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Curtis v. Home Depot U.S.A., Inc.

United States District Court, Eastern District of California

January 23, 2015

ALBERT GEORGE CURTIS, Plaintiff
v.
HOME DEPOT U.S.A., INC., a Delaware corporation, and HD DEVELOPMENT OF MARYLAND, INC., a Maryland corporation d.b.a. HD Properties of Maryland, Defendants

ORDER ON CROSS MOTIONS FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT (Doc. Nos. 43, 46)

This is a disability related lawsuit brought by Plaintiff Albert Curtis (“Curtis”) against Defendants Home Depot U.S.A., Inc. and HD Development of Maryland, Inc. (collectively “Home Depot”). Curtis alleges violations of Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), as well as violation of California law. Curtis initially identified 29 barriers at a Home Depot store, but through stipulation by the parties, only 10 barriers remain in dispute. See Doc. No. 52. Now before the Court are the parties' cross motions for summary judgment. For the reasons that follow, the motions will be granted in part and denied in part.

BACKGROUND[1]

Curtis is a disabled individual. See JUMF 1. Curtis is paralyzed from his mid-section down to his feet and uses a manual wheelchair for mobility. See PUMF's 1, 3, 4. The Home Depot store located at 3500 Demaree St., Visalia, California (“the Store”) has areas that are open to the public, which are places of public accommodation. JUMF 2. The Store was built in 1995-1996, and therefore the new construction guidelines identified in the 1991 Americans with Disabilities Act Accessibility Guidelines (“ADAAG”), found at 28 C.F.F. Part 36 App. A, apply to the Store for purposes of determining whether a violation of the ADA existed at the time of Curtis's visits to the Store and whether any violations of the ADA continue to exist. See JUMF 3. Curtis visited the Store on April 3, 2013, see JUMF 5, made two visits in March 2013, made two visits in May 2013, and made two visits in June 2013. See PUMF 7. In addition to these visits, Curtis has visited the Store on numerous occasions. See PUMF 8, 37. Curtis has been patronizing the Store prior to 2000, and plans to return and continue to patronize the Store. See PUMF 40, 41. Curtis generally has a need to shop at the Store about once a month. See Curtis Dec. ¶ 34.

The area in front of the Store marked with yellow hash marks is the accessible route from the accessible parking area to the Store's main entrance. PUMF 9. During each of Curtis's documented visits to the Store, Curtis found that the accessible route from the accessible parking area to the entrance to the Store, as well as the entrance to nursery, were obstructed by merchandise for sale placed in the accessible route. See PUMF's 3, 5, 7, 10. Home Depot obstructed the accessible route around Christmas 2013 by placing a Christmas Tree display within the route. See PUMF 13. The Store's accessible route was also obstructed by merchandise in August 2007. See PUMF 14. The accessible route from the accessible parking area was often reduced to zero width due to displays of merchandise. See PUMF 49. When the accessible route was blocked by merchandise during Curtis's visits, Curtis would have to move his manual wheelchair into the area used by vehicles in order to get into the Store. See PUMF 50; see also PUMF 55. Curtis has complained to Store management for years about their placing merchandise in the accessible path, but nothing has been done. See PUMF 43. At some point, Curtis had a conversation with a Store manager named Brent about the lack of an accessible route. See PUMF 44. Brent was rude and stated that Home Depot could do whatever it wanted to do and had no obligation to move the merchandise to provide Curtis with an accessible route of travel. See id.

A written policy was provided to Store employees via e-mail prior to Store Manager Joseph Wall's April 2014 deposition. See PUMF 15. The written policy requires that the path of travel to the entrance be kept clear. See id. For at least 5 years, Home Depot has had a policy of keeping the accessible route clear of obstructions. See PUMF 16.

LEGAL FRAMEWORK

Cross motions for summary judgment are evaluated separately under the same standards that apply to single summary judgment motions. See Pintos v. Pacific Creditors Ass'n, 565 F.3d 1106, 1111 (9th Cir. 2009); ACLU v. City of Las Vegas, 466 F.3d 784, 790 (9th Cir. 2006). Summary judgment is appropriate when it is demonstrated that there exists no genuine issue as to any material fact, and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56; Adickes v. S.H. Kress & Co., 398 U.S. 144, 157 (1970); Fortyune v. American Multi-Cinema, Inc., 364 F.3d 1075, 1080 (9th Cir. 2004). The party seeking summary judgment bears the initial burden of informing the court of the basis for its motion and of identifying the portions of the declarations (if any), pleadings, and discovery that demonstrate an absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986); Soremekun v. Thrifty Payless, Inc., 509 F.3d 978, 984 (9th Cir. 2007). A fact is "material" if it might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248-49 (1986); United States v. Kapp, 564 F.3d 1103, 1114 (9th Cir. 2009). A dispute is “genuine” as to a material fact if there is sufficient evidence for a reasonable jury to return a verdict for the non-moving party. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248; Freecycle Sunnyvale v. Freecycle Network, 626 F.3d 509, 514 (9th Cir. 2010).

Where the moving party will have the burden of proof on an issue at trial, the movant must affirmatively demonstrate that no reasonable trier of fact could find other than for the movant. Soremekun, 509 F.3d at 984. Where the non-moving party will have the burden of proof on an issue at trial, the movant may prevail by presenting evidence that negates an essential element of the non-moving party's claim or by merely pointing out that there is an absence of evidence to support an essential element of the non-moving party's claim. See James River Ins. Co. v. Herbert Schenk, P.C., 523 F.3d 915, 923 (9th Cir. 2008); Soremekun, 509 F.3d at 984. If a moving party fails to carry its burden of production, then “the non-moving party has no obligation to produce anything, even if the non-moving party would have the ultimate burden of persuasion.” Nissan Fire & Marine Ins. Co. v. Fritz Cos., 210 F.3d 1099, 1105-06 (9th Cir. 2000). If the moving party meets its initial burden, the burden then shifts to the opposing party to establish that a genuine issue as to any material fact actually exists. See Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986); Nissan Fire, 210 F.3d at 1103. The opposing party cannot “'rest upon the mere allegations or denials of [its] pleading' but must instead produce evidence that „sets forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.'” Estate of Tucker v. Interscope Records, 515 F.3d 1019, 1030 (9th Cir. 2008).

The opposing party's evidence is to be believed, and all justifiable inferences that may be drawn from the facts placed before the court must be drawn in favor of the opposing party. See Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255; Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 587; Narayan v. EGL, Inc., 616 F.3d 895, 899 (9th Cir. 2010). While a “justifiable inference” need not be the most likely or the most persuasive inference, a “justifiable inference” must be rational or reasonable. See Narayan, 616 F.3d at 899. Inferences are not drawn out of the air, and it is the opposing party's obligation to produce a factual predicate from which the inference may be drawn. See Sanders v. City of Fresno, 551 F.Supp.2d 1149, 1163 (E.D. Cal. 2008); UMG Recordings, Inc. v. Sinnott, 300 F.Supp.2d 993, 997 (E.D. Cal. 2004). “A genuine issue of material fact does not spring into being simply because a litigant claims that one exists or promises to produce admissible evidence at trial.” Del Carmen Guadalupe v. Agosto, 299 F.3d 15, 23 (1st Cir. 2002); see Bryant v. Adventist Health System/West, 289 F.3d 1162, 1167 (9th Cir. 2002). Further, a “motion for summary judgment may not be defeated . . . by evidence that is „merely colorable' or „is not significantly probative.'” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249-50; Hardage v. CBS Broad. Inc., 427 F.3d 1177, 1183 (9th Cir. 2006). If the nonmoving party fails to produce evidence sufficient to create a genuine issue of material fact, the moving party is entitled to summary judgment. Nissan Fire, 210 F.3d at 1103.

CROSS-MOTIONS

A. BARRIERS

Defendant’s Arguments

Home Depot argues that summary judgment is proper because the alleged remaining barriers are either not actually barriers or have been remedied. For those barriers which have been remedied, claims based on such barriers are now moot. Because there are no violations of the ADA, the Court should grant summary judgment on all of the ADA claims and decline to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over Curtis's state law claims.

Plaintiff’s Arguments

Curtis argues that the evidence shows that ADA violations remain. Curtis argues that Home Depot does not address his contention that some barriers are reoccurring, despite policies to the contrary. Furthermore, measurements taken by Home Depot were not properly converted into percentages (as opposed to angles), and upon proper conversion, violations of the ADAAG are apparent. Because the evidence affirmatively establishes violations of the ADA and California law, Curtis argues that he should be awarded $4, 000 in statutory damages, be granted declaratory relief, and be granted an injunction that remedies the identified barriers.

