Accessibility Plaintiff's Complaint Deemed "Judicially Defective"
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In Byron Chapman v. Pier 1 Imports (U.S.), Inc., --- F.3d --- (9th Cir. Jan. 7, 2011), a unanimous Ninth Circuit en banc panel reversed the trial court finding that the plaintiff had standing to pursue claims for alleged barriers against Pier 1, instead holding that plaintiff’s complaint was "jurisdictionally defective" and that plaintiff "lacked standing at the outset of this litigation to assert the ADA claims."  "This Case is important because the decision helps to rein in ‘drive by ADA litigants’ who file multiple lawsuits for profit, but have no real stake in the matters presented,” said lead appellate lawyer Laura Franze, who is Co-Chair of Hunton & Williams' national employment group. “The Court adopted Pier 1’s position that -- in order to comply with Article III standing requirements --- an ADA plaintiff must not only clearly identify the alleged accessibility violations, but also connect the dots to show how he personally suffered discrimination under the ADA on account of his disability. ADA complainants cannot depend on formulaic recitation of the elements of a claim.”

In his complaint, Chapman alleged that he was "physically disabled," visited Pier 1's store, and "encountered architectural barriers that denied him full and equal access." Attached to his complaint was an "Accessibility Survey" identifying a list of alleged accessibility violations that "denied him access to the Store, or which he seeks to remove on behalf of others under related state statutes."  The Accessibility Survey merely identified alleged federal and state accessibility violations "without connecting the alleged violations to Chapman’s disability, or indicating whether or not he encountered any one of them in such a way as to impair his full and equal enjoyment of the Store."  This improperly left the Court to "guess" which accessibility violations, if any, actually denied him full and equal access to the Pier 1 store. The Court, per Judge Kim Wardlaw, held that this list of alleged accessibility violations (which was not even prepared by Chapman) "cannot substitute for the factual allegations required in the complaint to satisfy Article III’s requirement of an injury-in-fact. Chapman does not even attempt to relate the alleged violations to his disability."  Thus, because Chapman lacked standing from the instant he filed the lawsuit, his complaint was "jurisdictionally defective," and the district court erred by not dismissing his claims.

Take Away

The Ninth Circuit, which in the past has interpreted remedial statutes such as the ADA favorably for plaintiffs, makes clear that the pleading standard set forth in Iqbal will be strictly adhered to in ADA cases. Courts will more carefully scrutinize Title III complaints to ensure that the plaintiffs are complaining about real issues that caused plaintiffs an actual injury. The 11-0 en banc decision helps to rein in "serial plaintiffs" and "robo-filers" who bring hundreds or even thousands of ADA Title III lawsuits for profit, but have no real stake in issues presented. ADA plaintiffs can no longer file generic, "cut and paste" lawsuits as leverage, hoping to find a hyper-technical violation of the ADA after the fact.


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