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Landis v. Washington State Major League Baseball Stadium Public Facilities District, Baseball of Seattle, Inc.

United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Seattle

August 19, 2019

CLARK LANDIS, ROBERT BARKER, GRADY THOMPSON, and KAYLA BROWN, Plaintiffs,
v.
WASHINGTON STATE MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL STADIUM PUBLIC FACILITIES DISTRICT, BASEBALL OF SEATTLE, INC., a Washington Corporation, MARINERS BASEBALL, LLC, a Washington limited liability Company, and THE BASEBALL CLUB OF SEATTLE, LLLP, a Washington limited liability limited partnership, Defendants.

          ORDER GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART PLAINTIFFS' MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

          BARBARA J. ROTHSTEIN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         I. INTRODUCTION

         This matter involves a challenge to the accessibility of T-Mobile Field, [1] home of Major League Baseball's Seattle Mariners. Plaintiffs Landis, Barker, Thompson, and Brown (collectively “Plaintiffs”) are lifelong baseball fans who, because of mobility disabilities, are confined to wheelchairs. They bring the current action seeking (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. Their grievances include a list of noncompliant elements, from insufficient sightline to the playing field to wheelchair spaces that do not comply with depth requirements, all of which will be outlined below.

         Before the Court is Plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment. Dkt. No. 19. Defendants Washington State Major League Baseball Stadium Public Facilities District, Baseball of Seattle, Inc., Mariners Baseball, LLC, and The Baseball Club of Seattle, LLLP (collectively “Defendants”), all of which own or operate the stadium in some capacity, oppose the motion.[2]Dkt. No. 21. Having reviewed the motion, the oppositions thereto, the record of the case, and the relevant legal authorities, the Court will grant the motion as to some of Plaintiffs' grievances but deny as to others. The reasoning for the Court's decision follows.

         II. BACKGROUND

         A. The Parties

         As mentioned previously, Plaintiffs are all baseball fans who visit T-Mobile Field regularly to watch their favorite team take the field. Dkt. No. 1 at ¶¶ 3.1-3.4. Because of mobility disabilities, all are confined to wheelchairs. Id. In the course of enjoying a day of America's favorite pastime, however, all have encountered various obstacles specific to wheelchair users. See, e.g., id. at ¶¶ 4.15-4.18.

         Defendants comprise four separate entities. Washington State Major League Baseball Stadium Public Facilities District (“PFD”) is a Washington state municipal corporation, created by the Washington State Legislature and the King County Council, that owns T-Mobile Field. Dkt. No. 21 at 7. PFD, in turn, leases the Field to the other privately-owned entities, Baseball of Seattle, Inc., Mariners Baseball, LLC, and The Baseball Club of Seattle, LLLP (collectively “the Mariners”), who manage operations and maintenance of T-Mobile Field. Dkt. No. 1 at ¶ 3.5, 3.6, 5.20; Dkt. No. 19 at 6; Dkt. No. 21 at 7, 7 n.5 (stating that under the current lease between PFD and the Mariners, “the Mariners are responsible for all ongoing operation, management, and maintenance of the Stadium”).

         B. T-Mobile Field

         Construction of T-Mobile Field began on March 8, 1997, with legendary Mariner Ken Griffey, Jr. helping to break first dirt. See Seattle Mariners, T-Mobile Park History, https://www.mlb.com/mariners/ballpark/information/history (last visited Aug. 8, 2019).[3] But, as Defendants point out, planning for the Field's design dates back to 1996. Dkt. No. 21 at 7.

         T-Mobile Field boasts a retractable roof and is also composed of four separate seating tiers, which are “vertically-stacked.” Id. Closest to the field is the 100 Level and, extending upward, are the 200 or “Club” Level, the Suite Level, and the 300 Level. Id.; see also Dkt. No. 1 at ¶ 4.9. The tiers are then divided horizontally into sections.

         Each level is connected to a concourse that contains concessions and which guests use to access their seats. In the 100, 200 and Suite Levels, the concourse is located at the rear of each section. Dkt. No. 21 at 8. In the 300 Level, guests access their seats from the concourse through passages located in the middle of the sections. Id. At field-level, the 100 Level also includes the “Diamond Club, ” which is a premium seating location directly behind home plate. Id. at 9 n.7. Guests access the Diamond Club through four tunnels from the 100 Level concourse. Id. at 8. These tunnels are the only points of access to seating on the 100 Level, apart from the access provided directly from the concourse. Id. A diagram of the Field, provided by Defendants, is appended as Exhibit A.

         Addressing T-Mobile Field's architecture, the structure itself is actually composed of eight separate building segments made largely of concrete. Dkt. No. 19 at 14-15; Dkt. No. 21 at 11, 25. These segments are connected by architectural assemblies called “expansion joints” designed to allow the structure to safely expand and contract with changes in temperature. Expansion joints are common in large stadiums and, as with T-Mobile Field, are usually covered with protective covers.

