case, not a "Ninth Circuit" case). Moreover, Plaintiff‟s ability to succeed on his state law claim depends on him proving a violation of the ADA.

See Comp. at ¶¶ 22-28; CAL. CIV. CODE § 51(f) ("A violation of the right of any individual under the [ADA] shall also constitute a violation of this section."). Accordingly, Defendants have failed to satisfy the Bell requirements, and Defendants‟ Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff‟s ADA claim is denied.

2. Supplemental Jurisdiction

Defendants argue that the Court may decline to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over Plaintiff‟s claim under the Unruh Act on any of the following three grounds in 28 U.S.C. § 1367(c): Plaintiff‟s Unruh Act claim raises a novel or complex issue of State law, Plaintiff‟s Unruh Act claim substantially predominates over Plaintiff‟s ADA claim, and other compelling reasons exist for declining jurisdiction. MTD at pg. 4-8; see also 28 U.S.C. § 1367(c)(1), (2), (4). In the Ninth Circuit, courts: have declined to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over state law claims when a plaintiff abandons his federal ADA claims, or a plaintiff‟s request for injunctive relief subsequently becomes moot, or a plaintiff‟s numerous state law claims outnumber a solitary federal claim under the ADA, or when a plaintiff‟s federal claims are dismissed before trial. Johnson v. Barlow, 2007 WL 1723617 at *3 (E.D. Cal. June 9, 2007); see also Johnson v. Makinen, 2009 WL 2137130 at *3 (E.D. Cal. Jul. 15, 2009) (quoting and agreeing with Johnson v. Barlow). While none of these concerns are implicated in this case, the Court will 2 address each of the grounds presented by Defendants for declining 3 supplemental jurisdiction.

a. Novel & Complex Issues of State Law

Defendants argue that this Court should decline to exercise 6 supplemental jurisdiction over Plaintiff‟s state law claim because 7 the damages provision of the Unruh Act is ill defined and 8 ambiguous. MTD at pg. 4-5 (citing Brick Oven, 406 F.Supp.2d 1120, 9 1130 (S.D. Cal. 1998)). Specifically, they assert the provision authorizing damages for "each and every offense" is unclear as to whether damages are appropriate for each architectural barrier encountered or for each actual or forgone visit to the Defendants‟ properties. Id.

Defendants again rely on Brick Oven, alleging it shows there are conflicting authorities in the Ninth Circuit regarding damages. MTD at pg. 4-5 (citing Brick Oven, 406 F.Supp.2d 1120, 1130 (S.D. Cal. 1998)). In that case, the court noted different rulings by other courts in the Ninth Circuit on whether a plaintiff could recover "daily damages" under the ADA, which is not at issue in this case. See Brick Oven, 406 F.Supp.2d at 1130.

Moreover, as pointed out by Plaintiff, the California Civil Code resolves the ambiguity alleged by Defendants. See Plaintiff‟s Opposition to MTD ("Plt. Opp.") (Doc. #14) at pg. 3-4 (referring to CAL. CIV. CODE § 55.56(e), improperly cited as "California 1608(b) legislation"). Section 55.56(e) of the Civil Code provides that statutory damages under the Unruh Act based on violations of the ADA "may be assessed . . . based on each particular occasion that the plaintiff was denied full and equal access, and not upon the number of violations of construction-related accessibility 2 standards identified at the place of public accommodation where the 3 denial of full and equal access occurred." CAL. CIV. CODE § 55.56;

see also id. at § 55.52(a)(6) (""Construction related accessibility 5 standard‟ means a provision, standard, or regulation under state or 6 federal law requiring compliance with standards for making new 7 construction and existing facilities accessible to persons with 8 disabilities, including, but not limited to, any such provision, 9 standard, or regulation set forth in [the Unruh Act], . . . [and] the Americans with Disabilities Act. . . .").

