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Wong v. Muddy Pig, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

January 16, 2015

Eric Wong, Plaintiff,
v.
Muddy Pig, Inc., and St. Paul Development Corporation, Defendants.

Paul R. Hansmeier, Class Justice PLLC, Minneapolis, Minnesota, for Plaintiff.

James M. Njus, Stephen M. Harris, Thomas E. Meyer, Meyer & Njus, P.A., Minneapolis, Minnesota, for Defendant St. Paul Development Corporation.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

RICHARD H. KYLE, District Judge.

INTRODUCTION

Plaintiff Eric Wong suffers from Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, a condition affecting his joints and musculoskeletal system; he cannot stand or walk for significant periods of time and uses a wheelchair for mobility. In this action, he alleges Defendant Muddy Pig, Inc. ("Muddy Pig"), a pub located in St. Paul, Minnesota, and Defendant St. Paul Development Corporation ("SPDC"), the corporation owning the building in which Muddy Pig is located, have violated the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA") and the Minnesota Human Rights Act ("MHRA") by failing to remove architectural barriers in Muddy Pig's entryway. Presently before the Court is SPDC's Motion to Dismiss (Doc. No. 14). For the reasons that follow, the Motion will be denied.

BACKGROUND

In June 2014, Wong attempted to enter Muddy Pig but was unable to do so due to a six-inch step at the entrance. (Compl. ¶ 12.) Muddy Pig lacks an alternative entrance, such as a ramp, that would have allowed him to enter using his wheelchair. (Id. ¶ 13.) It is unclear from the Complaint whether Wong immediately notified Muddy Pig of his difficulty entering the building, but he alleges the pub has "been on notice of the fact that [it] contain[s] accessibility barriers since at least June 9, 2014." (Id. ¶ 39.) The pub is approximately 8.5 miles from Wong's home and he intends to visit again in the future, "both to ascertain whether [it] remains in violation of the ADA and/or MHRA, and to attempt to patronize the restaurant on a full, equal, and independent basis." (Id. ¶¶ 11, 33.) The six-inch step and lack of a ramp, however, prevent him from doing so.

Wong commenced this action in September 2014, seeking injunctive relief and damages for violation of the "public accommodation" provisions of the ADA and the MHRA. SPDC now moves to dismiss under Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6), arguing (respectively) that Wong (1) lacks standing and (2) has failed to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. The Motion has been fully briefed, the Court heard oral argument on December 3, 2014, and the Motion is ripe for disposition.

ANALYSIS

The ADA and MHRA each prohibit discrimination "on the basis of disability in the full and equal enjoyment of... any place of public accommodation." 42 U.S.C. § 12182(a); accord Minn. Stat. § 363A.11, subd. 1(a)(2) ("It is an unfair discriminatory practice... for a place of public accommodation not to make reasonable accommodation to the known physical, sensory, or mental disability of a disabled person."). The parties agree that claims under the two statutes are analyzed in the same fashion, see also, e.g., McAdams v. United Parcel Serv., Inc., 30 F.3d 1027, 1029 n.3 (8th Cir. 1994), and that Muddy Pig is a place of "public accommodation, " see 42 U.S.C. § 12181(7)(B) (including "a restaurant, bar, or other establishment serving food or drink" within the definition); Minn. Stat. 363A.03, subd. 34 ("Place of public accommodation' means a business, accommodation, refreshment, entertainment, recreation, or transportation facility of any kind, whether licensed or not, whose goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages or accommodations are extended, offered, sold, or otherwise made available to the public."). Nevertheless, SPDC challenges whether Wong has standing to allege claims for violating these statutes and, even if he does, whether he has adequately pleaded such claims. The Court addresses these contentions in turn below.

I. Standing (Rule 12(b)(1))

A standing challenge under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) implicates the Court's subject-matter jurisdiction and, accordingly, must be addressed before reaching the merits. E.g., Turkish Coalition of Am., Inc. v. Bruininks, 678 F.3d 617, 621 (8th Cir. 2012) ("[S]tanding is a jurisdictional prerequisite that must be resolved before reaching the merits of a suit.") (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). Two types of standing challenges exist: a facial attack, which (as the name suggests) challenges the plaintiff's standing allegations on their face, and a factual attack, which looks behind the allegations to the underlying facts. See, e.g., Stalley v. Catholic Health Initiatives, 509 F.3d 517, 520-21 (8th Cir. 2007); Osborn v. United States, 918 F.2d 724, 729 n.6 (8th Cir. 1990). On a facial challenge the Court determines only whether the plaintiff has plausibly alleged facts suggesting standing exists, mirroring the standard under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), Stalley, 509 F.3d at 521, while on a factual challenge the Court may consider matters beyond the pleadings and resolve facts to determine standing, Osborn, 918 F.2d at 729 n.6.

Here, SPDC mounts a facial challenge, [1] arguing Plaintiff has failed to adequately allege injury-in-fact because he "fails to allege anything more than a vague intent to return to [Muddy Pig] someday." (Def. Mem. at 10 (internal quotation marks omitted).) But the Court recently considered and rejected a strikingly similar argument in another ADA case, Sawczyn v. BMO Harris Bank Nat'l Ass'n, 8 F.Supp. 3d 1108 (D. Minn. 2014) (Kyle, J.). There, the blind plaintiff alleged the defendant's ATM machine violated the ADA because it lacked Braille lettering, and the defendant challenged the plaintiff's standing to sue based on his unspecific allegation that he had used the machine in the past and would do so in the future. Id. at 1111-13. The Court rejected this argument and concluded the plaintiff enjoyed standing for reasons equally applicable here. Those reasons need not be repeated; for all the reasons ...


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