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McCune v. Gold Country Foods, Inc.

United States District Court, E.D. California

June 19, 2014

MICHAEL McCUNE, Plaintiff,
v.
GOLD COUNTRY FOODS, INC., dba TACO BELL #19279; MOLAI PROPERTIES, LLC, Defendants.

ORDER DENYING DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SANCTIONS

JOHN A. MENDEZ, District Judge.

This matter is before the Court on Defendant Gold Country Foods, Inc.'s ("Defendant") Motion for Sanctions under Rule 11 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (Doc. #27) against Plaintiff Michael McCune and his counsel, Lynn Hubbard, III, Scottlynn Hubbard, IV, and the Disabled Advocacy Group, APLC (collectively "Plaintiff's Counsel").[1] Plaintiff and Plaintiff's counsel filed an Opposition (Doc. #29). Defendant filed a Reply (Doc. #30).

I. FACTUAL ALLEGATIONS AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

Plaintiff is a C5-C6 quadriplegic who visited Defendant's store. Plaintiff filed the Complaint (Doc. #1) on June 24, 2013 alleging four causes of action against Defendant: (1) violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 ("ADA"); (2) violation of the Disabled Persons' Act; (3) violation of the Unruh Civil Rights Act; and (4) denial of full and equal access to public facilities. Comp. ΒΆΒΆ 15-51. In total, Plaintiff identified eleven barriers, which he claimed violated the ADA.

Defendant brought a Motion for Summary judgment (Doc. #10-1), which included a request for sanctions pursuant to Rule 11, and Plaintiff brought a Cross Motion for Partial Summary Judgment (Doc. #11). In his response briefs, Plaintiff conceded that most of the barriers were rendered moot. The Court thus granted the motion as to those barriers. It found another alleged barrier regarding strike-side clearance in the restroom was rendered moot by Defendant's efforts.

The remaining alleged barriers all related to the placement of the toilet roll dispenser. In its Motion for Summary Judgment, Defendant argued that the barriers did not exist because Plaintiff was misstating the applicable guidelines and further that Plaintiff did not have standing to challenge the alleged barriers in the first instance because he could not physically transfer himself to the toilet. MSJ at pp. 4-5. Therefore, the barrier did not "relate" to his disability and he lacked standing to challenge it.

Plaintiff responded by reiterating that the dispenser's location was in violation of ADA guidelines and that although he could not personally use the toilet, the placement of the dispenser interfered with his aide's ability to assist him. Opp. to MSJ at pp. 8-10.

The Court ruled that Plaintiff lacked standing to challenge the placement of the toilet roll dispensers and granted the motion as to those claims (See Doc. #18, 25-26). The Court then declined to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over the remaining state law claims. The Court also found that the request for sanctions pursuant to Rule 11 was not properly before the Court. Defendant then filed the current motion on April 30, 2014.

II. OPINION

A. Legal Standard

Rule 11 provides, in relevant part, that by presenting to a court a pleading, motion or other submission, an attorney certifies that to the best of his/her knowledge and belief, formed after an appropriate inquiry, that "the claims, defenses, and other legal contentions are warranted by existing law or by a nonfrivolous argument for extending, modifying, or reversing existing law or for establishing a new law... [and] the factual contentions have evidentiary support...." Rule 11(b). "Rule 11 requires attorneys to conduct a reasonable inquiry into the law and facts before signing pleadings." Pickern v. Pier 1 Imports (U.S.), Inc. , 339 F.Supp.2d 1081, 1089 (E.D. Cal. 2004) (citing Business Guides v. Chromatic Enters., Inc. , 498 U.S. 533, 542 (1991)).

B. Discussion

Defendant contends that Plaintiff and his counsel violated Rule 11. Defendant argues that Plaintiff and his counsel purposefully mislead the Court about the applicable standards regarding the dispenser, adding that such claims had been made by Plaintiff's counsel and rejected in the past. Defendant further contends that Plaintiff's counsel's legal arguments regarding standing are completely baseless and that it was not the first time Plaintiff's counsel has failed to properly assure standing before bringing ADA claims.

In opposition to this motion, Plaintiff first argues that the Rule 11 motion is procedurally deficient. Specifically, Plaintiff claims the motion violates the "safe harbor" ...


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