Legal Standard

Title III of the ADA (42 U.S.C. § 12181 et seq.) prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in the “full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations of any place of public accommodation.” 42 U.S.C. § 12182(a); Oliver v. Ralphs Grocery Co., 654 F.3d 903, 904 (9th Cir. 2011). The ADA requires that new business facilities be “readily accessible to and usable by individuals with disabilities, ” unless this would be “structurally impracticable.” 42 U.S.C. § 12183(a)(1); Oliver, 654 F.3d at 905; see Chapman v. Pier 1 Imps. (U.S.), Inc., 631 F.3d 939, 945 (9th Cir. 2011). “In general, a facility is readily accessible to and usable by individuals with disabilities if it meets the requirements . . . in the ADAAG, which is essentially an encyclopedia of design standards.” Oliver, 654 F.3d at 905. For businesses built after January 26, 1993, new construction and alterations must comply with the applicable ADAAG. See Antoninetti v. Chipotle Mexican Grill, Inc., 614 F.3d 971, 976 (9th Cir. 2010). If a place of public accommodation is inconsistent with the applicable ADAAG standards, then a plaintiff may bring a civil action on the basis that the offending design feature constitutes a barrier that denies full and equal enjoyment of the premises. Oliver, 654 F.3d at 905; see Molski v. M.J. Cable, Inc., 481 F.3d 724, 730 (9th Cir. 2007). As long as the plaintiff has encountered one barrier, he may seek relief for unencountered barriers as well. Chapman, 531 F.3d at 944. A private plaintiff can only obtain injunctive relief (i.e. removal of the barrier) under Title III of the ADA, and may not obtain monetary damages. Oliver, 654 F.3d at 905; Molski, 481 F.3d at 730. As such, “a defendant's voluntary removal of alleged barriers prior to trial can have the effect of mooting [an] ADA claim.” Oliver, 654 F.3d at 905; see Chapman v. Starbucks Corp., 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 3570, *11 (E.D. Cal. Jan. 6, 2011); Hubbard v. 7-Eleven, Inc., 433 F.Supp.2d 1134, 1145 (S.D. Cal. 2006); Parr v. L&L Drive-Inn Restaurant, 96 F.Supp.2d 1065, 1087 (D. Haw. 2000); Independent Living Res. v. Oregon Arena Corp., 982 F.Supp. 698, 771 (D. Or. 1997). Courts often find that the voluntary cessation exception to mootness does not apply once an ADA barrier has been removed because of the expense and nature of the removal makes it highly unlikely that the barrier will reoccur. See Hickman v. Missouri, 144 F.3d 1141, 1143-44 (8th Cir. 1998); Houston v. 7-Eleven, Inc., 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 12209, *2-*3 (S.D. Fla. Jan. 31, 2014); Independent Living, 982 F.Supp.2d at 774.

Discussion[2]

In December 2013, Curtis's expert Michael Bluhm visited the Store and detected a number of alleged barriers. In August/September 2014, the Store's Manager Joseph Wall (“Wall”) declared that various corrective actions by Home Depot had been taken. Wall, and Home Depot's attorney Allison Kleaver (“Kleaver”), submitted declarations and new pictures of the alleged barriers identified by Bluhm during his December 2013 visit. In December 2014, Bluhm revisited the Store and took additional measurements. The essence of the parties' dispute is whether ten alleged ADA barriers are now moot because of Home Depot's corrective actions. The Court will address the ten alleged barriers separately.[3]

1. Obstruction of Accessible Route – FAC ¶ 10(a)

Under the 2010 ADAAG, an accessible route must be at least 36” wide, although the route may be reduced to 32” wide for a length of no more than 2 feet. See 2010 ADAAG § 403.5.1.[4]Department of Justice regulations for Title III of the ADA require public accommodations to “maintain in operable working condition those features of facilities and equipment that are required to be readily accessible to and usable by persons with disabilities.” 28 C.F.R. § 36.211(a); Moeller v. Taco Bell Corp., 816 F.Supp.2d 831, 858 (N.D. Cal. 2012). It is not sufficient to provide an accessible route if that feature is not maintained in a manner that enables individuals with disabilities to use it. Moeller, 816 F.Supp.2d at 858. Failing to properly maintain an accessible route, including keeping the route free of obstructions, may violate the ADA. Id. However, there is no liability for “isolated or temporary” interruptions to accessibility. 28 C.F.R. § 36.211(b); Chapman v. Pier 1 Imports, 870 F.Supp.2d 995, 1008 (E.D. Cal. 2012).

Here, there is no dispute that the accessible pathway in front of the Store is slightly wider than 48 inches wide. See Wall Dec. ¶ 5 & Ex. 1. There is also no dispute that the Store has a policy against obstructing accessible routes. See Wall Dec. Ex. 2. In pertinent part, the policy prohibits “the placement of merchandise, product displays, or shopping carts on the sidewalks or wheelchair accessible parking and the [Store] entrance and exit, or in the accessible areas of the parking lot.” Id. This evidence indicates that there are no current violations concerning the width of accessible routes to the Store.

Nevertheless, the evidence does not show that Home Depot adequately maintains a 36” width. First, Curtis's declaration indicates that he has experienced an “obstructed route” (a route whose width is less than regulatory limits) on numerous occasions, including during 2012 and 2013. See Curtis Dec. ¶¶ 13, 18, 22-28. Photographs taken by Curtis also affirmatively show obstructions in the form of merchandise (barbecue grills, lawn mowers, and large boxes) in the accessible route. See Curtis Dec. Exs B-G.[5] Although there were no measurements taken with respect to the photographs, it is generally apparent that the width is considerably less than 32”. See id. Also, Curtis has been utilizing a wheelchair sufficiently long to opine whether an area is less than 32” wide, and he declares that he regularly encounters obstructions that narrow the width of the route to less than 32”. See id. at ¶¶ 16, 22-28; cf. Strong v. Valdez Fine Foods, 724 F.3d 1042, 1046 (9th Cir. 2013) (disabled person's experience was a sufficient basis to opine regarding measurements of possible barriers). Second, the photographic evidence and Curtis's declaration do not demonstrate a stray piece of merchandise that a customer may have left in the route, rather they demonstrate the deliberate placement of merchandise for sale by Home Depot. Such deliberate placement of merchandise by Store employees is not “temporary or isolated.” See Chapman, 870 F.Supp.2d at 1009-10. Given these considerations, Curtis has shown that Home Depot violated 2010 ADAAG § 403.5.1 and 28 C.F.R. § 36.211(a) by not maintaining an unobstructed accessible route.

Again, there is no evidence that Home Depot is currently violating 2010 ADAAG 403.5.1 and 28 C.F.R. § 36.211(a). However, the Court cannot agree that Home Depot's voluntary cessation of the offending conduct has mooted the issue. Under the voluntary cessation exception to mootness, mere cessation of illegal activity in response to pending litigation does not moot a case unless it is shown that the “allegedly wrongful behavior could not reasonably be expected to recur.” Friends of the Earth, Inc. v. Laidlaw Envtl. Servs., Inc., 528 U.S. 167, 189 (2000); Rosemere Neighborhood Ass'n v. EPA, 581 F.3d 1169, 1173 (9th Cir. 2009).

Here, Home Depot argues that its policy against obstruction combined with the acts of Wall in inspecting the route show that the route is maintained and the issue is moot. The Court disagrees. Wall testified at his deposition that Home Depot has had some policy against obstructing accessible routes for about 5 years. See Wall Depo. 165:24-166:8. However, Curtis declared that he has complained to Store management about obstructions in the accessible routes from merchandise and displays for the last 2 to 3 years, but the problem was not remedied. See Curtis Dec. ¶¶ 18-19. In fact, one manager was extremely dismissive of Curtis and denied that there was even a problem with merchandise obstructing the accessible route. See id. at ¶ 20. These complaints would have been made at a time when a Home Depot policy against obstruction was in place. See Wall Depo. 165:24-166:8; Curtis Dec. ¶¶ 18-20. In other words, whatever policy was in force did not prevent Curtis from experiencing non-temporary obstructions on numerous occasions, nor did the existence of the policy change results when Curtis complained to store managers. Further, the policy that has been produced for the Court's review was apparently shown to Wall for the first time a few months before his April 2014 deposition. See Wall Depo. 134:22-136:25. This suggests that the policy is not commonly known to Home Depot employees and managers, and that there is a new emphasis on keeping accessible routes free from obstruction. Finally, unlike other barriers, Home Depot could easily revert to obstructing the accessible routes through placement of merchandise or displays. The barrier involved is not so much structural in nature, as it is a maintenance issue. Redesign, new construction, renovation, or any type of structural modification is not necessary in order to keep the accessible route unobstructed with merchandise. Obstruction merely depends on Home Depot ordering an employee to place merchandise in or near the accessible route. Given the nature of the barrier, what appears to be a relatively new policy, and Curtis's experiences despite a 5-year old policy against obstruction, Home Depot's voluntary cessation of obstructing the accessible route does not moot the controversy. Cf. Hickman, 144 F.3d at 1144 (noting that the ADA compliance in that case was “far more than a mere voluntary cessation of an alleged illegal conduct, where we would leave the defendants free to return to their old ways, ” and noting that the resumption of the challenged conduct “does not depend solely on the defendants' capricious actions.”).

Because the issue is not moot, and Curtis has shown improper maintenance of the accessible route to the Store entrance, summary judgment in favor of Curtis is appropriate.

2. Accessible Route From Accessible Parking Area – FAC ¶ 11(b)

Under the 2010 ADAAG, an accessible route of at least 36” in width must be provided from inter alia accessible parking to an accessible entrance. See 2010 ADAAG §§ 206.2.1, 403.5.1. Like the previous barrier, there is no dispute that the actual route is at least 36” wide; the dispute is whether the route is maintained at a 36” width.

Curtis relies on the same evidence to establish an obstruction in this route as he did with the previous accessible route. See Plaintiff's Motion (Doc. No. 43-1) at p.11. In the absence of clarification from the parties, the Court views the accessible Store entrance route to be part of the accessible route that leads from the parking area to the Store entrance. Again, the photographic evidence presented shows that merchandise has obstructed the accessible route that runs along the front of the Store, and Curtis's declaration shows that he has encountered this problem on numerous occasions despite complaints to management. Curtis's evidence shows that Home Depot has not adequately maintained the accessible route as required by 28 C.F.R. § 36.211(a).

For the same reasons discussed above, the evidence shows that Home Depot has not adequately maintained the accessible route so as to keep it free of non-temporary obstructions that reduce it to less than 36”. Summary judgment in favor of Curtis on this claim is appropriate.

3. Caldwell Ave. Curb Ramp Slope – FAC ¶ 11(d)

Under the 2010 ADAAG, curb ramps may not have a running slope steeper than 1:12, or 8.33%. See 2010 ADAAG § 405.2, 406.1. There is an accessible route with a curb ramp from the public sidewalk on Caldwell Ave. to the Store's entrance that is at least 36” wide. See DUMF 6.