         Wheelchair accessible seating is provided throughout T-Mobile Field. On the 100, 200, and Suite Levels, ADA-compliant seating is located adjacent to the concourses. Dkt. No. 21 at 8. In the 300 Level, compliant seating is located in the middle of each section, where the passages provide access from the concourse. Id. Field-level accessible seating is located in Section 35, as only two of the four tunnels providing access to the Diamond Club are ADA-accessible. Id. at 8, 9 n.7. The Section 35 seating is the only field-level wheelchair accessible seating available. Dkt. No. 1 at ¶ 4.19. Accessible seating is labeled on the diagram provided in Exhibit A.

         C. Plaintiffs' List of Grievances

         Plaintiffs' complaint and motion for summary judgment provide a long list of alleged noncompliant elements. See Dkt. No. 1 at 1.5; Dkt. No. 19 at 20-22. This list is also dynamic, as discussed below, because the Mariners have conducted some remedial measures since the initiation of the instant action. See infra at 7-8. As best the Court can ascertain, the following is a list of 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. Dkt. No. 1 at ¶¶ 4.33- 4.38; Dkt. No. 19 at 6-7. 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. Dkt. No. 19 at 6.
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, ” Dkt. No. 19 at 16, is not ADA-compliant. Dkt. No. 1 at ¶ 4.39-4.42; Dkt. No. 19 at 18. 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. Dkt. No. 1 at ¶ 4.40-4.41. 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. Dkt. No. 19 at 18.
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. Dkt. No. 1 at ¶¶ 4.59-4.62; Dkt. No. 19 at 19. 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. Dkt. No. 1 at ¶¶ 4.54-4.56; Dkt. No. 19 at 13-15. 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. Dkt. No. 19 at 14-15. 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.” Id. at 15.
Eating and Drinking Surfaces- Plaintiffs claim there are numerous eating and drinking surfaces around the park that do not comply with ADA standards. Dkt. No. 1 at ¶¶ 4.53, 4.57; Dkt. No. 19 at 16-17, 19. For example, Plaintiffs list the following: (1) drink rails that are too high on the 200 Level, Dkt. No. 1 at ¶ 4.53; and excessively tall dining tables and counters in (2) Edgar's Cantina; (3) “The Pen”;[5] (4) Edgar's Cantina Home Run Porch;[6] and (5) Lookout Landing, [7] Dkt. No. 19 at 17.
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. Dkt. No. 1 at ¶¶ 4.43-4.46; Dkt. No. 19 at 16. For example, Plaintiffs list the following: counters in The Pen, including (1) Jack Daniels Bar; (2) Silver Bullet Bar, Dkt. No. 1 at ¶ 4.45; (3) most of the “Shortstop Beer” stands; (4) the “Hop Box” beer stand; and (5) the bar at Edgar's Cantina, Dkt. No. 19 at 16.
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. Dkt. No. 1 at ¶¶ 4.47-4.52; Dkt. No. 19 at 17-18.
Distribution- Plaintiffs charge Defendants with failing to provide sufficient distribution of ADA-compliant seating throughout T-Mobile Field. See Dkt. No. 1 at ¶¶ 4.9-4.28; Dkt. No. 19 at 10-13, 20. 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. Dkt. No. 1 at ¶¶ 4.21-4.25, 4.29-4.32; Dkt. No. 19 at 7-10. This failure is exacerbated when fans seated in front of wheelchair accessible seats stand up in excitement during particularly exhilarating moments in the game.

         D. Procedural History and Subsequent Improvements

         The instant action commenced on October 15, 2018 when Plaintiffs filed their complaint. Dkt. No. 1. In it, they allege three causes of action for violations of Titles II and III of the ADA, as well as Washington state law. They then moved for summary judgment on May 20. 2019.[8]Dkt. No. 19. Defendants opposed the motion. Dkt. No. 21.

         Plaintiffs and Defendants, however, have long been in contact with each other regarding Plaintiff's grievances. See Dkt. No. 21 at 6 (“Consistent with [the] practice [of continually updating and bettering their accommodation offerings], the Mariners and Plaintiffs' counsel had pre-litigation dialogue in which the Mariners agreed to promptly address immediately solvable issues and to investigate in good-faith the more complicated issues raised.”). In fact, it is clear from the parties' pleadings that significant accessibility changes have occurred since the initiation of this action, but it is unclear to the Court just how much has changed in the intervening time.

