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Boitnott v. Border Foods, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

February 21, 2019

Jerald Boitnott, Plaintiff,
v.
Border Foods, Inc., doing business as Taco Bell; and RALCO, LLC, Defendants.

          ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO DISMISS AND DENYING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION TO AMEND

          Wilhelmina M. Wright United States District Judge

         Before the Court are Defendants' motion to dismiss Plaintiff's amended complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction and Plaintiff's motion to amend the complaint. (Dkts. 12, 27.) For the reasons addressed below, Defendants' motion to dismiss is granted, Plaintiff's motion to amend the complaint is denied, and this case is dismissed without prejudice.

         BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff Jerald Boitnott is a Minnesota resident who has a legal disability as defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), 42 U.S.C. §§ 12101 et seq. Defendant Border Foods, Inc. (Border Foods), owns and operates a Taco Bell restaurant located in Saint Paul, Minnesota (the restaurant). Defendant RALCO, LLC, owns and is the lessor of the real property on which the restaurant is located.

         Boitnott visited the restaurant in March 2018 and observed architectural barriers that deterred him from patronizing the restaurant. These architectural barriers included a parking stall aisle that did not adjoin an accessible route, an interior vestibule door that could not be opened with less than five pounds of force, an insufficient number of accessible seats, a restroom mirror located more than 40 inches above the floor, exposed pipes below a lavatory that created a burn hazard, an improperly sized and positioned toilet grab bar, and an improperly positioned toilet flush control. Although Boitnott lives near and intends to patronize the restaurant in the future, these architectural barriers prevented and deterred him from doing so. Boitnott asserts that he will return to and patronize the restaurant when these architectural barriers have been removed or cured.

         Boitnott commenced this action against Taco Bell of America, LLC, and two individual defendants in Ramsey County District Court, Second Judicial District, on May 22, 2018. The complaint alleges violations of the ADA and seeks a declaratory judgment, injunctive relief, a nominal monetary award, and attorneys' fees and costs. The individual defendants removed this action to this Court on June 20, 2018. Approximately two weeks later, on July 2, 2018, Boitnott filed an amended complaint, which is now the operative complaint. The amended complaint contains the same legal and factual allegations as the original complaint but identifies only Border Foods and RALCO as defendants.

         Although Border Foods was not named as a defendant in Boitnott's original complaint, Border Foods became aware of Boitnott's lawsuit on May 22, 2018. According to Border Foods's Senior Vice President, as soon as Border Foods became aware of the lawsuit it addressed the ADA violations alleged in Boitnott's original complaint. Border Foods hired an auditor who specializes in ADA compliance. The auditor visited the restaurant on May 30, 2018, and provided a report with recommendations. Thereafter, Border Foods took steps to correct the alleged architectural barriers, including (1) replacing multiple doors, including the interior vestibule door, so that they can be opened with less than five pounds of force; (2) adding accessible seating; (3) lowering restroom mirrors to be no more than 40 inches above the floor; (4) installing pipe covers below the lavatory; (5) correcting the size and location of restroom grab bars; and (6) correcting the location of the toilet flush control in the men's restroom. After completing these changes to the restaurant property, the auditor visited the restaurant again and issued a second report verifying that the architectural barriers identified in Boitnott's original complaint had been corrected. The auditor also advised Border Foods that the restaurant's parking stall aisle and routes do not violate the ADA. The auditor's second report is dated June 19, 2018- approximately two weeks before Boitnott amended his complaint and named Border Foods as a defendant.

         Border Foods and RALCO (collectively, Defendants) move to dismiss the amended complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1), arguing that this Court lacks subject-matter jurisdiction over Boitnott's claims because Boitnott lacks standing under Article III of the United States Constitution and, alternatively, because Boitnott's claims are moot. In particular, Defendants contend that the architectural barriers identified in the amended complaint were removed or cured before Boitnott filed the amended complaint.

         ANALYSIS

         Defendants move to dismiss the amended complaint for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction on two grounds-standing and mootness. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(1). The jurisdiction of federal courts extends only to actual cases or controversies. U.S. Const. Art. III, § 2, cl. 1; accord Neighborhood Transp. Network, Inc. v. Pena, 42 F.3d 1169, 1172 (8th Cir. 1994). Questions of standing and mootness implicate the court's subject-matter jurisdiction. Charleston Hous. Auth. v. U.S. Dep't of Agric., 419 F.3d 729, 739 (8th Cir. 2005) (mootness); Faibisch v. Univ. of Minn., 304 F.3d 797, 801 (8th Cir. 2002) (standing).

         When deciding a motion to dismiss for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction, a court “must distinguish between a ‘facial attack' and a ‘factual attack.' ” Osborn v. United States, 918 F.2d 724, 729 n.6 (8th Cir. 1990). A facial attack challenges the sufficiency of a plaintiff's pleadings. Branson Label, Inc. v. City of Branson, 793 F.3d 910, 914 (8th Cir. 2015). The district court, in turn, determines whether the pleadings allege sufficient facts to support subject-matter jurisdiction. Id. In doing so, the court considers only the pleadings, and the nonmoving party receives the same protections that it would receive if a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim were before the court. Osborn, 918 F.2d at 729 n.6.

         By contrast, a defendant's factual attack challenges the existence of subject-matter jurisdiction. Branson Label, 793 F.3d at 914. When ruling on a factual attack, the district court considers matters outside the pleadings, and the nonmoving party proceeds without “the benefit of [Rule] 12(b)(6) safeguards.” Osborn, 918 F.2d at 729-30 n.6; see also Disability Support All. v. Geller Family Ltd. P'ship III, 160 F.Supp.3d 1133, 1135-37 (D. Minn. 2016) (applying factual attack standard in ADA case and considering declarations attached to pleadings). Here, Defendants assert a factual challenge to the Court's subject-matter jurisdiction based on their contentions that Boitnott lacks standing and that Border Foods voluntarily complied with the law, thus rendering Boitnott's claims moot.

         Title III of the ADA prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in places of public accommodation. 42 U.S.C. § 12182(a). Discrimination includes the “failure to remove architectural barriers, and communication barriers that are structural in nature, in existing facilities . . . where such removal is readily achievable.” 42 U.S.C. § 12182(b)(2)(A)(iv). The ADA grants a private right of action to “any person who is being subjected to discrimination on the basis of disability.” 42 U.S.C. § 12188(a); Steger v. Franco, Inc., 228 F.3d 889, 892 (8th Cir. 2000). In a private enforcement action under Title III of the ADA, a plaintiff may obtain only injunctive relief. See 42 U.S.C. § 12188(a); Wojewski v. Rapid City Reg'l Hosp., Inc., 450 F.3d 338, 342 (8th Cir. 2006); Stebbins v. Legal Aid of Ark., 512 Fed.Appx. 662, 663 (8th Cir. 2013) (citing 42 U.S.C. § 12188(a)).

         Defendants argue that, because none of the ADA violations alleged in the amended complaint existed when Border Foods and RALCO were first named as defendants, Boitnott lacked standing from the outset of his lawsuit against them. Defendants alternatively argue that, because the ADA violations alleged in the amended complaint do not currently exist on the restaurant property, injunctive relief is unavailable. Therefore, according to Defendants, Boitnott's claims are moot. The Court addresses each argument in turn.

         I. ...


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