Case: Doran v. 7-Eleven, Inc., No. 05-56439 (9th Cir. Nov. 9, 2007)

The One Sentence Summary: If an ADA plaintiff has encountered or has personal knowledge of at least one barrier affecting his or her disability and thereby has been deterred from attempting to gain access to a place of public accommodation, the plaintiff has standing to challenge all accessibility barriers in that public accommodation that are related to his or her disability.

What They Were Fighting About: Plaintiff Jerry Doran sued for ADA violations at a 7-Eleven store located in Anaheim, 550 miles from his home. Doran is a paraplegic and uses a wheelchair for mobility. His complaint identified nine alleged barriers at the 7-Eleven store including that the store aisles were too narrow and that disabled patrons were denied access to the employees-only restroom. During discovery, Doran’s expert conducted a site visit and identified three additional barriers that would potentially impact mobility-impaired persons. The trial court granted summary judgment to 7-Eleven on all of Doran’s ADA claims, holding that Doran did not have standing to challenge barriers first identified in the expert report because he did not personally encounter or have personal knowledge of those barriers. The trial court also found that Doran failed to provide any evidence that the nine barriers identified in the complaint had not been removed or violated the ADA. Doran appealed.

Court Holdings:

  • The fact that Doran lived 550 miles away from the 7-Eleven store did not preclude him from establishing Article III standing. He personally visited the store on 10 to 20 prior occasions, is currently deterred from visiting the store due to its accessibility barriers, and planned to visit Anaheim at least once a year on annual trips to Disneyland.
  • Trial court erred in precluding Doran from suing as to those accessibility barriers related to his disability as a wheelchair user that he did not personally encounter. If an ADA plaintiff knows about at least one violation that deters him or her from attempting to enter the public accommodation again and conduct further investigation of its accessibility, the plaintiff has Article III standing to sue. Discovery may then be conducted as to any other barriers related to his or her disability and those may be included in the claim.
  • A rule limiting an ADA plaintiff to challenging only those violations affecting his or her disability that he or she personally encountered or knew about at the time of filing suit would burden businesses with more ADA litigation, encourage piecemeal compliance with the ADA, and interfere with the goal of eliminating disability discrimination in places of public accommodation.
  • The dissenting judge expressed serious concern that the majority were improperly expanding Article III standing to plaintiffs who had not suffered an injury. The dissenting opinion presented a hypothetical of a mobility-impaired customer who sued after being unable to find a disabled parking space in a shopping center, and then sought discovery as to ADA violations by all the tenants of the center whose stores he or she never visited after being unable to find parking. The majority distinguished this scenario as involving establishments within the shopping center that were not responsible for the injury to the customer caused by the lack of disabled parking access.
  • The Ninth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of alleged ADA violations that Doran failed to prove with any evidence. As to the allegedly narrow aisles in the 7-Eleven store, plaintiff did not present any measurements to show that the aisles did not comply with the 36-inch clearance required by the ADA Accessibility Guidelines. Regarding the lack of access to the employees-only restroom, that is not a place of public accommodation under the ADA because it is not open to the public. Therefore, no violation of the ADA occurred.