Accordingly, it is clear that the alleged conflict in the law regarding the calculation of damages alleged by Defendants is actually well settled under California Law. Compare MTD at pg. 4-6 with CAL. CIV. CODE § 55.56. Therefore, supplemental jurisdiction over Plaintiff‟s Unruh Act claim is proper because it does not present a novel or complex issue of state law.

b. State Law Claim Substantially Predominates Defendants allege that Plaintiff‟s state law claim substantially predominates over his federal claim due to the statutory damages available under the Unruh Act, relying again on Brick Oven for support. MTD at pg. 6-7. However, as pointed out by other Courts in the Eastern District, accepting Defendants‟ argument "would effectively preclude a district court from ever asserting supplemental jurisdiction over a state law claim under the Unruh Act [in an ADA case]." Johnson v. Barlow, 2007 WL 1723617 at *3 (E.D. Cal. June 9, 2007); see also Johnson v. Makinen, 2009 WL 2137130 at *3 (E.D. Cal. Jul. 15, 2009) (quoting and agreeing with Johnson v. Barlow). This is true "even where a plaintiff‟s state law claim for damages is the driving force behind 2the action. . . ." Johnson v. Makinen, 2009 WL 2137130 at *3 3

(E.D. Cal. Jul. 15, 2009). Moreover, as Defendants‟ acknowledge, 4 the burdens of proof and standards of liability under the ADA and Unruh Act are the same. MTD at pg. 6. Without any other authority 6 supporting Defendants‟ position, this Court finds that Plaintiff‟s 7 state law claim does not substantially predominate over his federal 8 claim. Accord, e.g., Johnson v. Barlow, 2007 WL 1723617 at *3 (E.D. Cal. June 9, 2007).

c. Compelling Reasons

Defendants argue that supplemental jurisdiction over Plaintiff‟s state law claim is improper because Plaintiff engaged in forum shopping. MTD at pg. 7-8 (citing Brick Oven, 460 F.Supp.2d 1120, 1132 (S.D. Cal. 1998)). Defendants point to Plaintiff‟s excessive and improper litigation tactics, noting Plaintiff has filed over 1,000 cases in this district. Id.

While this Court acknowledges Plaintiff‟s extensive litigation history, it agrees with other courts in this district that have found exercising supplemental jurisdiction is appropriate under similar circumstances. "[C]ompeting principles of judicial economy and convenience weigh strongly in favor of asserting supplemental jurisdiction. Plaintiff‟s state and federal law claim involve the identical nucleus of operative fact, and require a very similar, if not identical, showing in order to succeed. If this court forced plaintiff to pursue his state law claim in state court, the result would be two highly duplicative trials, constituting an unnecessary expenditure of plaintiff‟s, defendants‟, and the courts‟ resources." E.g., Johnson v. Barlow, 2007 WL 1723617 at *5 (E.D. Cal. June 11, 2007). Accordingly, this Court does not find 2 compelling reasons exist that require it to decline to exercise 3 supplemental jurisdiction over Plaintiff‟s state law claim.

C. Motion for a More Definite Statement

Defendants move for a more definite statement, alleging 6 material allegations in Plaintiff‟s complaint are unclear. MTD at 7 pg. 10. Specifically, Defendants point out that Plaintiff does not 8 specify whether it was the Lodi or Sacramento store he visited on 9 the dates set forth in his complaint, nor does Plaintiff clarify which barriers are present at which store. Id.

As Plaintiff points out, the information sought by Defendants is obtainable through discovery, and therefore Defendants‟ motion must be denied. Plt. Opp. at pg. 6-7; see also Abarca Franklin County Water District, 2009 WL 1393508 at *2 (E.D. Cal. May 18, 2009) (citing San Bernardino Pub. Employees Ass‟n v. Stout, 946 F.Supp. 790, 804 (C.D. Cal. 1996); Davidson v. Santa Barbara High Sch. Dist., 48 F.Supp.2d 1225, 1228 (C.D. Cal. 1998)).

III. ORDER

For the reasons set forth above, Defendants‟ Motion to Dismiss is DENIED and Defendants‟ Motion for a More Definite Statement is DENIED.

IT IS SO ORDERED.


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