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MEINEKER v. HOYTS CINEMAS CORPORATION

August 14, 2002

SUSAN MEINEKER AND SYBIL MCPHERSON, PLAINTIFFS, VS. HOYTS CINEMAS CORPORATION, DEFENDANT.


The opinion of the court was delivered by: David N. Hurd, United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM — DECISION AND ORDER

I. INTRODUCTION

On September 24, 1998, plaintiffs Susan Meineker ("Meineker")*fn1 and Sybil McPherson ("McPherson") (collectively "plaintiffs") commenced the instant action against defendant Hoyts Cinemas Corporation ("Hoyts") pursuant to Title III of the Americans With Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. § 12101, et seq. ("ADA"). Plaintiffs filed an amended complaint on February 12, 1999, seeking declaratory and injunctive relief pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2201 and 42 U.S.C. § 12182, and attorneys' fees pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 12205.

Defendant now moves for summary judgment on all claims against it. Plaintiffs oppose and cross-move for summary judgment. Defendant opposes the cross-motion. Oral argument was heard on March 22, 2002, in Albany, New York. Decision was reserved.

II. FACTS

The facts in this case are relatively undisputed, and require only a brief 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. (Id.)

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 in the 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 ...


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