In December 2013, Bluhm measured the slope of the curb ramp to be 10.1%. See Blum Dec. ¶ 8 & Ex. B. In August 2014, the curb ramp was rebuilt and resloped. See Wall Opp. Dec. ¶ 8. Wall measured the slope of the curb ramp to be 6.2%. See id. at Ex. 4. In September 2014, Kleaver measured the slope, and found that it was 4.8º. See Kleaver Dec. Ex. 4. Bluhm has declared that when 4.8º is converted to a percentage, the slope is actually 8.4%. See Blum Op. Dec. ¶ 11.[6] Additionally, when Bluhm revisited the Store in December 2014, he re-measured the slope of the ramp curb and found that it measured 9.6%. See id. at ¶ 13 & Ex. B.

There is no doubt that 6.2% is within the regulatory limit, but a slope of 8.4% and a slope of 9.6% both exceed the maximum regulatory slope.[7] The Court is faced with conflicting measurements. The Court cannot resolve the conflicting measurements through a summary judgment motion. Viewing the evidence through the prism of summary judgment, the Court must deny both motions for summary judgment.

4 Cross-Slope Along Accessible Entry Route - FAC ¶ 11(e)

Under the 1991 ADAAG, cross-slopes on an accessible route cannot exceed 1:50, or 2.0%. See 1991 ADAAG § 4.3.7. Under the 2010 ADAAG, cross-slopes on an accessible route cannot exceed 1:48, or 2.08%. See 2010 ADAAG § 403.3.

During his December 2013 visit, Bluhm measured two cross-slopes of the Store entry walkway. See Bluhm Dec. ¶ 9. Bluhm obtained slope measurements of 2.4% and 3.1%. See id. 6 Ex. C.[8] In August 2014, the area of the walkway where Bluhm took his measurements was resurfaced. See Wall Dec. ¶ 10. Wall measured the two cross-slopes of the resurfaced entry walkway, and obtained measurements of 1.5% and 1.9%. See Wall Dec. ¶ 9 & Ex. 5. In September 2014, Kleaver measured the cross-slopes to be 1.6° and 1.7°. See Kleaver Dec. If 9 & Ex. 4. Bluhm declares that converting 1.6° and 1.7° to percentages yields slopes of 2.79% and 2.97%, respectively. See Bluhm Opp. Dec. ¶¶ 14, 15. There is no indication that Bluhm re-measured the cross-slope of the entry walk-way during his December 2014 re-visit. See Bluhm Opp. Dec.

The Court is again faced with conflicting measurements. The measurements taken by Wall show Home Depot is in compliance, as 1.5% and 1.9% are obviously less than 2.0%. However, Bluhm's December 2013 measurements, and Kleaver's measurements when converted from degrees to percentages, show cross-slopes greater than 2.0%. The Court cannot resolve the conflicting measurements through a summary judgment motion. Viewing the evidence through the prism of summary judgment, the Court must deny both motions for summary judgment.

5. Cross-Slope Of Parking Stall – FAC ¶ 11(g)

Under the 1991 ADAAG, accessible parking spaces and aisles cannot contain slopes that exceed 1:50, or 2.0%. See 1991 ADAAG 4.6.3. The 2010 ADAAG mandates that cross-slopes in parking spaces and accessible aisles cannot exceed 1:48, or 2.08%. See 2010 ADAAG § 502.4.

In December 2013, Bluhm measured the cross-slopes of a parking stall and loading/unloading accessible aisle. See Bluhm Dec. ¶ 11. Bluhm obtained measurements for these cross-slopes ranging between 2.4% and 2.6%. See id. & Ex. E.[9] In August 2014, the northwest parking stall was undesignated as an accessible parking area. See Wall Dec. ¶ 11. Wall measured the southwest accessible stall and obtained a slope measurement of 1.4%. See id. & Ex. 7. In September 2014, Kleaver measured the cross-slope of the southwest accessible parking stall to be 1.4º.[10] See Kleaver Dec. ¶ 11 & Ex. 7. Bluhm declares that converting 1.4º to percentages yields a figure of 2.44%. See Bluhm Opp. Dec. ¶ 16. There is no indication that Bluhm re-measured the cross-slope of the southwest parking stall during his December 2014 visit.

The Court is again faced with conflicting measurements. The measurements taken by Wall show Home Depot to be in compliance, as 1.4% is obviously less than 2.0%. However, Bluhm's December 2013 measurements, and Kleaver's measurements when converted from degrees to percentages, show a cross-slope greater than 2.0% for the southwest accessible parking stall. The Court cannot resolve the conflicting measurements through a summary judgment motion. Viewing the evidence through the prism of summary judgment, the Court must deny both motions for summary judgment.

