The 9tH U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has reversed a district court, finding that two private entities responsible for producing the National Finals Rodeo (NFR) at a publicly-owned arena in Las Vegas can be sued under the Americans with Disabilities Act as if they were the “operators” of the arena.
“The private groups staging the Rodeo did operate the publicly-owned facility during the Rodeo and so can be sued under Title III of the ADA for failure to make a place of public accommodation accessible for disabled individuals,” held the panel of judges.
The NFR, which is sponsored by the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA), is held annually at the Thomas & Mack Center (Center) in Las Vegas. The Center is owned on behalf of the University of Nevada by the University System, a sub-entity of the state of Nevada. The event is presented by Las Vegas Events (Events).
The PRCA and Events were sued under Article III of the ADA by a group called the Disabled Rights Action Committee (DRAC), a non-profit organization that advocates for the rights of people with disabilities. Among the more than 1,000 members of the DRAC are Las Vegas residents, who use wheelchairs and attend or wish to attend the NFR.
The district court dismissed the suit and ordered that the University System be joined as an indispensable party. The decision was appealed.
Before analyzing the case, the court noted that there is one pivotal question: “Does Title III cover private entities operating facilities owned by public entities covered by Title III, and, if so, in what circumstances?”
The U.S. Supreme Court, in PGA Tour, Inc. v. Martin, 532 U.S. 661, 675, 149 L. Ed. 2d 904, 121 S. Ct. 1879 (2001), held that a private entity that stages an event for a limited time period at a facility owned by a third party is covered by Title III. “The Court’s analysis rests on the general principle that, under the statute, a place of public accommodation may be ‘operated’ by entities who do not own the facility and use it for a limited time period only,” according to the court.
In addition, “a Department of Justice (DOJ) regulation directly addresses this question, providing that a private entity that operates a public accommodation is subject to Title III, even if the location is not privately owned. The DOJ has also issued a technical assistance manual (http://www.usdoj.gov/crt/ada/taman3up.html), setting out examples of covered public accommodations. Those examples make clear that, under DOJ’s interpretation, a public accommodation operated by a private entity leasing space from a public entity is covered by Title III.
“We note in closing that ordinarily, in a case in which the property owner is a public entity and the operator of the public accommodation is a private entity, it will be in the plain-tiff’s best interest to sue both the landlord, under Title II, and the operator of the public accommodation, under Title III, thereby affording the court the greatest flexibility in fashioning appropriate relief. We hold only that in this particular case, Disabled Rights’ suit against the private operators of a public accommodation for violations of Title III may go for-ward without the joinder of University System, a public entity not subject to Title III.” Disabled Rights Action Committee v Las Vegas Events, Inc. et al.; 9th Cir.; No. 02-17163; 7/13/04
Attorneys of record: (for plaintiff) Richard F. Armknecht, III, Armknecht & Cowdell, P.C., Lindon, Utah. (for defendants) Elayna J. Youchah, Schreck Brignone, Las Vegas, Nevada; Walter L. Ayers, University and Community College System of Nevada, Las Vegas, Nevada; and Elizabeth R. Brennan, Lionel Sawyer & Collins, Las Vegas, Nevada.