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Landis v. Washington State Major League Baseball Stadium Public Facilities District

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

December 3, 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. Number Value

          FINDINGS OF FACT AND CONCLUSIONS OF LAW

          BARBARA J. ROTHSTEIN, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         I. INTRODUCTION...................................................................................................................4

         II. BACKGROUND.....................................................................................................................5

         A. Jurisdiction and Venue........................................................................................................5

         B. Procedural History................................................................................................................5

         1. Complaint and Post-Complaint Remediations.................................................................5

         2. Motion for Summary Judgment........................................................................................5

         3. Post-Summary Judgment Settlement...............................................................................6

         4. Trial..................................................................................................................................6

         C. Statutory Background: The ADA and its Regulations........................................................7

         1. The ADA.........................................................................................................................7

         2. Subsequent Regulations and Guidelines..........................................................................9

         a. 1991 ADAAG..............................................................................................................9

         b. 1993 TAM..................................................................................................................10

         c. 1994 Supplement to the TAM...................................................................................10

         d. Accessible Stadiums...................................................................................................11

         e. 2010 ADAAG............................................................................................................11

         f. Post-2010 ADAAG Guidelines.................................................................................13

         3. 1991 vs. 2010: When each applies................................................................................13

         4. Anthropometric Measurements.....................................................................................14

         5. Relevant Caselaw...........................................................................................................15

         D. Legal Standard....................................................................................................................15

         E. Factual Background: T-Mobile Field and Accessible Seating..........................................17

         1. The Parties.....................................................................................................................17

         2. Design and Construction of T-Mobile Park...................................................................18

         3. Scoreboard.....................................................................................................................19

         4. Wheel Chair Accessible Seating....................................................................................20

         5. Expansion Plans.............................................................................................................22

         6. Pricing............................................................................................................................23

         III. Discussion..........................................................................................................................24

         A. Whether Wheelchair Users Have Adequate Sightlines over Spectators Standing Directly in Front of Them........................................................................................................................24

         1. Plaintiffs'Claim.............................................................................................................24

         2. Defendants' Counter......................................................................................................28

         3. The Court's Conclusion.................................................................................................29

         B. Whether Accessible Seats are Properly Distributed Vertically in the 100 Level of the Park 32

         1. Plaintiffs'Claim.............................................................................................................32

         2. Defendants' Counter......................................................................................................35

         3. The Court's Conclusion.................................................................................................36

         C. Whether Ticket Prices for Accessible Seats are Comparable to Nonaccessible Seating...40

         1. Plaintiffs'Claim.............................................................................................................40

         2. Defendants' Counter......................................................................................................42

         3. The Court's Conclusion.................................................................................................43

         D. Whether Wheelchair Users have Sufficient Sightlines to the Main Scoreboard Located in Centerfield.................................................................................................................................47

         1. Plaintiffs'Claim..............................................................................................................47

         2. Defendants'Counter........................................................................................................48

         3. The Court's Conclusion.................................................................................................50

         IV. Conclusion........................................................................................................................52

         APPENDIX A................................................................................................................................53

         APPENDIX B................................................................................................................................54

         I. INTRODUCTION

         This matter came before the Court for a bench trial. Plaintiffs are lifelong baseball fans who, because of mobility disabilities, use wheelchairs. Defendants are the collective owners and operators of T-Mobile Park, home of Major League Baseball's Seattle Mariners (collectively, "Defendants"). The current action involves Plaintiffs' attempt to procure better wheelchair seating through enforcement of (1) the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq. and its subsequent regulations and guidelines and (2) the Washington Law Against Discrimination, Wash. Rev. Code § 49.60.010 et seq. ("WLAD").

         Plaintiffs' Complaint originally included a list of elements of the stadium they claimed were not compliant with the ADA and WLAD. The Court previously granted in part and denied in part Plaintiffs' Motion for Summary Judgment on some of these claims. See Dkt. No. 32. Additionally, the parties settled several of the other claims. See Dkt. No. 72. Thus, by the time of trial only four issues remained unresolved: (1) whether wheelchair users have adequate sightlines over spectators standing directly in front of them ("sightlines"); (2) whether accessible seats are properly distributed vertically in the 100 Level of the Park ("distribution"); (3) whether ticket prices for accessible seats are comparable to nonaccessible seating ("pricing"); and (4) whether wheelchair users have sufficient sightlines to the main Scoreboard located in centerfield ("communications").

