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Jones v. National Railroad Passenger Corp.

United States District Court, N.D. California

October 10, 2019

AMANDA JONES, Plaintiff,


          THOMAS S. HIXSON United States Magistrate Judge


         This case concerns alleged violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act and other civil rights laws and allegations of negligence after Plaintiff fell from her mobility device scooter while riding a bus operated by Defendants. Pending before the Court are Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment, ECF No. 175, and Plaintiff's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment, ECF No. 185. The parties have filed oppositions (EFC Nos. 187, 188) and replies (ECF Nos. 192, 193). Having considered the parties' positions, relevant legal authority, and the record in this case, the Court DENIES Plaintiff's motion and GRANTS Defendants' motion.


         On August 25, 2014, Plaintiff Amanda Jones, then a resident of Chicago, was in Santa Cruz to attend a three- to four-day research conference for her PhD program. Decl. of Amanda Jones in Supp. of Pl.'s Mot. for Partial Summ. J. (“Jones Decl.”) ¶ 3, ECF No. 185-4; Howie Decl. ¶ 5, Ex. C at 11:24-12:2 (Jones Depo. Vol. 1), ECF No. 175-3. At some point during the day, Jones took the AMTRAK Highway 17 Express Bus #2310 (the “Hwy 17 Bus” or “Bus #2310”), from Santa Cruz to San Jose. Jones Decl. ¶ 3; TAC ¶ 14, ECF No. 155. The bus was operated by Santa Cruz Metropolitan Transit District (“SCMTD”) in contract with the National Railroad Passenger Corporation (“AMTRAK”). Pl.'s Controverting Statement of Facts ¶ 10, ECF No. 188-1; Howie Decl. ¶ 4, Ex. B. At that time, Jones was traveling with a motorized scooter because she was recovering from knee surgery and wanted to avoid walking long distances and on hills. Jones Decl. ¶ 4. Jones boarded the bus with her scooter. Once onboard, the coach operator, Sergio Gonzalez, tried to help Jones secure her scooter in place using securement equipment on the bus. Jones attempted to suggest a method of securing the device that was different from the method Gonzalez was using. Jones Decl. ¶ 5. Gonzalez insisted that he knew how to secure the device and used his own method. Id. After attempting to secure Jones's scooter, Gonzalez proceeded to start the drive from Santa Cruz to San Jose. Id. Jones remained seated on her scooter while on the bus.

         At some point during the journey to San Jose, the scooter (with Jones on it) fell over, and Jones fell to the floor. Id. Gonzalez stopped the bus, and with the help of another passenger, helped Jones and her scooter off the floor. Id. ¶ 6; Howie Decl. ¶ 3, Ex. A (“Accident Report”). Gonzalez called his road supervisor and dispatch to report the accident. Accident Report; Jones Decl. ¶ 6; Gonzalez Decl. ¶ 6, ECF No. 187-5. Dispatch contacted emergency services, which arrived on the scene. Accident Report; Gonzalez Decl. ¶ 6; Howie Decl. ¶ 5, Ex. C at 49:17-23. Jones declined assistance from emergency services, and the bus continued to San Jose. Howie Decl. ¶ 5, Ex. C at 49:22-50:13; Gonzalez Decl. ¶ 6.

         Jones filed suit against Defendants on June 17, 2015, alleging various violations of federal and California civil rights laws, as well as negligence, in connection with her fall. Five counts survive in her Third Amended Complaint (“TAC”):

I. Violation of Americans with Disabilities Act (AMTRAK)
II. Violation of Americans with Disabilities Act (SCMTD)
III. Violation of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (All Defendants)
IV. Violation of California Unruh Civil Rights Act (All defendants)
V. Negligence (All defendants)

         The parties have cross-filed motions for summary judgment.


         Summary judgment is proper where 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). The party moving for summary judgment 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. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). Material facts are those that may affect the outcome of the case, and a dispute as to a material fact is genuine if there is sufficient evidence for a reasonable jury to return a verdict for the nonmoving party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986).

         If the moving party meets its initial burden, the opposing party must then set forth specific facts showing that there is some genuine issue for trial. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1); Anderson, 477 U.S. at 250. All reasonable inferences must be drawn in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Olsen v. Idaho State Bd. of Med., 363 F.3d 916, 922 (9th Cir. 2004). However, it is not the task of the Court “‘to scour the record in search of a genuine issue of triable fact.'” Keenan v. Allan, 91 F.3d 1275, 1279 (9th Cir. 1996) (citation omitted). The nonmoving party has the burden “to identify with reasonable particularity the evidence that precludes summary judgment.” Id. Thus, “[t]he district court need not examine the entire file for evidence establishing a genuine issue of fact, where the evidence is not set forth in the opposing papers with adequate references so that it could conveniently be found.” Carmen v. S.F. Unified Sch. Dist., 237 F.3d 1026, 1031 (9th Cir. 2001).