6. Exterior Food/Beverage Counter Height – FAC ¶ 11(i)

Under the 2010 ADAAG, a sales and service counter cannot exceed a height of 36”, for either a forward or parallel approach. See 2010 ADAAG §§ 904.4.1, 904.4.2.

During Bluhm's initial visit to the Store, there was one counter at the exterior food and beverage stand. See Bluhm Dec. ¶ 13. The counter's height is 57”. After Bluhm's initial visit, a second counter located on the left-side of the food stand was added. See Wall Opp. Dec. ¶ 13; Bluhm Opp. Dec. ¶ 18. The height of the second counter is slightly more than 33”. See Wall Opp. Dec. ¶ 13 & Ex. 8.

Curtis argues that this second counter is not an “equivalent facilitation” because it is inferior to the first counter in every way. The first counter offers menus, impulse buy items, and product displays. The second counter has none of these amenities. Further, the second counter is around the corner and completely separates disabled individuals from non-disabled individuals. In reply, Wall declares that the first counter is located along the front walkway and the second counter is located next to the dining seating area of the food stand. See Wall Rep. Dec. ¶ 6. Wall declares that both counters offer the same services, meaning that the customers can purchase and pay for food and beverages and receive their food orders at both counters. See id. The menu board for the food stand is located to the side of the first/front walkway counter, and not at one counter or the other. See id. In Wall's experience, customers typically view the menu board prior to approaching one of the counters to place an order. See id. Further, display signs that were present at the first counter during Bluhm's first visit are no longer present. See id.

The 1991 ADAAG § 2.2 states in part that “departures from particular technical and scoping requirements of the ADAAG by the use of other designs and technologies are permitted where the alternative designs and technologies used will provide substantially equivalent or greater access to and usability of a facility.” 1991 ADAAG § 2.2. The 2010 ADAAG § 103 states that nothing “prevents the use of designs, products, or technologies as alternatives to those prescribed, provided that they result in substantially equivalent or greater accessibility and usability.” See 2010 ADAAG § 103. The burden of establishing “equivalent facilitation” rests on the defendant. See Independent Living, 982 F.Supp. at 727.

Contrary to Curtis's argument, it is not necessary for Home Depot to provide a wholly equivalent design to that mandated by 2010 ADAAG § 904.4.1. Home Depot must provide a design that is “substantially equivalent.” Wall's reply declaration describes a counter that complies with the relevant height restrictions, and one that appears to provide equivalent services. Further, signs and displays that were present during Bluhm's initial visit have been removed, and the indication is that no signs and displays are part of any counter. Finally, the location of the second counter is not the same as the first, but Wall's declaration describes a location that appears to be desirable, since it is close to a seating area and the first counter. In other words, Wall's reply declaration indicates that the second counter is "substantially equivalent" to the first counter.

Nevertheless, Wall's reply declaration contains no photographs of the second counter, and Curtis has not had an opportunity to respond to Wall's reply declaration. Because the Court does not feel that Curtis has had a sufficient opportunity to address the new evidence, the Court will deny summary judgment.[11]

7. Cross-Slope of Exterior Food/Beverage Counter – FAC ¶ 11(j)

Under the 1991 ADAAG, accessible elements must be connected by accessible routes that have slopes of no more than 1:50, or 2.0%. See 1991 ADAAG 4.3.2(2), 4.3.7. Under the 2010 ADAAG, accessible elements on a site must be connected by an accessible route and cannot have a slope greater than 1:48, or 2.08%. See 2010 ADAAG § 206.2.2, 403.3.

In Home Depot's opposition, Wall declared that the slope in front of the second counter was less than 2.08%. See Wall Opp. Dec. ¶ 13 & Ex. 9. Bluhm's opposition declaration does not address this measurement, nor does Curtis. Instead, Curtis argues that because the second counter is not equivalent, the slope at the first counter must be less than 2.08%, and it is not. Bluhm measured the slope at the first counter to be 3.0%. See Bluhm Dec. ¶ 14 & Ex. H.

Resolution of this claim depends on whether the second counter is substantially equivalent to the first counter. If the second counter is substantially equivalent, then there is no violation of §§ 206.2.2 and 403.3 because there is unrebutted evidence that the slope is less than 2.0%. If the second counter is not substantially equivalent to the first counter, then there is unrebutted evidence that the slope is greater than 2.0%. Because the Court is denying both summary judgment motions with respect to the height of the exterior food counter, summary judgment on this claim will also be denied.

8. Tool Rental Counter Height – FAC ¶ 11(n)

The 1991 ADAAG requires that, where counters have cash registers and are provided for sales or distribution of goods or services to the public, ” a portion of the counter cannot exceed 36” in height. See 1991 ADAAG § 7.2(1). The 2010 ADAAG also mandates that sales and service counters cannot exceed a height of 36”. See 2010 ADAAG § 904.4.1.

