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Vondersaar v. Starbucks Corporation

United States District Court, C.D. California

February 12, 2015

TIMOTHY VONDERSAAR, individually and on behalf of other members of the general public similarly situated, Plaintiff,
STARBUCKS CORPORATION, a Washington corporation, Defendant.


DEAN D. PREGERSON, District Judge.

Presently before the court is Plaintiffs' Motion for Class Certification. Having considered the submissions of the parties and heard oral argument, the court denies the motion and adopts the following order.

I. Background

Plaintiffs Timothy Vondersaar, Orlandis Hardy, Jr., Jaarome Wilson, and Bernard Taruc (collectively, "Plaintiffs")are disabled, and use wheelchairs for mobility. (Second Amended Complaint ("SAC") ¶ 25.) Plaintiffs all live in either Los Angeles or San Bernardino counties. (SAC ¶ 24.) Defendant owns, operates, and licenses coffee shops throughout California. (SAC ¶ 26.) Plaintiffs allege, on behalf of a putative class of wheelchair and electric scooter users, that an unspecified number of Defendant's stores feature pick-up counters that are too high for Plaintiffs to reach, in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. § 12181 et seq. and Calfornia's Unruh Civil Rights Act, Cal. Civ. Code § 51 et seq. (SAC ¶¶ 5, 73, 80).

Plaintiffs further allege that, prior to 2003, Defendant used standard design plans that included impermissibly high pick-up counters at every store in California. (SAC ¶¶ 57, 60). Plaintiffs also allege that every store opened in the United States between 1993 and October 2003 contained an impermissibly high counter. (SAC ¶ 58.) Approximately 200 stores in California allegedly continue to utilize unlawfully high counters. (SAC ¶ 59.) Plaintiffs allege, on information and belief, that thousands more stores across the country still have high counters, and specifically identify fifty such stores in California, some of which Plaintiffs have personally visited. (SAC ¶ 56.) Plaintiffs now seek certification of a nationwide class comprised of all disabled wheelchair and scooter users who have been adversely affected by high handoff counters in Starbucks stores constructed between January 26, 1993 and 2005, as well as a similar California class under the Unruh Act.

II. Legal Standard

The party seeking class certification bears the burden of showing that each of the four requirements of Rule 23(a) and at least one of the requirements of Rule 23(b) are met. See Hanon v. Dataprods. Corp. 976 F.2d 497, 508-09 (9th Cir. 1992). Rule 23(a) sets forth four prerequisites for class certification:

(1) the class is so numerous that joinder of all members is impracticable, (2) there are questions of law or fact common to the class, (3) the claims or defenses of the representative parties are typical of the claims or defenses of the class, and (4) the representative parties will fairly and adequately protect the interests of the class.

Fed. R. Civ. P. 23(a); see also Hanon, 976 F.2d at 508. These four requirements are often referred to as numerosity, commonality, typicality, and adequacy. See General Tel. Co. v. Falcon, 457 U.S. 147, 156 (1982). In determining the propriety of a class action, the question is not whether the plaintiff has stated a cause of action or will prevail on the merits, but rather whether the requirements of Rule 23 are met. Eisen v. Carlisle & Jacquelin, 417 U.S. 156, 178 (1974). This court, therefore, considers the merits of the underlying claim to the extent that the merits overlap with the Rule 23(a) requirements, but will not conduct a "mini-trial" or determine at this stage whether Plaintiffs could actually prevail. Ellis v. Costco Wholesale Corp., 657 F.3d 970, 981, 983 n.8 (9th Cir. 2011).

Rule 23(b) defines different types of classes. Leyva v. Medline Indus. Inc., 716 F.3d 510, 512 (9th Cir. 2012). Rule 23(b)(2) requires that the party opposing the class "has acted or refused to act on grounds that apply generally to the class...., " while Rule 23(b)(3) requires that "questions of law or fact common to class members predominate over individual questions..., and that a class action is superior to other available methods for fairly and efficiently adjudicating the controversy." Fed.R.Civ.P. 23(b).

III. Discussion

A. Mootness

In its Opposition to the motion for class certification, Starbucks raises the threshold issue of Plaintiffs' standing to bring the ADA claim. Where a plaintiff's claim becomes moot prior to class certification, the class action generally becomes moot as well. Slayman v. FedEx Ground Package Sys., Inc., 765 F.3d 1033, 1048 (9th Cir. 2014).

Defendant has submitted evidence that no California Starbucks location currently has a handoff counter higher than thirty-four inches. (Declaration of Gina Klem ¶ 4.) "Because a private plaintiff can sue only for injunctive relief... under the ADA, a defendant's voluntary removal of alleged barriers prior to trial can have the effect of mooting a plaintiff's ADA claim." Oliver v. Ralphs Grocery Co., 654 F.3d 903, 905 (9th Cir. 2011) ...

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