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Acosta v. Hasan

United States District Court, E.D. California

March 21, 2017

JOSE ACOSTA, Plaintiff,




         On January 27, 2017, Plaintiff Jose Acosta (“Plaintiff”) filed a motion for default judgment against Defendants Dirhem Hasan d/b/a Latino Liquor, Salah Hasan d/b/a Latino Liquor, and Othman Altam (collectively “Defendants”). (Doc. 15.) No opposition to Plaintiff's motion was filed. The Court has reviewed the motion and supporting documentation and determined that the matter was suitable for decision without oral argument pursuant to Local Rule 230(g). As such, the hearing on the motion was vacated. (Doc. 17.)

         For the reasons set forth below, the Court RECOMMENDS that Plaintiff's motion for default judgment be GRANTED IN PART in the amount of $6, 634.50.


         On November 7, 2016, Plaintiff filed a complaint pursuant to Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), 42 U.S.C. §§ 12101-12213; the California Unruh Act, California Civil Code § 51 et seq.; and California Health & Safety Code §§ 19955, 19959. (Doc. 1 (“Complaint”).) The Complaint seeks an award of statutory damages, prejudgment interest on the damages, costs of suit, attorney's fees, and injunctive relief. Id. Plaintiff alleges that he requires the use of a wheelchair for mobility (Compl., ¶ 8), and the property that is the subject of this suit, Latino Liquor (the “Property”), presents numerous barriers that interfered with his ability to use and enjoy the goods, services, privileges, and accommodations offered at the facility (Compl., ¶ 10).

         Defendant Othman Altam was served with the Complaint on November 10, 2016. (Doc. 8.) Defendants Dirhem Hasan d/b/a Latino Liquor and Salah Hasan d/b/a Latino Liquor were served with the Complaint on November 12, 2016. (Docs. 6 & 7.) None of the defendants responded to the Complaint.

         Plaintiff requested the Clerk of Court to enter default against Defendants on December 19, 2016 (Doc. 9), which was entered that same day. (Docs. 10, 11 & 12.) On January 27, 2017, Plaintiff filed a motion for default judgment against Defendants, which is currently pending before the Court. (Doc. 15.)


         A. Legal Standard

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 55(b) permits a court-ordered default judgment following the entry of default by the clerk of the court under Rule 55(a). It is within the sole discretion of the court as to whether default judgment should be entered. See Aldabe v. Aldabe, 616 F.2d 1089, 1092 (9th Cir. 1980). A defendant's default by itself does not entitle a plaintiff to a court-ordered judgment. See Id. Instead, the Ninth Circuit has determined a court should consider seven discretionary factors, often referred to as the “Eitel factors, ” before rendering a decision on default judgment. See Eitel v. McCool, 782 F.2d 1470, 1471-72 (9th Cir. 1986). The Eitel factors include (1) the possibility of prejudice to the plaintiff, (2) the merits of the plaintiff's substantive claim, (3) the sufficiency of the complaint, (4) the sum of money at stake in the action (5) the possibility of a dispute concerning material facts, (6) whether the default was due to excusable neglect, and (7) the strong policy underlying the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure favoring decisions on the merits. See id.

         A plaintiff is required to prove all damages sought in the complaint. See Televideo Sys., Inc. v. Heidenthal, 826 F.2d 915, 917-18 (9th Cir. 1992). In addition, any relief sought may not be different in kind from, or exceed in amount, what is demanded in the complaint. Fed.R.Civ.P. 54(c). If the facts necessary to determine the damages are not contained in the complaint, or are legally insufficient, they will not be established by default. See Cripps v. Life Ins. Co. of N. Am., 980 F.2d 1261, 1267 (9th Cir. 1992).

         Finally, once the court clerk enters a default, the well-pleaded factual allegations of the complaint are taken as true, except for those allegations relating to damages. See Televideo Sys., Inc., 826 F.2d at 917.

         B. Analysis

         1. The Eitel Factors Weigh in Favor of Granting a Default Judgment a. Prejudice to Plaintiff if Default Judgment is Not Granted

         If default judgment is not entered, Plaintiff will effectively be denied a remedy until Defendants participate and make an appearance in the litigation - which may never occur. Denying Plaintiff a means of recourse is, by itself, sufficient to meet the burden imposed by this factor. See, e.g., Philip Morris, USA, Inc. v. Castworld Prods., Inc., 219 F.R.D. 494, 499 (C.D. Cal. 2003).

         b. Merits of Plaintiff's Substantive Claims and the Sufficiency of the Complaint

         The next relevant Eitel factors include an evaluation of the merits of the substantive claims pled in the complaint as well as the general sufficiency of the complaint. In weighing these factors, courts evaluate whether the complaint is sufficient to state a claim that supports the relief sought. See Danning v.Lavine, 572 F.2d 1386, 1388 (9th Cir. 1978); see also DIRECTV, Inc. v. Huynh, 503 F.3d 847, 854 (9th Cir. 2007) (“[A] defendant is not held to admit facts that are not well-pleaded or to admit conclusions of law.”) (internal quotation marks omitted).