The Store has a tool rental area, and at the rental area there is a counter with several cash registers, telephones, and credit/debit card readers. See Bluhm Dec. Ex. K. It is undisputed that a portion of the counter has a height of less than 36”. See Bluhm Dec. ¶ 17; Wall Opp. Dec. ¶ 14. Home Depot argues that the counter is in compliance with 2010 ADAAG 904.4.1 because it is less than 36” tall. Curtis argues that the 2010 ADAAG requires that check writing surfaces in checkout aisles cannot exceed 34” in height. See 2010 ADAAG §§ 902.3, 904.3.3. Because the counter is greater than 34”, Curtis contends that there is a barrier.

Curtis acknowledges that the 1991 ADAAG determines whether there is a barrier. See Doc. No. 43-1 at pp. 5-6. The relevant 1991 ADAAG provision cited by Curtis for this alleged barrier is 1991 ADAAG § 7.2(1). See id. at p.15. That provision sets a height limit of 36”, it does not set a height limit of 34”. See 1991 ADAAG 7.2(1). Because the counter is less than 36”, there is no violation of 1991 ADAAG § 7.2(1).

Furthermore, in terms of the 2010 ADAAG, the Court agrees with Home Depot's characterization of the counter. The tool rental counter does not appear to be a checkout aisle, as that term is commonly understood. See Bluhm Dec. Ex. K. Rather, the picture of the tool rental area depicts what would commonly be described as a sales or service counter. See id. Sales and service counters are governed by 2010 ADAAG § 904.4, while checkout aisles are governed by 2010 ADAAG § 904.3. Curtis's reliance on 2010 ADAAG § 904.3.3 is misplaced.

Because the tool rental counter is less than 36” in height, there is no barrier. Summary judgment in favor of Home Depot on this claim is appropriate.

9. Maneuvering Clearance At Men's Restroom – FAC ¶ 11(q)

Under the 2010 ADAAG, for a latch-side push approach restroom door, a minimum of 42” of maneuvering space is required. See 2010 ADAAG § 404.2.4.1. However, if a door-closer is attached to the door, then an additional 6” of maneuvering space is required. See id. at n.4.

Bluhm declared that he measured 46” of clearance between a drinking fountain and the restroom door. See Bluhm Dec. ¶ 18. Because the Store's restroom door had a self-closing mechanism, Bluhm declares that an additional 6” of maneuvering space is necessary, meaning that 48” of total clearance is required. See Bluhm Opp. Dec. ¶ 19. Home Depot does not dispute that 48” inches of clearance is required due to the self-closing door mechanism. See 2010 ADAAG § 404.2.4.1 n.4. However, as part of the reply, Wall declares that since Bluhm's 2014 re-visit, there is no longer a door closer on the men's restroom. See Wall Rep. Dec. ¶ 7.

Here, the dispute between the parties is due to the door closer. Without a door-closer, there is no dispute that more than 42” of maneuvering space is provided and that there would be no barrier. Because the door closer has been removed, and there is nothing to indicate that Home Depot will put the door closer back on, there is no barrier and this claim is moot. Cf. Hickman, 144 F.3d at 1143-44; Houston, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 12209 at *2-*3; Independent Living, 982 F.Supp.2d at 774. Summary judgment in favor of Home Depot on this claim is appropriate.

10. Covered Restroom Pipes – FAC ¶ 11(u)

Under the 2010 ADAAG, water supply and drain pipes under lavatories and sinks must be insulated or otherwise configured to protect against contact. See 2010 ADAAG § 606.5.

During his initial inspection, Bluhm noted that pipes under the men's restroom sinks were not fully insulated so as to avoid contact. See Bluhm Dec. ¶ 21 & Ex. N. As part of Home Depot's opposition, Wall declared that the pipes under the sinks are now wrapped to prevent costumers from coming into contact with them. See Wall Opp. Dec. ¶ 16 & Ex. 12. During Bluhm's December 2014 return inspection, Bluhm found that not all pipes were wrapped and that a person in a wheel chair could still come into contact with hot pipes. See Bluhm Opp. Dec. ¶ 21. In reply, Wall declares that the pipes have been re-wrapped since Bluhm's return visit, and that there are no exposed portions of piping that a customer could come into contact. See Wall Rep. Dec. ¶ 8 & Ex. 17.

Wall's reply declaration includes pictures of the sinks in the men's restroom at the Store. See id. Additional insulation has been added over some of the previously exposed pipes. See id.

However, there are still some pipes that are exposed. See id. What the exposed pipes deliver or whether the pipes otherwise pose a danger to a disabled customer is unknown. Further, the exposed pipes appear to be blocked or “boxed in” by other insulated pipes. From the pictures, it does not appear to the Court that the legs or knees of a customer who is in a wheelchair would be in danger of touching the exposed pipe. Cf. Wall Rep. Dec. Ex. 17 with 1991 ADAAG § 4.19.3 Fig. 31. The configuration of the sinks in conjunction with the insulation that has been added indicate that there is no longer a violation of 2010 ADAAG § 606.5.

