On September 10, 2008, a wheelchair user brought a class action in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California on behalf of disabled individuals who encountered various barriers to accessability at many of California's 92 Burger King restaurants. He alleged that inaccessible restrooms, high counters, seating areas, and other aspects of Burger King restaurants violated the Americans With Disabilities Act and California statutes.
The complaint alleged that Burger King worked closely with franchisees, overseeing construction and restaurant design, and that these leased restaurants presented numerous barriers to accessibility, including "entry and restroom doors that were very difficult to open, parking lots with insufficient or inadequate accessible parking spots, inaccessible restrooms, narrow or steep sidewalks/ramps, queue lines that were too narrow for . . . wheelchair[s] to navigate, inaccessible seating areas, and drink machines and condiments that were difficult for [the plaintiffs] to reach."
The plaintiffs alleged that plaintiffs had violated 42 U.S.C. § 12182(a) of the ADA, the Unruh Act, Cal. Civ. Code, § 51(b), and the CDPA, Cal. Civ. Code § 54.1(a)(1). Like the Unruh Act, the CDPA provides that a violation of the ADA or state accessibility regulations is a violation of the CDPA. Cal. Civ. Code § 54.1(d).
On November 26, 2008, the defendant moved to dismiss the complaint for on lack of subject matter jurisdiction both because Castaneda lacked standing to assert claims with respect to Burger King stores he did not personally visit and because the state law claims destroyed diversity jurisdiction; and under Fed. R. Civ. Proc. 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim, citing a lack of specificity in the complaint.
On February 18, 2009, the court denied the motion in a published opinion ruling that the plaintffs adequately pled the existence of common discriminatory barriers and policies at Burger King stores, that the plaintiffs' ADA claim pled with adequate specificity to state a claim, and that supplemental jurisdiction existed over the state law claims, thus mooting the diversity jurisdiction issue. Castaneda v. Burger King Corp, 597 F. Supp. 2d 1035 (N.D. Cal. 2009). The Court also denied the defendant's motion in the alternative for a more definite statement under Rule 12(e) and to strike class allegations under Rule 12(f)
On August 19, 2009, in a published opinion, Magistrate Judge James Larson ordered that exception circumstances warranted the defendants' disclosure of work product. Castaneda v. Burger King Corp., 259 F.R.D. 1994 (N.D. Cal. 2009). Specifically, the court ordered Burger King to produce measurements of counter heights, ramp slopes, and other information, even if this was "work product" it had gathered to remediate the accessibility problems at franchised restaurants. The plaintiffs were unable to obtain this information because Burger King did not identify these restaurants until after the remediation work had commenced.
The plaintiffs' moved to certify a class consisting of "all individuals with manual and/or mobility disabilities who use wheelchairs or electric scooters and who were denied during the liability period, or are currently being denied, on the basis of disability, full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations in any BKL Restaurant," which the plaintiff estimated to consist of 1000 individuals.
On September 25, 2009, the court granted in part and denied in part the plaintiffs' motion to certify the class, in a published opinion. Castaneda v. Burger King Corp., 264 F.R.D. 557 (N.D. Cal. 2009). The court found that typical ADA class actions proceed against a single store on behalf of all disabled persons using that store. The Castaneda action, however, proceeded against 92 stores throughout California, which differed so much in design that there were no common issues among the stores. Thus, "such a large sprawling class will not be certified. Instead, separate classes will be certified against each of the ten individual restaurants where a named plaintiff encountered alleged access barriers." Id. at 559-60.
The court certified ten classes, corresponding to 10 separate restaurants, as: "All individuals with mobility-impairment disabilities who use wheelchairs or electric scooters for mobility who, at any time on or after April 16, 2006, and up to the date of the class notice, were denied, or are currently being denied, on the basis of their mobility-impairment disability, full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations of [the particular restaurant applicable to that class]." Id. at 564.
The plaintiffs appealed the district court's order granting in part and denying in part the plaintiffs' motion for class certification. However, the parties settled during proceedings in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, mooting the appeal.
On February 11, 2010, the plaintiffs filed a motion for partial summary judgment as to violations of disability standards in one restaurant, number 2055. On that same day, the defendant filed a motion for summary judgment as to the plaintiffs' claim for statutory damages under the Unruh Act and California Disabled persons Act, arguing that franchisees -- not Burger King -- had engaged in discriminatory conduct. Burger King also sought summary judgment as to the ADA claims because the ten restaurants were built before the ADA was enacted. However, the court did not consider these motions because the parties settled the case.
On March 19, 2010, the court approved the settlement agreement. The settlement included an injunction requiring Burger King to remove barriers to accessibility using checklists with specific criteria for remodeling, alteration, maintenance, and monitoring of compliance. The agreement required Burger king to maintain three types of periodic access surveys including: daily surveys by franchisee-managers to ensure access to restrooms and condiments; surveys every three years of parking lots and restroom fixtures; and successor remodeling surveys whenever a restaurant is remodeled, which is roughly every 20 years. The court would retain jurisdiction to enforce these terms for six years after finalization of the agreement.
The settlement also provided for a cash payment of $5,000,000 to the named plaintiffs and 382 class members who opted in. Burger King also agreed to pay $2,500,000 to plaintiffs for attorney's fees and costs, with reductions as an incentive for compliance with the agreement.Eric Weiler - 05/19/2010