recitation to set forth the basis for the resolution of the instant motion.
In 1997, Hoyts opened its new cinema at Crossgates Mall in Albany, New
York (the "Crossgates theater"). The Crossgates theater consists of a
complex of eighteen movie theaters on two levels. All eighteen theaters
consist of a combination of seating on a flat floor below the screen, and
"stadium-style" seating. Stadium-style seating consists of individual
rows of seats placed on graduated tiers or steps. The stadium-style
seating occupies, on average, approximately 70% of the available seating
in the Crossgates theaters. In fourteen of the eighteen Crossgates
theaters, where seating capacity is less than 300, there is no wheelchair
seating in the tiered, stadium-style sections.
In the four theaters where seating capacity is greater than 300,
wheelchair seating is located in several locations both on the flat floor
and at the back of the stadium-style seats. For safety reasons,
Crossgates has installed a railing to protect wheelchair patrons from the
steep drop-off in front of the wheelchair seating at the rear of these
theaters.*fn2 Each wheelchair position is adjoined by a companion seat
in every theater. Patrons pay the same ticket price whether they sit in
the stadium seating or in the floor seating.
At the time the Crossgates theaters were constructed, the floor seating
for wheelchair patrons was located in the most undesirable part of the
theaters. It was situated directly beneath the screen at the very front
of the theaters. There was no seating for the general public located in
front of the wheelchair seating. Subsequent to the commencement of this
litigation, the wheelchair seating was renovated between November 2000
and March 2001. (Gaudet Aff. ¶ 10.) The wheelchair seating was
relocated to the rear of the floor section behind several rows of general
public seating, and as close to the center of the theater as possible.
Plaintiffs Susan Meineker and Sybil McPherson are disabled persons who
ambulate by means of a wheelchair. Each patronized Hoyts Crossgates
theater in late 1997, and each was required to sit in wheelchair seating
which, at that time, was located directly under the screen at the very
front of the theater. These seating locations were undesirable to
plaintiffs. They had difficulty viewing the screen, and they suffered
discomfort during the movies because they were forced to shift their
bodies in their wheelchairs in order to crane their heads upward to view
the movie. They commenced this action in 1998, alleging that the
wheelchair seating configuration at the Crossgates theaters violates
Title III of the ADA.
III. STANDARD OF REVIEW
A. Summary Judgment
A moving party is entitled to summary judgment "if the pleadings,
depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together
with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to
any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as
a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). The ultimate inquiry is whether a
reasonable jury could find for the nonmoving party based on the evidence
presented, the legitimate inferences that could be drawn from that
evidence in favor of the nonmoving party, and the applicable burden of
proof. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 252 (1986). In
determining a motion for summary judgment, all inferences to be drawn
from the facts contained in the exhibits and depositions "must be viewed
light most favorable to the party opposing the motion." United
States v. Diebold, Inc., 369 U.S. 654, 655 (1962); Hawkins v. Steingut,
829 F.2d 317, 319 (2d Cir. 1987). Nevertheless, "the litigant opposing
summary judgment `may not rest upon mere conclusory allegations or
denials' as a vehicle for obtaining a trial." Quinn v. Syracuse Model
Neighborhood Corp., 613 F.2d 438, 445 (2d Cir. 1980) (quoting SEC v.
Research Automation Corp., 585 F.2d 31, 33 (2d Cir. 1978)).
Plaintiffs claim that the wheelchair seating at the Crossgates theaters
violates the ADA in that (1) wheelchair patrons are not offered lines of
sight comparable to those offered to the general public because
wheelchair seating is not provided in the stadium seating of fourteen of
the theaters; (2) the wheelchair seating is not an "integral" part of the
fixed seating plan because it is (a) clustered at the front of the floor
area, and (b) located in "pens" or "corrals" in the rear corners of the
stadium seating; (3) there is no wheelchair access to the stadium seating
area in fourteen of the theaters; and (4) the wheelchair seating at the
Crossgates theaters is "separate and unequal."*fn3 Each of these
arguments is discussed below.
A. The Statutory and Regulatory Framework
Title III of the ADA prohibits discrimination "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." 42 U.S.C. § 12182(a). Title III requires that
newly constructed facilities be "readily accessible to and usable by
individuals with disabilities, except where an entity can demonstrate
that it is structurally impracticable." 42 U.S.C. § 12183. Section
301 of the ADA defines "public accommodations" to include private
commercial facilities such as movie theaters. 42 U.S.C. § 12181(7)(C).
Section 303 of the ADA governs the construction of new facilities and the
alteration of existing facilities.
Pursuant to these statutory provisions, the Department of Justice
("DOJ") has been instructed by Congress to "issue regulations . . . to
carry out the provisions of" Title III, including standards applicable to
facilities covered by Title III. 42 U.S.C. § 12186(b). Standards
contained in the DOJ regulations must "be consistent with the minimum
guidelines and requirements issued by the Architectural and
Transportation Barriers Compliance Board" (the "Access Board").
42 U.S.C. § 12186(c).
The Access Board is a federal agency that was created by the
Rehabilitation Act of 1973 for the purpose of ensuring compliance with
the Architectural Barriers Act of 1968. See 42 U.S.C. § 4151-4157.
The Board is composed of 25 members: 13 public members appointed by the
President, as well as officials of 12 federal agencies or departments.
29 U.S.C. § 792. In the ADA, Congress directed the Access Board to
issue "minimum guidelines" to supplement the Board's existing Minimum
Guidelines and Requirements for Accessible Design.
42 U.S.C. § 12204(a). After providing notice and comment, the Access
Board issued its Accessibility Guidelines for Buildings and Facilities
("ADAAG" or the "Guidelines") in 1991.
Pursuant to its statutory authority under Title III, the DOJ has
promulgated numerous regulations, see 28 C.F.R. § 36.101-36.608
(1998), one of which adopts the Access Board's guidelines as the DOJ's
own Standards for New Construction and Alterations ("Standards"). See
28 C.F.R. § 36.406 (referring to 28 C.F.R. Part 36, App. A). Section
4.33.3 of the ADAAG provides that: