Mariners Fans Win Some Battles in ADA Suit, While Vast Portion of Claims Must be Decided at Trial

Nov 8, 2019 | ADA

A federal judge from the Western District of Washington has granted, in part, a summary judgement motion filed by a group of disabled patrons of T-Mobile Field, home of Major League Baseball’s Seattle Mariners. Specifically, the court approved three of the nine outstanding grievances submitted by the plaintiffs, who are all confined to wheelchairs.
 
The plaintiffs had sought (1) declaratory relief that T-Mobile Field does not comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq., and its subsequently promulgated regulations and standards, and (2) injunctive relief ordering that T-Mobile Field be brought into compliance.
 
The defendants in the lawsuit included Washington State Major League Baseball Stadium Public Facilities District, Baseball of Seattle, Inc., Mariners Baseball, LLC, and The Baseball Club of Seattle, LLLP, all of which own or operate the stadium in some capacity.
 
Construction of T-Mobile Field began on March 8, 1997. Wheelchair accessible seating is provided throughout the facility. The Mariners have conducted some remedial measures since the initiation of the lawsuit, on October 15, 2018.
 
“As best the court can ascertain,” the following is a list of the plaintiffs’ outstanding grievances:
 
“Seating Dimensions- Plaintiffs claim that the accessible seating in the 300 Level fails to meet the minimum depth requirements set by the ADA. Because the seat depth is insufficient, Plaintiffs claim their wheelchairs ‘unacceptably spill into the accessible route behind the chairs’ causing other spectators to bump into Plaintiffs while the they attempt to pass behind the seats.
 
Edgar’s Cantina Elevator/Lift – Plaintiffs complain about the elevator or lift leading to Edgar’s Cantina,4 which is ‘a bar and restaurant along the outfield at the playing field level’ is not ADA-compliant. The Court is unclear as Plaintiffs’ exact concern with the elevator/lift. In Plaintiffs’ complaint they claim the lift is noncompliant because it requires a key to operate and is not automatic. While, in their motion for summary judgment, the complaint appears to be that it is too dangerous because there is a vertical gap which may cause wheelchair users to flip over backwards while attempting to mount the lift.
 
Bullpen and Dugout Access- Plaintiffs allege that during stadium tours or when the Field is open for public events, the Mariners allow guests to tour the bullpen and dugout. According to Plaintiffs, these areas are only accessible by stairs preventing Plaintiffs from visiting the areas.
 
Gaps, Cracks, and Expansion Joints- Plaintiffs allege that there are hundreds, if not thousands, of bumps, cracks, slopes, and changes in level along paths of travel and walking surfaces around the stadium that present hazards for wheelchair users. Some of these obstacles result from maintenance issues where adjacent sections of concrete or brick meet or from expansion joint covers with excessive rises in elevation. These excessive cracks cause wheelchair users to become stuck or excessively jostled while attempting to traverse causing ‘pedestrians to crash into wheelchairs from the rear, spilling food or drinks on themselves’ or ‘nearly fall[ing] to the ground due to the unexpected bump.’
 
Eating and Drinking Surfaces- Plaintiffs claim there are numerous eating and drinking surfaces around the park that do not comply with ADA standards. For example, Plaintiffs list the following: (1) drink rails that are too high on the 200 Level; and excessively tall dining tables and counters in (2) Edgar’s Cantina; (3) ‘The Pen’; (4) Edgar’s Cantina Home Run Porch; and (5) Lookout Landing.
 
Concession Counters- In addition to noncompliant eating and drinking surfaces, Plaintiffs claim that several of the sales counters at concession stands around T-Mobile Field are also noncompliant. For example, Plaintiffs list the following: counters in The Pen, including (1) Jack Daniels Bar; (2) Silver Bullet Bar; (3) most of the ‘Shortstop Beer’ stands; (4) the ‘Hop Box’ beer stand; and (5) the bar at Edgar’s Cantina.
 
Concession Lines- Plaintiffs claim that many of the lines leading up to concession counters also fail to meet the ADA’s width requirements preventing wheelchair users from navigating to sales counters.
 
Distribution- Plaintiffs charge Defendants with failing to provide sufficient distribution of ADA-compliant seating throughout T-Mobile Field. This includes the allegation that the current arrangement fails to provide both sufficient choice of admission prices and locations throughout the Field.
 
Sightlines- Plaintiffs allege that guests seated in ADA-compliant seats on the 100 Level do not have comparable sightlines to both the field of play and scoreboards. This failure is exacerbated when fans seated in front of wheelchair accessible seats stand up in excitement during particularly exhilarating moments in the game.”
 
