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Johnson v. Rehman

United States District Court, E.D. California

July 3, 2019

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

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          MORRISON C. ENGLAND, JR. UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This lawsuit was brought by Plaintiff Scott Johnson ("Plaintiff') under the 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, ("Unruh Act") on grounds that SmarTek, a now-closed store previously located at 5050 Fruitridge Road, Sacramento, CA (the "Property"), contained impermissible barriers to access. Defendant Omar Ghaith ("Ghaith") was the owner of SmarTek at the time this action was filed, and SmarTek operated on real property owned by Defendant Azizur Rehman ("Rehman").

         Presently before the Court is Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment, which contends that Plaintiff is entitled as a matter of law to statutory penalties against Defendants under the Unruh Act in the amount of $8, 000.00, as well as injunctive relief requiring that Rehman provide accessible parking at the Property. As set forth below, Plaintiff's Motion (ECF No. 43) is GRANTED.[1]

         BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff cannot walk, uses a wheelchair for mobility, and has significant manual dexterity impairments. Defs.' Sep. Stmt. of Undisputed Facts (“SUF”), ECF No. 45-1, ¶ 1.[2] He also uses a specially equipped van with a lift. Id. at ¶ 2. Ghaith owned/operated the SmarTek retail business, and Rehman has owned the building that housed SmarTek since 2012. Id. at ¶¶ 5, 6. Plaintiff visited SmarTek on several occasions, including on dates in January, February, and March 2014. Id. at ¶¶ 7, 21. On those visits, he encountered barriers that made SmarTek inaccessible to wheelchair users. Such barriers included lack of ADA compliant parking (to include van parking), inaccessible door hardware at SmarTek's entrance, and a lack of edge protection for the curb ramp. Id. at ¶ 8, 14, 17.

         Specifically, Plaintiff alleges that the Property did not supply a single handicapped accessible parking spot for its patrons. Id. at ¶ 8. Although one space appeared to have faintly visible hatch marked striping, that space lacked a marked access aisle. Id. at ¶¶ 9, 10. Given his impairments, Plaintiff needs accessible parking with an eight-foot access aisle and accompanying safety lettering to safely deploy his lift and exit the van. SUF ¶ 11. In the absence of a space meeting these requirements, Plaintiff claimed he had to park in a non-accessible spot and leave the ramp to his vehicle deployed so that he would be able to get back into the vehicle upon his return. Id. at ¶¶ 12, 13. In addition to the lack of an accessible parking, Plaintiff claims he also had trouble navigating his wheelchair into SmarTek because of the presence of a ramp without flared sides along the path of travel, which proved difficult to traverse in a wheelchair. Id. at ¶ 17. Finally, Plaintiff alleges that SmarTek's door hardware had a round knob which required tight grasping and twisting of the wrist to operate, something that Plaintiff's manual dexterity impairments make problematic. Id. at ¶¶ 14, 15, 16.

         Despite these barriers, Plaintiff was able to enter SmarTek and conduct business therein, but he claims that the barriers agitated him. Id. at ¶ 20. In later visits, Plaintiff discovered that Defendants altered the parking lot and door hardware to improve accessibility. Id. at ¶ 22. However, barriers remained, as a curb ramp extended into the newly created access aisle of the van accessible parking space, the access aisle lacked “NO PARKING” lettering, signs reading “Minimum $250 Fine” or “Van Accessible” were not present, and there was no sign with tow-away information within the parking lot. Id. at ¶¶ 25, 26, 30, 32, 33.

         Plaintiff filed this Complaint on June 18, 2014, asserting four causes of action: (1) violations of the ADA, (2) violations of the Unruh Act, (3) violations of the California Disabled Persons Act ("DPA"), and (4) the California tort of negligence. ECF No. 1. Defendants previously moved for Summary Judgment on each of Plaintiff's claims. ECF Nos. 23, 26. In an August 2016 Order, the Court granted Defendants' summary judgment on Plaintiff's Fourth Cause of Action, but otherwise denied the motion. ECF No. 40. Plaintiff now moves for summary judgment on his remaining claims. ECF No. 43.

         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 (CD. 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. Ric ...


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