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Dalton v. JJSC Properties, LLC

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

August 13, 2019

Aaron Dalton, Plaintiff,
v.
JJSC Properties, LLC, Defendant.

          Padraigin Browne, Browne Law LLC, for Plaintiff.

          Amy M. Sieben and Bradley D. Fisher, Fisher Bren & Sheridan LLP, for Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          SUSAN RICHARD NELSON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Before the Court is the Motion to Dismiss [Doc. No. 3] filed by Defendant JJSC Properties, LLC (“JJSC”), and the Motion for Summary Judgment [Doc. No. 13] filed by Plaintiff Aaron Dalton (“Dalton”). For the reasons set forth below, Defendant's motion is granted in part as to dismissal, and denied in part as to costs, and Plaintiff's motion is denied.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Factual Background

         Dalton, a resident of Burnsville, Minnesota, suffers from cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair for mobility, as well as a van with a wheelchair lift. (Browne Decl. [Doc. No. 16], Ex. B (Dalton Dep.) at 5, 10-11, 15, 19-21.) JJSC owns the Grand Wheeler Sinclair service and gas station located at 1345 Grand Avenue in St. Paul, Minnesota. (Def.'s Ex. A [Doc. No. 5-1] (Brost Aff.) ¶ 4.) The gas station was built in 1960, prior to the enactment of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), and has not been remodeled. (Id. ¶ 3.)

         On January 16, 2019, Dalton and his roommate, Scott Smith, were driving in St. Paul, Minnesota, looking for a restaurant, when they became lost. (Browne Decl., Ex. B (Dalton Dep.) at 34-35.) Dalton testified at his March 29, 2019 deposition that he and Smith “needed somewhere to pull over and look at Google Maps, and it just happened to be the [Grand Wheeler Sinclair] gas station.” (Id. at 35.) He testified that there was no other reason for stopping at the station, and that he had never visited it before. (Id. at 42-43.) Dalton and Smith did not exit the van, but stopped in the gas station's parking lot. (Id. at 40.) Dalton, who has filed 44 ADA accessibility discrimination suits in the District of Minnesota, (id. at 27), noticed that there was no signage for an accessible parking spot. (Id. at 40.) Also, although there was snow on the ground, Dalton testified that he could not see any painted lines marking an accessible parking spot. (Id.) Prior to departing the parking lot, he and Smith took photographs of the site from their vantage point inside the van. (Id. at 42.) In an April 8, 2019 declaration filed in support of his summary judgment motion, Dalton states that when he visited the station on January 16, he “did not feel comfortable parking and exiting my vehicle based on the conditions I observed.” (Dalton Decl. [Doc. No. 17] ¶ 5.)

         Approximately two weeks later, Smith filed suit against Defendant in Ramsey County District Court for violations of the ADA, 42 U.S.C. §§ 12101, and the ADAAG, for which he seeks injunctive relief. (See Compl. [Doc. No. 1-2].) Defendant removed the case to federal court on March 4, 2019. (Notice of Removal [Doc. No. 1].)

         Dalton alleges that when he “attempted to visit the gas station, ” he found no reserved accessible parking spots and no reserved van parking spaces, in violation of ADAAG 208.2 and 208.2.4. (Compl. ¶¶ 18(a)-(b).) He states that these barriers are “not to be considered all-inclusive of the barriers and violations” of the ADA that he encountered or which exist at the station. (Id. ¶ 19.) Dalton alleges that he “attempted to access Defendant's premises but could not do so independently on a full and equal basis” due to the physical barriers to access. (Id. ¶ 17.) Further, he alleges that these barriers deter him from visiting Grand Wheeler Sinclair in the future. (Id. ¶ 16.)

