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Johnson v. Castro

United States District Court, E.D. California

May 22, 2018




         This lawsuit was brought by Plaintiff Scott Johnson (“Plaintiff”) under provisions of both the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, 42 U.S.C. § 12101, et seq. (“ADA”), and California's Unruh Civil Rights and Disabled Persons Acts (Cal. Civ. Code §§ 51-53, 54-54.8) on grounds that Birrieria Jalisco, a restaurant located in Stockton, California (hereafter the “Restaurant”) contained barriers to access in contravention of those statutory schemes. The Restaurant is operated by Defendant Demetrio Reyes on real property owned by Defendants J. Isaac and Elvira Castro.

         Presently before the Court is Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment, made on grounds that Plaintiff is entitled, as a matter of law, to injunctive relief requiring Defendants to provide an accessible entrance, an accessible path of travel to the restroom, and accessible restroom facilities at the Restaurant. In addition, Plaintiff seeks statutory penalties against Defendants under the Unruh Act in the amount of $8, 000.00. As set forth below, Plaintiff's Motion is DENIED.[1]


         Plaintiff is a quadriplegic who cannot walk, uses a wheelchair, and has significant manual dexterity impairments. Stmt. of Undisputed Facts, ECF No. 21-2, ¶ 1. On September 5, 2014, Plaintiff claims he attempted to patronize the Restaurant, located at 2619 S. El Dorado St. in Stockton, California. Id. at ¶¶ 2-4.

         According to Plaintiff, when he pulled into the parking lot of the Restaurant, he noted that the hardware on the entrance door was a horizontal bar that Plaintiff's dexterity impairments make it hard for him to utilize because of the tight grasping the bar requires. Consequently, according to Plaintiff, he was deterred from visiting the Restaurant on September 5, 2014. Id. at ¶¶ 4-6. On October 7, 2014, however, Plaintiff claims he returned to the Restaurant to eat. He states he had difficulty opening the door, but, after a few attempts, was able to do so. Id. at ¶ 8.

         Plaintiff further claims he had to use the restroom while visiting the Restaurant and discovered that a large jukebox obstructed his path of travel, making the remaining walkway too narrow to traverse in his wheelchair. As a consequence, Plaintiff purportedly had to ask an employee to move the jukebox in order to get into the restroom. Id. at ¶¶ 10-11. Once inside the restroom, Plaintiff alleges that the hardware to lock the door required tight grasping and pinching to operate. Id. at ¶ 12. In addition, there was also only one grab bar installed adjacent to the toilet, but Plaintiff needs two bars for balance and stability. Id. at ¶ 13. Finally, again according to Plaintiff, there were accessibility issues as to the placement of the toilet seat cover dispenser, mirror, and sink knobs. Id. at ¶¶ 14-16.

         Plaintiff encountered the same above accessibility issues when he returned to the Restaurant to eat a second time on October 31, 2014. Id. at ¶¶ 18-20. Subsequently, on November 12, 2014, Plaintiff attempted to patronize the Restaurant for the third time, but avers that when he saw that the entrance door hardware remained the same, he was deterred from going inside. Id. at ¶ 21.

         Plaintiff filed this lawsuit on March 29, 2016, approximately a year and a half after he claims he last attempted to patronize the Restaurant. In opposition to the present motion, the Restaurant's general manager, Maria Gonzalez Hernandez, submitted a declaration which initially questioned Plaintiff's ability to avail himself of the Restaurant's facility on a fundamental level. More specifically, Ms. Hernandez recalled Plaintiff's two visits to the restaurant, and states that she had to personally cut up his food so that he could eat and further had to help Plaintiff in drinking with a straw. Hernandez Decl., ECF No. 23-1, ¶¶ 3, 6-12. Without such help, based on her own personal observation, Ms. Hernandez believed that Plaintiff “could not eat or drink anything in our establishment.” Id. at ¶ 13.

         Next, according to Ms. Hernandez, prior to Defendants being served with the instant lawsuit “all the alleged violations that Plaintiff claims in his complaint regarding the bathroom had been remedied.” Id. at ¶¶ 21-22. Accordingly, no legal action was consequently necessary to effectuate those changes, since they were made before the Restaurant had any knowledge of Plaintiff's complaint.

         With regard to the jukebox that Plaintiff claims impeded his path to the restroom, Ms. Hernandez states that it “usually is kept away from the entrance to the bathroom” unless inadvertently moved for cleaning. Id. at ¶ 19. Finally, with regard to the entrance door, Ms. Hernandez claims that since the Restaurant has two doors, one that can be pushed in from the outside and the other being pushed out from the inside, “no grasping or turning is required to enter or leave the restaurant.” Id. at ¶ 18.

         In now moving for summary judgment, Plaintiff concedes that “Defendants have already removed all the restroom barriers.” Pl.'s Mot., ECF No. 21, 9:16-17. Significantly, too, Plaintiff failed to submit any reply papers taking issue with Ms. Hernandez' observations that he could not eat or drink at the Restaurant, or that ingress and egress to and from the Restaurant was not impeded by non-accessible door hardware. As indicated above, Plaintiff seeks injunctive relief only for the already-remedied alleged bathroom violations, as well as the placement of the jukebox when he visited the Restaurant. In addition, Plaintiff asks for statutory penalties totaling $8, 000 under the Unruh Act at California Civil Code § 55.56 for two visits at $4, 000 per violation, even though he claims he visited and/or was deterred from visiting the Restaurant on four different occasions.


         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 ...

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