         One example that is evident from the pleadings, for example, is that the number of field-side ADA-compliant seats has increased. Plaintiffs complaint states that the “only field level wheelchair accessible seating on the 100 Level of the stadium is currently in the Diamond Club” and that “there is one wheelchair accessible seat in the Diamond Club which costs $500, and it does not comply with 2010 ADA standards.” Dkt. No. 1 at ¶ 4.20. By the time Defendants filed their response, however, they informed the Court that “[f]ollowing the 2018 season, the Mariners embarked on an ADA Seating Expansion project, to provide for additional accessible seating within the 100 Level of the Stadium.” Dkt. No. 19 at 10. Now, according to Defendants, “[t]here are sixteen ADA spaces located in the front row of Section 35.” Dkt. No. 21 at 8; see also Id. at 9 n.7 (“The Mariners implemented an ADA Seating Expansion project over the past off-season. As a result, sixteen (16) additional accessible seating spaces have been added to the 100 Level in Section 35. These are seats that are in the first row next to the field. Four are Diamond Club and twelve are Premier seats.” (Internal citations removed)). These sixteen seats include eight wheelchair accessible spaces and eight companion seats. Malcolm Rogel Decl., Dkt. No. 22 at ¶ 8.

         III. LEGAL STANDARD

         Rule 56 provides that a district court “shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); Fed. Home Loan Mortg. Corp. v. SFR Investments Pool 1, LLC, 893 F.3d 1136, 1144 (9th Cir. 2018), cert. denied, 139 S.Ct. 1618 (2019). “Materiality” is based on the substantive law, making disputes over facts material only where they “might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A “genuine dispute of material facts, ” occurs where the “evidence is such that a reasonable [finder of fact] could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Id.

         During the course of a motion for summary judgment, the moving party bears the “initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion, ” including “identifying those portions of the pleadings . . . which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986) (internal citations and quotations removed). Further, “[w]here the moving party will have the burden of proof on an issue at trial, the movant must affirmatively demonstrate that no reasonable trier of fact could find other than for the moving party.” Soremekun v. Thrifty Payless, Inc., 509 F.3d 978, 984 (9th Cir. 2007). On an issue where the nonmovant bears the burden of proof, however, “the moving party can prevail merely by pointing out to the district court that there is an absence of evidence to support the non-moving party's case.” Macareno v. Thomas, 378 F.Supp.3d 933, 940 (W.D. Wash. 2019) (citing Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 325).

         Where the moving burden has met its initial burden, the nonmovant must respond showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 250. “If the nonmoving party fails to establish the existence of a genuine issue of material fact, ‘the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.'” Perfect Co. v. Adaptics Ltd., 374 F.Supp.3d 1039, 1041 (W.D. Wash. 2019) (quoting Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323-24). In conducting its evaluation of the merits of a motion for summary judgment, “the court does not make credibility determinations or weigh conflicting evidence.” Soremekun, 509 F.3d at 984. Instead, the Court must “view ‘the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party.'” Universal Cable Prods., LLC v. Atl. Specialty Ins. Co., 929 F.3d 1143 (9th Cir. 2019) (quoting Pension Tr. Fund for Operating Eng'rs v. Fed. Ins. Co., 307 F.3d 944, 949 (9th Cir. 2002)).

         IV. DISCUSSION

         A. The ADA

         Broadly, the ADA prohibits discrimination against individuals, like Plaintiffs, who live with various forms of disability. Its enactment in 1990 was intended by Congress “to provide clear, strong, consistent, enforceable standards addressing discrimination against individuals with disabilities.” 42 U.S.C. § 12101(b)(2). The ADA is divided into several titles, two of which are relevant to the instant action.

         First, Title II provides that “no qualified individual with a disability shall, by reason of such disability, be excluded from participation in or be denied the benefits of the services, programs, or activities of a public entity, or be subjected to discrimination by any such entity.” 42 U.S.C. § 12132. Both parties in this matter agree that PFD qualifies as a public entity subject to Title II. See Dkt. No. 19 at 5; Dkt. No. 21 at 11.

         Title III, on the other hand, addresses “Public Accommodations and Services Operated by Private Entities” and provides that “[n]o 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. See Dkt. No. 19 at 6; Dkt. No. 21 at 11.

         Both provisions of the ADA are supported by a structure of code, regulations, and guidance materials that help define and explain its provisions. Because the parties focus almost exclusively on Title III of the ADA, as outlined in Section IV.B. of this order, the Court will focus on its provisions. See infra at 14-15.

         Under Title III, [9] discrimination includes “a failure to remove architectural barriers . . . in existing facilities . . . where such removal is readily achievable.'” 42 U.S.C. § 12182(b)(2)(A)(iv). It also provides that newly constructed facilities like T-Mobile Field-i.e., those designed and constructed for occupancy after January 26, 1993-must be “readily accessible to and usable by individuals with disabilities.” Id. at § 12183(a)(1). Title III also directs the Attorney General to “issue regulations . . . that include standards applicable to” public accommodations, id. at 12186(b), and to provide “appropriate technical assistance manuals to individuals or entities with rights or duties under this chapter.” Id. at § 12206(c)(3).

         The promulgation process, however, includes an “unusual twist.” Miller v. California Speedway Corp., 536 F.3d 1020, 1024 (9th Cir. 2008). 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, ...


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