A federal judge from the Eastern District of Louisiana has ruled that the Louisiana Stadium and Exposition District (LSED) is entitled to sovereign immunity on a plaintiff’s claim for damages associated with a claim under Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
The plaintiff, Nancy Smith, is an amputee who is disabled within the meaning of the ADA. On April 2, 2016, she attempted to call the box office of the Mercedes-Benz Superdome (Superdome) to purchase tickets for a Guns N’ Roses concert, to be held on July 31, 2016. In reality, she contacted a representative of Box Office Ticket Center LLC, who assured her the tickets she was purchasing were accessible seats compliant with the ADA.
The Superdome is owned by the LSED and operated and managed by defendant SMG. SMG is responsible for coordinating events, including creating seating charts for concerts. Ticketmaster LLC, not Box Office Ticket Center LLC, has the sole and exclusive right to sell and distribute tickets for concerts at the Superdome. SMG identifies accessible seats in its seating chart for music concerts and submits that information to Ticketmaster LLC. SMG’s usual practice is to reserve additional ADA-accessible seats in case a customer with a disability, but without a ticket for an accessible seat, requests to be moved to an accessible seat. For the Guns N’ Roses concert, SMG reserved approximately 151 accessible seats for this purpose.
The plaintiff’s tickets originally were bought from Ticketmaster LLC and resold on the secondary market by Box Office Ticket Center LLC. The seat for which Smith purchased a ticket had not been designated by SMG as accessible. When the plaintiff and her daughter arrived at the Superdome on the night of the concert, they sought assistance from a SMG staffer to locate their seats. Smith asked the staffer to remove the existing chair in the space of her ticketed seat to permit her to park her wheelchair in its place. The staffer told her the existing chair could not be removed. The plaintiff expressed safety concerns about being transferred out of her wheelchair, but eventually agreed to do so. The SMG staffer took her wheelchair, which was returned to her after the concert.
On July 28, 2017, Smith sued, naming LSED, France, in his official capacity as Chairman of the Board of Commissioners of the LSED, and SMG as defendants. She sought (1) damages and injunctive relief under Title II of the ADA against the LSED and France, (2) damages under the LHRA against SMG, and (3) injunctive relief under Title III of the ADA against SMG.
On Dec. 26, 2018, the defendants moved to dismiss, claiming sovereign immunity.
In its analysis, the court first considered whether LSED is an arm of the state entitled to sovereign immunity in a federal action. In Hudson v. City of New Orleans, the Fifth Circuit laid out six factors used to determine whether a state entity is entitled to Eleventh Amendment sovereign immunity. The court explained:
Whether the state statutes and case law view the agency as an arm of the state;
The source of the entity’s funding;
The entity’s degree of local autonomy;
Whether the entity is concerned primarily with local as opposed to statewide problems;
Whether the entity has the authority to sue and be sued in its own name; and
Whether the entity has the right to hold and use property.
The court found that “the first three factors weigh in favor of finding the LSED to be an arm of the state. The fourth factor does not favor either position, and the fifth and sixth factors weigh in favor of a finding the LSED is not an arm of the state. The Fifth Circuit has held the fifth and sixth factors are the least important. After considering all the factors, the court finds the LSED is an arm of the State of Louisiana entitled to sovereign immunity under the Eleventh Amendment.”
The court also concluded that France is entitled to sovereign immunity on the plaintiff’s claim for damages against him under Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act. However, he was not entitled to the same protections on the plaintiff’s claim for injunctive relief against him under Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Smith v. Bd. of Comm’rs of La. Stadium & Exposition Dist.; E.D. La.; 2019 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 36694 *; 2019 WL 1084754
Attorneys of Record: (for plaintiff) Andrew David Bizer, LEAD ATTORNEY, Bizer Law Firm, LLC, New Orleans, LA; Jacqueline Kaye Hammack, Bizer & DeReus, LLC, New Orleans, LA. (for defendants) Christopher Neal Walters, LEAD ATTORNEY, Louisiana Department of Justice (1450 Poydras), New Orleans, LA; Angela J. O’Brien, Scott G. Centorino, Louisiana Department of Justice (1450 Poydras), New Orleans, LA.