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Johnson v. Rehman

United States District Court, E.D. California

July 29, 2016

SCOTT JOHNSON, Plaintiff,
v.
AZIZUR REHMAN; and OMAR GHAITH, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          MORRISON C. ENGLAND, JR. UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This case arises out of claims that Plaintiff Scott Johnson (“Plaintiff”), who is confined to a wheelchair, visited SmarTek, a store located in Sacramento, CA, on several occasions in early 2014 and encountered discriminatory barriers to access. As a result, he filed the operative Complaint in this action against Defendants Omar Ghaith and Azizur Rehman (collectively, “Defendants”), who are the real property owners, business operators, lessors, and/or lessees of SmarTek. Specifically, Plaintiff alleges that Defendants are in violation of the American with Disabilities Act (ADA), 42 U.S.C. § 12101, and related California laws.

         Presently before the Court is Defendants’ Motion for Summary Judgment (“Motion”).[1] ECF No. 26. For the reasons that follow, Defendants’ Motion is GRANTED in part and DENIED in part.[2]

         BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff is a quadriplegic with significant dexterity impairments. He uses a wheelchair for mobility and has a specially equipped van. It is uncontroverted that Defendant Ghaith owns/operates the SmarTek retail business, and Defendant Rehman has owned the building that houses SmarTek since 2012.

         Plaintiff visited SmarTek on several occasions, including on dates in January and March 2014. On those visits, he encountered barriers that made SmarTek inaccessible to wheelchair users. Such barriers include: a lack of accessible travel paths in and throughout the merchandise aisles; a lack of any van parking space; door hardware at SmarTek’s entrance that requires a person to grasp and twist with the wrist to open; and a lack of edge protection for the curb ramp. Despite these barriers, Plaintiff was ultimately able to enter SmarTek and conduct business therein, but he claims that the barriers agitated him. Plaintiff filed this Complaint on June 18, 2014, asserting four causes of action: (1) violations of the ADA, (2) violations of the Unruh Civil Rights Act (“Unruh”), (3) violations of the California Disabled Persons Act (DPA), and (4) the California tort of negligence.

         STANDARD

         The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provide for summary judgment when “the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); see also Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). One of the principal purposes of Rule 56 is to dispose of factually unsupported claims or defenses. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 325.

         Rule 56 also allows a court to grant summary judgment on part of a claim or defense, known as partial summary judgment. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a) (“A party may move for summary judgment, identifying each claim or defense-or the part of each claim or defense-on which summary judgment is sought.”); see also Allstate Ins. Co. v. Madan, 889 F.Supp. 374, 378-79 (C.D. Cal. 1995). The standard that applies to a motion for partial summary judgment is the same as that which applies to a motion for summary judgment. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); State of Cal. ex rel. Cal. Dep’t of Toxic Substances Control v. Campbell, 138 F.3d 772, 780 (9th Cir. 1998) (applying summary judgment standard to motion for summary adjudication).

         In a summary judgment motion, the moving party always bears the initial responsibility of informing the court of the basis for the motion and identifying the portions in the record “which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact.” Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323. If the moving party meets its initial responsibility, the burden then shifts to the opposing party to establish that a genuine issue as to any material fact actually does exist. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586-87 (1986); First Nat’l Bank v. Cities Serv. Co., 391 U.S. 253, 288-89 (1968).

         In attempting to establish the existence or non-existence of a genuine factual dispute, the party must support its assertion by “citing to particular parts of materials in the record, including depositions, documents, electronically stored information, affidavits[, ] or declarations . . . or other materials; or showing that the materials cited do not establish the absence or presence of a genuine dispute, or that an adverse party cannot produce admissible evidence to support the fact.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1). The opposing party must demonstrate that the fact in contention is material, i.e., a fact that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 251-52 (1986); Owens v. Local No. 169, Assoc. of W. Pulp and Paper Workers, 971 F.2d 347, 355 (9th Cir. 1987). The opposing party must also demonstrate that the dispute about a material fact “is ‘genuine, ’ that is, if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. In other words, the judge needs to answer the preliminary question before the evidence is left to the jury of “not whether there is literally no evidence, but whether there is any upon which a jury could properly proceed to find a verdict for the party producing it, upon whom the onus of proof is imposed.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 251 (quoting Improvement Co. v. Munson, 81 U.S. 442, 448 (1871)) (emphasis in original). As the Supreme Court explained, “[w]hen the moving party has carried its burden under Rule [56(a)], its opponent must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts.” Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 586. Therefore, “[w]here the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the nonmoving party, there is no ‘genuine issue for trial.’” Id. at 587.

         In resolving a summary judgment motion, the evidence of the opposing party is to be believed, and all reasonable inferences that may be drawn from the facts placed before the court must be drawn in favor of the opposing party. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255. Nevertheless, 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. Richards v. Nielsen Freight Lines, 602 F.Supp. 1224, 1244-45 (E.D. Cal. 1985), aff’d, 810 F.2d 898 (9th Cir. 1987).

         ANALYSIS

         A. ...


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