NEW ORLEANS – On October 2, 2017, the U.S. Supreme Court denied plaintiff’s petition for a writ of certiorari in Emmett Magee v. Coca-Cola Refreshments USA, Inc., a putative nationwide class action in which Phelps Dunbar and co-counsel Alston & Bird LLP obtained a complete victory for firm client Coca-Cola Refreshments USA, Inc. (“CCR”). CCR is a wholly owned subsidiary of The Coca-Cola Company, a publicly traded company.
Magee brought suit in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana alleging that CCR’s glass front vending machines violate Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), 42 U.S.C. § 12181 et seq., because they are not accessible to individuals with visual impairments. Magee is legally blind and claimed to have encountered the vending machines at East Jefferson General Hospital and at a bus station in New Orleans, and he sought to represent a nationwide class of other legally blind individuals. Through his lawsuit, Magee asked the court to require CCR to implement various technological changes to the vending machines to better accommodate visually impaired customers. Magee also sought to recover his attorneys’ fees under the ADA.
Phelps and co-counsel drafted an extensive motion to dismiss, arguing that the vending machines themselves are not “places of public accommodation” under the ADA and, as a result, CCR is not subject to suit under Title III of the ADA. If accepted, Magee’s interpretation would have opened the door to massive, unintended, and perhaps limitless application of the ADA to various moveable objects such as other types of machines and furniture. The district court agreed that vending machines are not “places of public accommodation” and granted CCR’s motion, dismissing Magee’s claims in their entirety. The district court went so far as to reference another court that had recognized that the proliferation of putative ADA class actions around the country may be driven by “unscrupulous attorneys” whose sole interest is the recovery of attorneys’ fees.
Magee appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, but Phelps and co-counsel successfully argued to the appellate court that the district court had reached the correct result, and the district court’s decision was affirmed. Magee pressed forward and sought review in the U.S. Supreme Court, arguing that the Fifth Circuit’s decision created a split among the federal courts of appeal on the question of whether “public accommodations” are limited to physical spaces. In CCR’s brief to the Supreme Court, Phelps and co-counsel argued that no such split had been created and that it was premature and unnecessary for the Supreme Court to review the case. The Supreme Court agreed and denied Magee’s petition earlier today, cementing Phelps’ victory for CCR.