         Title III of the ADA provides that “[n]o individual shall be discriminated against on the basis of disability” in places of public accommodation. 42 U.S.C. § 12182(a). “Discrimination” is defined as a failure to remove “barriers . . . where such removal is readily achievable.” Id. at § 12182(b)(2)(A)(iv); see also Chapman v. Pier 1 Imports (U.S.) Inc., 631 F.3d 939, 945 (9th Cir. 2011) (en banc). Where a barrier's removal is not “readily achievable, ” a public accommodation must make its facilities available through “alternative methods if such methods are readily achievable.” 42 U.S.C. § 12182(b)(2)(A)(v).

         “To prevail on a Title III discrimination claim, the plaintiff must show that (1) [he or she] is disabled within the meaning of the ADA; (2) the defendant is a private entity that owns, leases, or operates a place of public accommodation; and (3) the plaintiff was denied public accommodations by the defendant because of her [or his] disability.” Molski v. M.J. Cable, Inc., 481 F.3d 724, 730 (9th Cir. 2007). Further, “[t]o succeed on an ADA claim of discrimination on account of one's disability due to an architectural barrier, the plaintiff must also prove that: (1) the existing facility at the defendant's place of business presents an architectural barrier prohibited under the ADA, and (2) the removal of the barrier is readily achievable.” Parr v. L & L Drive-Inn Rest., 96 F.Supp.2d 1065, 1085 (D. Haw. 2000).

         According to the complaint, Plaintiff “is substantially limited in his ability to walk, ” “must use a wheelchair for mobility, ” and is thus “physically disabled” as defined by the applicable California and federal laws. (Compl., ¶ 8.) As a store, the Property is a facility of public accommodation, does not function as a residence, and its activity affects commerce. (Compl., ¶ 9.) Plaintiff alleges that Defendants own, operate, or lease the Property; thus, they are allegedly liable for the Property's compliance with the ADA.[1] (Compl., ¶ 7.)

         Plaintiff visited the Property and alleges that Defendants failed to provide barrier-free access to the Property in the following ways: (1) the designated accessible parking stall and the adjacent access aisle were too narrow; (2) Plaintiff had to travel across the parking lot near the driveway area to reach the store entrance from his vehicle, causing him to fear that he might be struck by the vehicles that were entering and exiting through the driveway; (3) the approach to the ramp from the parking area to the entrance was obstructed by a parked vehicle, which made it difficult for Plaintiff to maneuver his wheelchair up the ramp toward the entrance; and (4) the aisles inside the Property lacked sufficient clear width for Plaintiff's wheelchair to pass through. (Compl., ¶ 10.)

         Plaintiff alleges that the removal of these architectural barriers is “readily achievable, ” or alternatively, the services could have been made available through alternative methods that were readily achievable. (Compl., ¶¶ 21-22.) As these facts are taken as true regarding Defendant following its entry of default, Plaintiff has met his burden of stating a prima facie Title III discrimination claim.

         Pursuant to the Unruh Civil Rights Act, all persons are “entitled to the full and equal accommodations, advantages, facilities, privileges, or services in all business establishments of every kind whatsoever.” Cal Civ. Code, § 51(b). Additionally, no business establishment of any kind whatsoever shall discriminate against any person in California on account of disability. Cal. Civ. Code, § 51.5. The Unruh Act also incorporates an individual's rights under the ADA by reference, such that a violation of the ADA also constitutes a violation of the Unruh Civil Rights Act. Cal. Civ. Code, § 51(f). Here, Plaintiff alleges that Defendants denied him full and equal accommodations, advantages, facilities, privileges and services in a business establishment based on his disability. (Compl., ¶ 38.) Further, because Plaintiff's complaint properly alleges a prima facie claim under the ADA, Plaintiff has also properly alleged facts establishing the necessary elements for an Unruh Civil Rights Act claim.

         California Health and Safety Code, § 19955, mandates that all public accommodations constructed in California comply with the requirements of California Government Code, § 4450. Pursuant to Section 4450, “all buildings, structures, sidewalks, curbs, and related facilities, construed in this state by the use of state, county, or municipal funds, or the funds of any political subdivision of the state shall be accessible to and usable by persons with disabilities.” Cal. Gov. Code, § 4450(a). Additionally, non-exempt public accommodations constructed prior to July 1, 1970, and later ...

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