Nevertheless, the exact measurements of the sinks are unknown, and Curtis has not had a chance to respond to these pictures. Out of caution, the Court will not grant summary judgment.[12]

11. State Law Claims

Home Depot requests that the Court decline to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over Curtis's state law claims. The request is based on the premise that the there are no ADA violations. However, the Court has found two ADA violations, and summary judgment is being denied as to six other alleged ADA barriers. Because the Court has not resolved all of Curtis's ADA claims, it will retain supplemental jurisdiction over Curtis's state law claims.

B. PLAINTIFF’S REQUESTED RELIEF

1. Injunctive Relief

Curtis has requested injunctive relief so that the alleged barriers may be removed. Curtis will be entitled to injunctive relief with respect to maintaining accessible routes to the Store's entrances. However, the Court is denying all summary judgment with respect to six other alleged barriers. Because this case remains on-going, the Court declines to issue an injunction at this time. Once all alleged barriers have been finally determined, the Court will issue an injunction.

2. Monetary Relief

A violation of the ADA is an automatic violation of the California Unruh Civil Rights Act. See Cal. Civ. Code § 51(f); Jankey v. Lee, 55 Cal.4th 1038, 1044 (2012). Under the Unruh Act, a prevailing plaintiff may recover inter alia a minimum statutory damages award of $4, 000 per violation. See Cal. Civ. Code § 52(a); Jankey, 55 Cal.4th at 1044. However, a plaintiff must demonstrate that each encounter he had with a particular barrier denied him full and equal access to a place of accommodation. See Cal. Civ. Code § 55.56(a); Garcia v. Brown, 2012 Cal.Unpub. LEXIS 4919, *4-*5 & n.2 (2012).[13] A denial of full and equal access may be demonstrated if the plaintiff shows that he experienced difficulty, discomfort, or embarrassment because of the barrier. See Cal. Civ. Code § 55.56(c); Garcia, 2012 Cal.Unpub. LEXIS 4919 at *4-*5 & n.2.

Here, Curtis has declared without contradiction that each time he has encountered the accessible route being blocked, he has experienced either difficulty or discomfort.[14] If the route to the nursery is blocked, Curtis must go to the main Store entrance and then wheel himself across the Store to get to the nursery, and then repeat the process to leave. See Curtis Dec. ¶ 31. This creates difficulty because Curtis has a manual wheelchair. See id. Further, when he needs to go to the main entrance of the Store and the accessible routes are obstructed, he has to travel outside the accessible route and into the path of travel for automobiles. See id. at ¶ 30. This causes Curtis anxiety, stress, and discomfort that he may be hit by a car. See id. Curtis requests only $4, 000 in statutory damages. See Doc. No. 43-1 at 21:11-14.

Home Depot does not challenge Curtis's evidence or arguments regarding statutory damages, rather Home Depot focuses on the absence of barriers.

In the absence of additional argument from Home Depot, Curtis has met his burden. On many occasions, Curtis has experienced obstructed/unmaintained accessible routes that have caused him discomfort and difficulty. See Curtis Dec. ¶¶ 18-28, 30-31. Summary judgment in favor of Curtis for $4, 000 in statutory damages under the Unruh Act is appropriate. See Cal. Civ. Code §§ 51(f), 55.56(a), (c); Jankey, 55 Cal.4th at 1044.

CONCLUSION

Both parties move for summary judgment.

With respect to the ten alleged ADA barriers, summary judgment in favor of Curtis on the barriers alleged in Paragraphs 10(a) and 11(b) of the FAC is appropriate because the evidence shows that Home Depot has not adequately maintained unobstructed accessible routes with widths of 36". Summary judgment in favor of Home Depot will be granted as to the barriers alleged in Paragraphs 1 l(n) and 1 l(q) because there never was a barrier as alleged in Paragraph 1 l(n) and the barrier in Paragraph 1 l(q) has been remedied. Because there are either conflicting measurements, or because Curtis has not had an adequate opportunity to respond, summary judgment on the remaining six alleged barriers will be denied.

With respect to Curtis's state law claims, there is an insufficient basis to decline supplemental jurisdiction. Further, the Court will decline to issue an injunction until a final determination has been made with respect to each alleged barrier. However, as to statutory damages under California law, Curtis declares that he only seeks $4, 000.00. Because Curtis has sufficiently met his burden, and Home Depot did not adequately refute Curtis's claim, summary judgment in favor of Curtis for a statutory damage award in the amount of $4, 000.00 will be granted.

ORDER[15]

Accordingly, IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that:

1. Home Depot's motion for summary judgment is GRANTED with respect to the claims found in Paragraphs 1 l(n) and 1 l(q) of the FAC;
2. Home Depot's motion for summary judgment is otherwise DENIED;
3. Curtis' s motion for summary judgment is GRANTED with respect to the claims found in Paragraphs 10(a) and 11(b) of the FAC and as to Curtis's claim for $4, 000 in statutory damages under the California Unruh Act; and
4. Curtis' s motion for summary judgment is otherwise DENIED.

IT IS SO ORDERED.


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