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Kalani v. Starbucks Corp.

United States District Court, N.D. California, San Jose Division

February 25, 2015


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For Robert Kalani, Plaintiff: Tanya Eugene Moore, LEAD ATTORNEY, Moore Law Firm, P.C., San Jose, CA.

For Starbucks Corporation, a Washington Corporation doing business as Starbucks Coffee, Defendant: Shane Singh, LEAD ATTORNEY, Lewis Brisbois Bisgaard & Smith LLP. Sacramento, CA.

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LUCY H. KOH, United States District Judge.

Plaintiff Robert Kalani (" Plaintiff" or " Kalani" ) brings this action against Defendant Starbucks Corporation (" Defendant" or " Starbucks" ) for alleged violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Before the Court are the parties' cross-motions for summary judgment. Having considered the submissions of the parties, the record in this case, and the relevant law, the Court hereby grants in part and denies in part Plaintiff's motion for summary judgment and denies Defendant's motion for summary judgment.


A. Factual Background

It is undisputed that Plaintiff is mobility impaired and uses a wheelchair. See Stipulation Regarding Undisputed Facts, ECF No. 75-6. On January 31, 2013, Plaintiff visited the Starbucks Coffee Store #6931, located at 1228 Camden Avenue in Campbell, California. Id. According to Plaintiff, on the day of his visit, he personally encountered several architectural barriers at the store that " interfered with if not outright denied, Plaintiff's ability to use and enjoy the goods, services, privileges and accommodations offered" at the store. First Am. Compl. (" FAC" ), ECF No. 34, ¶ 10. Id. More specifically, Plaintiff alleges that the parking space was sloped, the surface of the access aisle was cracked and uneven, the cashier counter had insufficient room for Plaintiff to conduct his transaction, and the service counter where drinks were to be picked up was " extremely high." FAC ¶ 10. As a result of these architectural barriers, Plaintiff contends he required assistance from his wife to place, pay for, and receive his order, all of which caused him embarrassment. Id.

The Starbucks store was completely renovated in or about September 2014, continuing through October 2014. See Stipulation Regarding Undisputed Facts, ECF No. 75-6.

B. Procedural History

Plaintiff filed his original complaint on February 19, 2013, against Defendants Starbucks and Brentina, LLC. ECF No. 1. Starbucks answered on March 20, 2013, ECF No. 7, and Brentina, LLC answered on April 1, 2013, ECF No. 8. The parties stipulated to Plaintiff filing his First Amended Complaint on March 14, 2014. ECF Nos. 32, 34. Starbucks filed its amended answer on April 3, 2014, ECF No. 37, and Brentina, LLC filed its amended answer on April 4, 2014, ECF No. 38.

On September 26, 2014, Plaintiff filed a notice of settlement as to Defendant Brentina, LLC, ECF No. 63, and a stipulation of dismissal as to Defendant Brentina, LLC on October 27, 2014, ECF No. 66.

Plaintiff filed his motion for summary judgment on January 15, 2015. ECF No. 75. Defendant Starbucks filed an opposition on January 29, 2015, ECF No. 78, and Plaintiff filed his reply on February 5, 2015, ECF No. 79.

Defendant also filed its motion for summary judgment on January 15, 2015. ECF No. 76. Plaintiff filed his opposition on January 29, 2015, ECF No. 77, and Starbucks filed its reply on February 5, 2015, ECF No. 80.


Summary judgment is appropriate if, viewing the evidence and drawing all reasonable

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inferences in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, there are no genuine issues of material fact, and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 321, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986). At the summary judgment stage, the Court " does not assess credibility or weigh the evidence, but simply determines whether there is a genuine factual issue for trial." House v. Bell, 547 U.S. 518, 559-60, 126 S.Ct. 2064, 165 L.Ed.2d 1 (2006). A fact is " material" if it " might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law," Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986), and a dispute as to a material fact is " genuine" if there is sufficient evidence for a reasonable trier of fact to decide in favor of the nonmoving party, id. " If the evidence is merely colorable, or is not significantly probative, summary judgment may be granted." Id.

The moving party bears the initial burden of identifying those portions of the pleadings, discovery, and affidavits that demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 323. Where the moving party will have the burden of proof on an issue at trial, it must affirmatively demonstrate that no reasonable trier of fact could find other than for the moving party, but on an issue for which the opposing party will have the burden of proof at trial, the party moving for summary judgment need only point out " that there is an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's case." Id. at 325; accord Soremekun v. Thrifty Payless, Inc., 509 F.3d 978, 984 (9th Cir. 2007). Once the moving party meets its initial burden, the nonmoving party must set forth, by affidavit or as otherwise provided in Rule 56, " specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 250.