         Having considered the evidence produced at trial together with post-trial briefing and the submissions of the parties, the Court finds that T-Mobile Park is ADA compliant as to all four of the remaining issues. In accordance with Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 52(a), the Court now makes the following findings of fact and conclusions of law.

         II. BACKGROUND

         A. Jurisdiction and Venue

         Plaintiffs bring causes of action under Titles II and III of the ADA and thus jurisdiction is proper under 28 U.S.C. § 1331 and 28 U.S.C. § 1343. Additionally, the Court has supplemental jurisdiction over Plaintiffs' WLAD claims pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1367. Dkt. No. 1 at ¶¶ 2.1-2.2; Dkt. No. 43 at 2.

         Venue in this District is proper pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1391(b)(2) as all of the events giving rise to Plaintiffs' claims occurred in King County, Washington. Dkt. No. 1 at ¶ 2.3.

         Jurisdiction and venue have not been at issue or contested in this matter.

         B. Procedural History

         1. Complaint and Post-Complaint Remediations

         Plaintiffs filed the current action on October 15, 2018, alleging violations of (1) Title II of the ADA, (2) Title III of the ADA, and (3) WLAD. Dkt. No. 1 at ¶¶ 5.1-5.34. The Complaint based these violations on a list of claimed noncompliant elements of the Park. See Dkt. No. 1 at ¶ 5.21.

         After the filing of the Complaint, the parties engaged in negotiations, according to which Defendants conducted some remedial measures, including installing more accessible seats. See infra at 22.

         2. Motion for Summary Judgment

         On May 20, 2019, Plaintiffs filed a Motion for Summary Judgment, Dkt. No. 19, which the Court granted in part and denied in part on August 19, 2019, Dkt. No. 32. The motion sought judgment on a number of elements, but not all those listed in the Complaint, which the Court summarized in its Opinion as: (1) Seating Dimensions, (2) Edgar's Cantina Elevator/Lift, (3) Bullpen and Dugout Access, (4) Gaps, Cracks, and Expansion Joints, (5) Eating and Drinking Surfaces, (6) Concession Counters, (7) Concession Lines, (8) Distribution, and (9) Sightlines. See Dkt. No. 32 at 5-7.

         The Court granted summary judgment as to seating dimensions, Edgar's Cantina elevator and lift, and bullpen and dugout access as they were uncontested by Defendants. Dkt. No. 32 at 16. As for the other claims, the Court found that given a number of disputes of fact existed, summary judgment was inappropriate. See Id. at 30-31.

         3. Post-Summary Judgment Settlement

         After summary judgment, the parties continued their negotiations. On the eve of trial, Plaintiffs and Defendants informed the Court that they had settled on all but the four issues previously mentioned. The parties then formalized the settlement in a motion which the Court granted on October 31, 2019. Dkt. No. 72.

         4. Trial

         Thus, only four issues were tried to the Court. These included (1) sightlines, (2) distribution, (3) pricing, and (4) communications. Trial commenced on October 15, 2019 and continued until October 17, 2019. Closing arguments were held on October 24, 2019. Trial included testimony from the following five witnesses:

• Malcom Rogel, Senior Vice President of Ticket and Event Services for the Seattle Mariners. Dkt. No. 59 at 22-140.
• Trevor Gooby, Senior Vice President of Ballpark Operations for the Seattle Mariners. Dkt. No. 59 at 140-171.
• James L. E. Terry, CEO of Evan Terry Associates, LLC, and expert witness for Plaintiffs. Dkt. 59 at 172-224; Dkt. No. 60 at 3-123; Dkt. No. 61 at 81-87,
• Clark Landis, Plaintiff. Dkt. No. 60 at 130-140.
• William E. Endelman, former founder and principal of Endelman & Associates PLLC, and expert witness for Defendants. Dkt. No. 61 at 3-79.[1]

         After trial, the Court ordered the parties to submit proposed findings of facts and conclusions of law as well as post-trial briefs. Dkt. No. 58.[2]

         Two elements of trial are worth noting for their absence. First, Plaintiffs presented no evidence of damages, which they originally asserted under Title II of the ADA and WLAD. See Dkt. No. 1 at ¶¶ 5.14, 5.16, 5.33, 6.4. Second, the trial included no mention of WLAD at all. As such, the Court considers the WLAD claims abandoned.

