ADA Concept Review: Readily Achievable Standard
The vast majority of Americans with Disabilities Act cases are settled amicably. Sometimes, however, they cannot be settled, and they go to trial. A few years ago, this law firm took an ADA case all the way to trial on the defense side, and we won a directed verdict for our client at the close of the plaintiff’s case. The basis for the victory was that the plaintiff had not established that ADA compliance was readily achievable.
Similarly, on April 6, 2021, an order after trial was entered in the Central District of California, in the case of Whitaker vs. Dollar Hits Temple, Inc. The judge in that case made a number of findings of fact, including that the plaintiff was disabled within the meaning of the Americans with Disabilities Act, that the defendant owned or leased a restaurant in Los Angeles California, that the defendant offered interior and exterior dining tables to its patrons for use, that the plaintiff visited the defendant’s restaurant in September 2019, and the plaintiff was frustrated to encounter outdoor dining tables with insufficient toe and knee clearance. It was also found that the plaintiff did not enter the restaurant, purchase anything, and has not returned since his initial visit.
The court further found that in October 2019, the plaintiff’s investigator determined that the restaurant’s outdoor tables’ toe clearance extended less than 17 inches and found inaccessible restroom accessories. The plaintiff’s claim in the case was that he was deterred from visiting the restaurant because of his knowledge of the condition of the dining tables, and he declared that he would return if those issues were rectified.
After making those findings of fact, after the trial, the judge reached the following conclusions of law: First, that Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits discrimination against person with disabilities in places of the public accommodation.
Next, that to prevail on a claim under the ADA, the plaintiff must show that they are disabled within the meaning of the ADA, that the defendant is a private entity that owns, leases, or operates a place of public accommodation, and finally, the plaintiff must show that he was denied public accommodations by the defendant because of his disability.
The court found that the last element is satisfied if the defendant has failed to remove architectural barriers prohibited by the ADA or its implementing regulations, where such removal is readily achievable. Where removal is not readily achievable, the last element is satisfied if the defendant still fails to make public accommodations available (though some alternative method).
The court concludes that the plaintive proved the first two elements (that he is disabled, and that defendant is a private entity that controls a public accommodation). But the court also finds at the plaintiff presented no evidence concerning whether removal of the barriers is actually readily achievable or “how the cost of removing the architectural barrier at issue does not exceed the benefit under the circumstances.”
The court held that the plaintiff’s ADA claim failed for that reason. It goes on to state that the plaintiff lacked standing to pursue the case, because there is a requirement to show a “real an immediate threat” of recurrence of the injury. The court finds that no information at trial suggests that the plaintiff intends to return to the restaurant or is deterred only on the basis of his prior visit. Note that this is written only two days after that ruling, and future ruling or appeals may affect the information in this blog.
Nevertheless, it is therefore always worth remembering at the Americans with Disabilities act of 1990 only requires removal of barriers to the extent that removal is readily achievable. That is therefore a central issue in any ADA case, even though it is very commonly overlooked.