 
The court noted at the outset that the ADA prohibits discrimination against individuals, like the plaintiffs, who are dissbled. It added that Title III addresses “Public Accommodations and Services Operated by Private Entities” and provides that “no individual shall be discriminated against on the basis of disability in the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations of any place of public accommodation by any person who owns, leases (or leases to), or operates a place of public accommodation.” 42 U.S.C. § 12182(a). “Both parties agree that the Mariners are private entities and that T-Mobile Field is a public accommodation regulated under Title III,” wrote the court.
 
The court zeroed in on Miller v. California Speedway Corp., 536 F.3d 1020, 1024 (9th Cir. 2008) as a relevant case. “Congress mandated that the Attorney General’s regulations must ‘be consistent with the minimum guidelines and requirements issued by the Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board,’ 42 U.S.C. § 12186(c), which is ‘commonly referred to as the Access Board.’ Miller, 536 F.3d at 1024.10 Thus, the Access Board establishes the ‘minimum guidelines’ for Title III, but the DOJ promulgates its own regulations, which must be consistent with—but not necessarily identical to—the Board’s guidelines.’ Id. at 1025.”
 
Of relevance to the standards for several of the plaintiffs’ grievances, the Access Board published its first ADA Accessibility Guidelines in January 1991. See Access Board, ADA Standards for Accessible Design (1994), https://www.ada.gov/1991standards/adastd94-archive.pdf (1991 ADAAG). The court went on to identify many other documents and guidelines that are relevant to the instant action including Department of Justice, Accessible Stadiums (1994), https://www.ada.gov/stadium.pdf, which the defendants relied heavily upon, and the ADA Title III Technical Assistance Manual Covering Public Accommodations and Commercial Facilities (1993), https://www.ada.gov/taman3.html (TAM). In sum, “the minimum standard that T-Mobile must meet is established by the ADAAG. But more stringent requirements may be applicable where provided for by the TAM or 1994 Supplement to the TAM. The Ninth Circuit, however, has not spoken to Accessible Stadiums.”
 
In its analysis, the court found the first three of the plaintiffs’ claims “have sufficient merit to justify summary judgment, while a genuine dispute of material facts exists over most of the others.” It wrote that it would turn to the “heavy hitters” of distribution and sightline at the end.
 
With regard to the first three, the Mariners “concede noncompliance. First, … seating dimensions, the defendants respond that ‘the plaintiffs are correct that some of the accessible seats on the 300 Level are short [of the applicable] front-to-back dimension by approximately 3-4 inches.’ Second, regarding Edgar’s Cantina elevator/lift, the defendants respond that ‘the Mariners agree that the lift requires improvement and they will do so.’ Finally, as to bullpen and dugout access, the defendants respond that ‘[t]here is presently no accessible route into the player dugouts,’ but that ‘the Mariners will provide for an accessible lift into one or more of the dugouts, or preclude general public access to these player areas.’ Thus, the court finds there is no genuine dispute of material facts as to these grievances and will grant summary judgment as it pertains to them.”
 
In general, regarding the contested claims, the court denied summary judgement, concluding that they would be better resolved at a trial on the facts.
 
“Both of the plaintiffs’ final two grievances involve a question of whether T-Mobile Field’s placement of accessible seating complies with the ADAAG, as adopted by the DOJ.
 
“ADAAG Section 4.44.3 provides:
 
Placement of Wheelchair Locations. Wheelchair areas shall be an integral part of any fixed seating plan and shall be provided so as to provide people with physical disabilities a choice of admission prices and lines of sight comparable to those for members of the general public. . . . When the seating capacity exceeds 300, wheelchair spaces shall be provided in more than one location. EXCEPTION: Accessible viewing positions may be clustered for bleachers, balconies, and other areas having sight lines that require slopes of greater than 5 percent. Equivalent accessible viewing positions may be located on levels having accessible egress.
 
1991 ADAAG at § 4.33.3.15
 
“Based on this provision, Plaintiffs assert two grievances, including that T-Mobile Field does not provide adequate (1) distribution of accessible seating, both as it relates to admissions pricing or locations around the stadium, and (2) lines of sight comparable to the general public.”
 
The court went on to highlight the competing authorities, cited by both parties, and its unwillingness to delineate between them, at this stage.
 
Landis v. Wash. State Major League Baseball Stadium Pub. Facilities Dist. Et al.; W.D. Wash.; CASE NO. 2:18-cv-01512-BJR; 8/19/19
 
Attorneys of Record: (for plaintiffs) Anne-Marie E Sargent, Stephen P Connor, LEAD ATTORNEYS, CONNOR & SARGENT PLLC, SEATTLE, WA; Conrad Reynoldson, Michael M Terasaki, WASHINGTON CIVIL AND DISABILITY ADVOCATE, SEATTLE, WA. (for defendants) Sarah Gohmann Bigelow, Stephen C Willey, SAVITT BRUCE & WILLEY LLP, SEATTLE, WA.


 

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