Court Obscures Line of Sight Requirement in ADA Cases

Dec 8, 2006

A federal judge from the Central District of California has adopted a strict interpretation of Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), 42 U.S.C. §§ 12181-12189, granting a race track/defendant’s motion for summary judgment in a case where a wheelchair-bound NASCAR race spectator sued because he could not see over the heads and bodies of ambulatory spectators who stand during the exciting parts of NASCAR races.
 
The court wrote specifically that while the Department of Justice recognized the importance of a “line-of-sight” requirement, “it may not give deference” to that interpretation, since it “was adopted without the requisite notice-and-comment period mandated by the Administrative Procedure Act.”
 
The defendant in the instant case was the California Speedway Corporation, which operates a racing track located in Fontana, California that sometimes plays host to NASCAR racing events.
 
Plaintiff Robert Miller, a quadriplegic, attended three of the six NASCAR races hosted at the track since it opened in 1997.
 
The Speedway has wheelchair spaces located on the upper level of the Speedway, just above the seating for ambulatory spectators. The problem comes into play when the ambulatory spectators stand up to see the more exciting parts of the race, blocking the view of the plaintiff.
 
After a complaint was filed, both parties moved for summary judgment, spawning the present opinion. After providing some background on the ADA and the role that the DOJ plays, the court wrote that it was “satisfied that the DOJ’s current position on ADAAG § 4.33.3 is reasonable. Title III requires that public accommodations be ‘readily accessible to and usable by individuals with disabilities.’ 42 U.S.C. § 12183(a). Title III also requires that persons with disabilities be afforded “the full and equal enjoyment of… public accommodation[s].” 42 U.S.C. § 12182(a). ADAAG § 4.33.3 requires that disabled individuals who use wheelchairs for mobility be afforded lines of sight that are comparable to non-disabled individuals. The DOJ’s interpretation–that wheelchair-bound spectators be afforded lines of sight over standing spectators at events where spectators are expected to stand–is wholly consistent with these provisions.”
 
However, “the Court is constrained by the DOJ’s original interpretation of § 4.33.3; that is, the original position of the Board that § 4.33.3 simply does not address the question of lines of sight over standing spectators.”
 
While siding with the defendants, the court did express its frustration, writing that it did “not mean to suggest that a rule that sports stadiums and other venues where spectators are expected to stand during all or part of a performance must provide to wheelchair-bound patrons lines of sight over standing spectators is not desirable.
 
“Indeed, even the Caruso court, whose reasoning upon which defendant relies, acknowledged that such a rule ‘has much to recommend,’ a sentiment with which this Court certainly agrees. Caruso v. Blockbuster-Sony Music Entertainment Centre at the Waterfront, 193 F.3d at 737 (3d Cir. 1999). Were the Court to write on a clean slate, the Court would be tempted to hold that § 4.33.3 requires lines of sight over standing spectators. After all, a law requiring that individuals with disabilities be able to attend exciting sporting events has little meaningful effect if those individuals are, deprived of viewing, in the words of the plaintiff here, the parts they ‘Want to see the most.’
 
“Indeed, such a rule would definitely be in keeping with the purpose of Title III of the ADA, which is to provide individuals with disabilities with access to “the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations of any place of public accommodation.” 42 U.S.C. § 12182(a).
 
Robert Miller v. The California Speedway Corp.; C.D. Cal.; Case No. EDCV 01-00434 SGL, 2006 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 73108; 9/8/06
 
Attorneys of Record: (for plaintiff) James Richard Boyd, Mark D Potter, Russell C Handy, Center For Disability Access, San Marcos, CA. (for defendant) Bryan R Reid, Jennifer C Hsu, Rima M Badawiya, Lewis Brisbois Bisgaard and Smith, San Bernardino, CA, US.; Micheal R Young, Elliot Snyder & Reid, Redlands CA.
 


 

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