         “While the evidence presented at the summary judgment stage does not yet need to be in a form that would be admissible at trial, the proponent must set out facts that it will be able to prove through admissible evidence.” Norse v. City of Santa Cruz, 629 F.3d 966, 973 (9th Cir. 2010) (citing Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c) (“An affidavit or declaration used to support or oppose a motion must be made on personal knowledge, set out facts that would be admissible in evidence, and show that the affiant or declarant is competent to testify on the matters stated.”)). To survive summary judgment, the nonmoving party “must set forth non-speculative evidence of specific facts, not sweeping conclusory allegations.” Cafasso, U.S. ex rel. v. Gen. Dynamics C4 Sys., Inc., 637 F.3d 1047, 1061 (9th Cir. 2011) (citations omitted).


         A. Violations of the ADA, the Rehabilitation Act, and the Unruh Act

         1. The Statutory Schemes

         a. The ADA and the Rehabilitation Act

         Both Title II of the American with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) and § 504 of the Rehabilitation Act “include an affirmative obligation for public entities to make benefits, services, and programs accessible to people with disabilities.” Updike v. Multnomah, 870 F.3d 939, 949 (9th Cir. 2017) (citations omitted). To state claim under Title II of the ADA, “a plaintiff must show that: (1) he is a ‘qualified individual with a disability'; (2) he was ‘excluded from participation in or was denied the benefits of the services, programs, or activities of a public entity' or otherwise ‘subjected to discrimination by any such entity'; and (3) the exclusion, denial, or discrimination was ‘by reason of such disability.'” Kimbro v. Miranda, 735 Fed.Appx. 275, 277 (9th Cir. 2018) (citing 42 U.S.C. § 12132; Weinreich v. Los Angeles Cty. Metro. Transp. Auth., 114 F.3d 976, 978 (9th Cir. 1997)). “Title II of the ADA was expressly modeled after § 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.” Updike, 870 F.3d at 949 (citing Duvall v. Cnty. of Kitsap, 260 F.3d 1124, 1135 (9th Cir. 2001)). Thus, under § 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, a plaintiff similarly must show: “(1) he is an ‘individual with a disability'; (2) he is ‘otherwise qualified' to receive the benefit; (3) he was denied the benefits of the program solely by reason of his disability; and (4) the program receives federal financial assistance.” Weinreich v. Los Angeles County Metro. Transp. Auth., 114 F.3d 976, 978 (9th Cir. 1997) (citing 29 U.S.C. § 794). “There is no significant difference in analysis of the rights and obligations created by the ADA and the Rehabilitation Act.” Zukle v. Regents of the Univ. of Cal., 166 F.3d 1041, 1045 n.11 (9th Cir. 1999). “Thus, courts have applied the same analysis to claims brought under both statutes[.]” Id. (citing Doe v. Univ. of Maryland Med. Sys. Corp., 50 F.3d 1261, 1265 n.9 (4th Cir. 1995) (“Because the language of the two statutes is substantially the same, we apply the same analysis to both.”).

         Federal regulations implementing Title II require public entities to “make reasonable modifications in policies, practices, or procedures when the modifications are necessary to avoid discrimination on the basis of disability, unless the public entity can demonstrate that making the modifications would fundamentally alter the nature of the service, program, or activity.” 28 C.F.R. § 35.130(b)(7). The Ninth Circuit has stated that “[a]lthough Title II of the ADA uses the term ‘reasonable modification,' rather than ‘reasonable accommodation,' these terms create identical standards.” McGary v. City of Portland, 386 F.3d 1259, 1266 n.3 (9th Cir. 2004) (citing Wong v. Regents of Univ. of Cal., 192 F.3d 807, 816 n.26 (9th Cir. 1999)).

         “‘Compensatory damages are not available under Title II or § 504 absent a showing of discriminatory intent.'” Updike, 870 F.3d at 950 (quoting Ferguson v. City of Phoenix, 157 F.3d 668, 674 (9th Cir. 1998), as amended (Oct. 8, 1998)). To show intentional discrimination, the Ninth Circuit requires that “the plaintiff show that a defendant acted with ‘deliberate indifference,' which requires ‘both knowledge that a harm to a federally protected right [wa]s substantially likely, and a failure to act upon that likelihood.'” Updike, 870 F.3d at 950-51 (quoting Duvall v. County of Kitsap, 260 F.3d 1124, 1139 (9th Cir. 2001)).

         b. The Unruh Act

          “The Unruh Act . . . ‘entitle[s] individuals to full and equal access to public accommodations.'” Kohler v. Flava Enters., 826 F.Supp.2d 1221, 1231 (S.D. Cal. 2011) (quoting Californians for Disability Rights v. Mervyn's ...

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