         In February 2019, JJSC retained Julee Quarve-Peterson as an expert to conduct an accessibility review of the gas station and to make recommendations on its behalf. (Def. Ex. C [Doc. No. 5-3] (Quarve-Peterson Rpt.) ¶¶ 2-3.) Ms. Quarve-Peterson, an Accessibility Specialist certified by the State of Minnesota since 1996, has served as an expert consultant or witness in hundreds of ADA cases involving allegations of noncompliant architectural barriers. (Supp'l Quarve-Peterson Aff. [Doc. No. 28] ¶ 3.) From the Complaint, she noted that Dalton had identified a lack of any reserved accessible parking spaces and a lack of any spaces reserved as van parking spaces. (Def. Ex. C1 [Doc. No. 5-3] (JQP Inc. Accessibility Complaint Response) at 1.) Following her February 2019 inspection, Ms. Quarve-Peterson recommended that Defendant provide a minimum of one designated accessible parking space with an adjacent access aisle, and that the newly designated space include “van accessible” signage. (Id. at 6.)

         Ms. Quarve-Peterson returned to the site on March 4, 2019 to verify that JJSC had properly addressed her recommendations. (Def. Ex. C (Quarve-Peterson Aff.) ¶ 5.) She found that Defendant had implemented her recommendations, to the extent possible in March 2019, by designating an accessible parking space and access aisle and placing signage in the accessible spot. (Id. ¶ 6.) Ms. Quarve-Peterson noted that painting the surfaces of the access aisle and parking spot was not possible at that time, due to the presence of snow on the ground. (Id. ¶ 7.)

         Dalton revisited the Grand Wheeler Sinclair station on March 12, 2019. (Dalton Decl. ¶ 10.) He states that he could not safely exit his vehicle based on the conditions that he observed, including a lack of stripes or boundaries of an accessible parking spot, and the presence of a car parked directly in front of the accessible parking sign and the “no parking” sign, blocking access. (Id. ¶ 11-13.)

         On Plaintiff's behalf, Peter Hansmeier visited Grand Wheeler Sinclair on April 3, 2019. (Hansmeier Decl. [Doc. No. 18] ¶ 2.) Hansmeier does not indicate his role with respect to this litigation, nor does he provide any information concerning his training and expertise. However, based on his involvement in similar cases, he appears to be a member of Plaintiff's counsel's staff. See Dalton v. Simonson Station Stores, Inc., 017-CV-4427 (SRN/LIB), 2019 WL 3243257, at *3 (D. Minn. July 18, 2019). At the time of Hansmeier's April 3 visit, he noted that no painted stripes demarcated the accessible parking space and its adjacent access aisle. (Hansmeier Decl. ¶ 2.)

         On April 23, 2019, Ms. Quarve-Peterson conducted a follow-up visit to the gas station. (Supp'l Quarve-Peterson Aff. ¶ 7.) She and a colleague took photographs on that visit which show a van accessible sign, designated accessible parking sign, a striped access aisle, and an accessible parking spot demarcated with white paint. (Id., Ex. A-2 [Doc. No. 28-2] (Status Update & Photographs).)

         B. Defendant's Motion to Dismiss

         In its motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(1), JJSC argues that it has permanently remedied the ADA violations alleged in the Complaint, rendering Dalton's claims moot. (Def.'s Am. Mem. [Doc. No. 25] at 6-9.) In addition, JJSC asserts that Plaintiff lacks standing to bring this action. (Id. at 9-12.) Defendant argues that Dalton has not suffered an injury in fact. JJSC notes that Plaintiff has admitted that he never attempted to access the goods or services at Grand Wheeler Sinclair, nor is there any evidence that he intends to return to the station to utilize its goods or services. (Id.) Defendant argues that because no live case or controversy exists, and because Plaintiff has not demonstrated that he suffered an injury in fact, the Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction over this matter. (Id. at 9-13.) Finally, JJSC argues that if the Court dismisses Plaintiff's Complaint with prejudice, it is entitled to an award of costs. (Id. at 12.)

         Plaintiff, however, argues that this matter is not moot because JJSC has failed to provide all of the requested relief. (Pl.'s Opp'n [Doc. No. 29] at 4-8.) Citing ADAAG 502 in the Complaint, Dalton alleges that he “requires accessible parking spaces which comply with all elements of 502 (including location, width, length, signage, slope, and presence to an access aisle).” (Id.) (citing Compl. ΒΆΒΆ 18-19.) He points to Ms. Quarve-Peterson's acknowledgement that certain slopes in the parking lot are not compliant with the ...


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