The parties move for summary judgment as to two discrete issues: (1) whether the post-September/October 2014 renovated Starbucks store complies with federal and state accessibility requirements; and (2) whether Plaintiff is entitled to injunctive relief or damages. The parties also object to certain expert declarations. The Court begins by addressing the parties' evidentiary objections before turning to the substance of the parties' motions.

A. Evidentiary Objections

Defendant moves for summary judgment on Plaintiff's Americans with Disabilities Act (" ADA" ) claims based on the expert declarations of Kim R. Blackseth. According to Ms. Blackseth, the September 2014 and October 2014 renovations to the Starbucks store have removed all of the architectural barriers identified by Plaintiff. Ms. Blackseth states that, as of November 4, 2014, " the facility is free of non-compliant issues." See Declaration of Kim R. Blackseth (" Blackseth First Decl." ), ECF No. 76-2, ¶ 9(b). In Ms. Blackseth's second declaration, (" Blackseth Second Decl." ), ECF No. 78-1, she opines that temporary obstructions are not " barriers" and that the store therefore fully complies with the relevant ADA guidelines.

In opposition, Plaintiff objects to several paragraphs in Ms. Blackseth's declaration as impermissible legal conclusions, and argues that Ms. Blackseth's conclusions are inadmissible. See ECF No. 77 (" Pl. Opp." ). Plaintiff also contends that the displays and other movable objects located on the floor and counters do not fall within the

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exception for " temporary" obstructions under 28 C.F.R. § 36.211(b).

Although an expert may not provide testimony on an ultimate legal issue, she may testify as to findings that support the ultimate issue. See Hangarter v. Provident Life & Accident Ins. Co., 373 F.3d 998, 1016-17 (9th Cir. 2004) (" While [the expert's] testimony that Defendants deviated from industry standards supported a finding that they acted in bad faith, the expert] never testified that he had reached a legal conclusion that Defendants actually acted in bad faith (i.e., an ultimate issue of law)." ). Further, an expert may refer to the law in expressing an opinion without crossing the line into a legal conclusion. See id. However, mere " legal conclusions without underlying factual support . . . constitute 'unsupported speculation' and are therefore inadmissible." Plush Lounge Las Vegas LLC v. Hotspur Resorts Nevada Inc., 371 F.App'x 719, 720 (9th Cir. 2010) (quoting Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharms., Inc., 509 U.S. 579, 590, 113 S.Ct. 2786, 125 L.Ed.2d 469 (1993)).

Here, Plaintiff specifically objects to the following statements:

A) Plaintiff's allegations in his First Amended Complaint (Court Docket No. 32-1) are without merit.
B) The subject store fully complies with all federal and state access regulations as Plaintiff ROBERT KALANI alleges them and as they relate to his disability of a mobility impaired person who uses an automatic wheelchair. As of November 4, 2014, the facility is free of non-compliant issues.
C) The disabled, van accessible parking spot and access aisle in front of the store complies with all applicable access requirements after the renovation. A proper accessible route is provided from this parking spot to the front door.
D) The point of sale (or cashier counter) at the location complies with applicable access requirements. Allegations of non-architectural items that may temporarily be placed in that are [sic] do not trigger violations of access regulations.
G) The store's disabled seating (interior and exterior) are movable tables. They can on occasion be moved around, but they are configured to meet access requirements and comply with all requirements included [sic] clearances and turning space.
H) Clear floor space is provided at the fire extinguisher.
I) The store's restroom complies with all access requirements including transfer clearance space in the toilet room.

See Blackseth First Decl. ¶ 9(A)-(D), 9(G)-(I).

First, the Court sustains Plaintiff's objections to paragraphs 9(A)-(D), 9(G)-(I). Conclusory opinions that the " facility is free of non-compliant issues," or that particular features, e.g., the accessible parking or point of sale, " compl[y] with all applicable access requirements," constitute improper legal conclusions. See, e.g., Hangarter, 373 F.3d at 1016-17; see also Sharp v. Islands Cal. Ariz. LP, 900 F.Supp.2d 1101, 1112 (S.D. Cal. 2012) (statement that the " waiting area is accessible to wheelchair users and complies with all ADAAG requirements" constituted improper legal conclusions). These statements do not identify any factual support for Ms. Blackseth's opinions. The Court notes that Plaintiff properly does not object to ΒΆ 9(E), where Ms. Blackseth opines that " [t]he pick-up counter . . . as modified now provides a length of 36 inches and a height of 34 inches, as ...

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