In a pro-business decision, the Los Angeles Superior Court Appellate Division recently established state standards for damages and standing for California public accessibility cases in Mundy v. Pro-Thro Enterprises, 2011 WL 600619 (Cal. App. Dep't Super. Ct. Jan. 7, 2011).
In Mundy, a wheelchair user and serial ADA litigant, filed a complaint against the owner of a car wash alleging that when he visited the restroom at the facility, he could not see himself in the mirror because it was mounted too high. Seeking damages, attorney fees, and costs, the plaintiff alleged violations of California’s Disabled Persons Act (DPA) and Unruh Act. Notably, any violation of the federal Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) is also a violation of the DPA and the Unruh Act.
The trial court dismissed the case on the grounds that the plaintiff failed to prove that he suffered actual injury, embarrassment, humiliation or discomfort as a result of the placement of the restroom mirror. Moreover, the trial court admitted evidence that the plaintiff had previously filed more than 300 similar lawsuits as well as evidence of his earnings from these proceedings. The trial court entered judgment in favor of the car wash and the plaintiff appealed.
On appeal, the reviewing court noted that in order to recover statutory damages and attorney fees as a result of a construction-related accessibility claim, the California Civil Code requires the plaintiff to prove that he was denied full and equal access after personally encountering an ADA violation. The court held that the plaintiff was not entitled to judgment as a matter of law because, even though he established a violation of the ADA, he failed to offer any evidence that he experienced difficulty, discomfort, or embarrassment as a result of the violation.
The reviewing court also held that the trial court did not abuse its discretion when it admitted evidence of the plaintiff’s 300 previously filed lawsuits. The court noted that even if the admission was an abuse of discretion, it did not merit reversal because the plaintiff failed to show that he would have obtained a more favorable decision if the evidence were not admitted. Rather, the court found that the plaintiff’s failure to offer any evidence of difficulty, discomfort, or embarrassment would have barred recovery even without the prior lawsuit evidence.
This case signals judicial resistance to ADA claims where a plaintiff fails to establish standing and eligibility for damages with sufficient evidence of both an ADA violation and an actual injury as a result of that violation.