         C. Statutory Background: The ADA and its Regulations

         In an effort to elucidate the often confusing and contradictory standards which govern this matter, the Court here explicates the applicable ADA law, regulations, and guidelines that controls its decision. The Court notes that seemingly the only consistency in the applicable law is that it and its regulations are incredibly convoluted. This Court, therefore, joins many of its sister courts in bemoaning the lack of clarity regarding the issues at hand.

         1. The ADA

         The ADA was enacted in 1990 and was intended "to provide clear, strong, consistent, enforceable standards addressing discrimination against individuals with disabilities." 42 U.S.C.§ 12101(b)(2). It is divided into several Titles, two of which are relevant here.

         Title II addresses public entities and prohibits such entities from discriminating against qualified individuals with a disability by excluding such individuals from participation in or denial of "benefits of the services, programs, or activities." 42 U.S.C. § 12132.

         Title III 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.

         The parties focus mainly on Title III, and its subsequent regulations and guidelines. Dkt. No. 32 at 10. Title III requires stadiums, such as T-Mobile Park, to be "design[ed] and constructed]" so as to be "readily accessible to and usable by individuals with disabilities." 42 U.S.C. § 12183(a)(1). The only exception to Title Ill's requirements is where "an entity can demonstrate that it is structurally impracticable to meet the requirements." Id.

         The ADA charges the Department of Justice ("DOJ") with promulgating regulations and guidelines for effectuating the statute's prohibitions against discrimination. 42 U.S.C. § 12134(a); id. at § 12186(b). The process includes an "unusual twist," however. Miller v. California Speedway Corp., 536 F.3d 1020, 1024 (9th Cir. 2008). In promulgating and implementing its regulations, the DOJ is to "be consistent with the minimum guidelines and requirements issued by the Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board," also known as "the Access Board." 42 U.S.C. 12186(c); see also Id. at § 12134(c). The Access Board is "an independent federal agency comprised of twenty-five persons-thirteen presidentially-appointed individuals and representatives from twelve federal agencies, including the DOJ." Miller, 536 F.3d at 1024 (citing 29 U.S.C. § 792(a)(1)); see also Dkt. No. 32 at 11 n.10. The Board's purpose is to establish "minimum guidelines and requirements for the standards issued" under Title III, 29 U.S.C. § 792(b)(3)(B), as well as "develop advisory information for, and provide appropriate technical assistance to, individuals or entities with rights or duties under" Title III, Miller, 536 F.3d at 1024-25; Dkt. No. 32 at 11 n.10.

         2. Subsequent Regulations and Guidelines

         a. 1991ADAAG

         Six months after the enactment of the ADA, the Access Board published its first proposed ADA Accessibility Guidelines ("ADAAG"), which were finalized in July 1991. Miller, 536 F.3d at 1025. The very same day the Access Board published its final ADAAG, the DOJ formally adopted it '"as the accessibility standard applicable under this rule, '" i.e., Title III. Id. (quoting 56 Fed. Reg. at 35, 585). Thus, "[t]he DOJ incorporated the ADAAG . . . verbatim" into what was then Appendix A. Miller, 536 F.3d at 1026 (citing 28 C.F.R. 36.406 & App. A). Today, the 1991 ADAAG (or "1991 Standards," as they are sometimes called) is located at Appendix D. See 28 C.F.R. Pt. 36, App. D; see also Access Board, ADA Standards for Accessible Design (1994), https://www.ada.gov/1991standards/adastd94-archive.pdfC1991ADAAG").

         Several elements of the 1991 ADAAG are important for the case before the Court, and worth quoting in whole.

         First, the 1991 ADAAG sets out the required number of accessible seats a stadium must offer. Section 4.1.3(19) provides a chart and dictates that for assembly areas over 500, "6, plus 1 additional space for each total seating capacity increase of 100" wheelchair locations are required. 1991ADAAG at §4.1.3(19).

         Second, and central to this matter, Section 4.33.3 of the 1991 ADAAG address placement of wheelchair locations, and provides in whole:

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. They shall adjoin an accessible route that also serves as a means of egress in case of emergency. At least one companion fixed seat shall be provided next to each wheelchair seating area. When the seating capacity exceeds 300, wheelchair spaces shall be provided in more than one ...

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