The Ninth Circuit on Monday affirmed a district court’s dismissal of a suit filed against Tesla under the American with Disabilities Act (ADA), in which the plaintiff claimed that one of the automaker’s dealerships wasn’t sufficiently accessible to people who use wheelchairs.
Brian Whitaker, who is quadriplegic and uses a wheelchair for mobility, alleged that a Tesla dealership in Sherman Oaks had inaccessible service counters that denied him full and equal access to the dealership and “created difficulty and discomfort” when he visited it in 2019.
Tesla moved to dismiss the complaint, claiming that Whitaker didn’t allege facts sufficient to satisfy the pleading standards set forth in Ashcroft v. Iqbal (2009) 556 U.S. 662 and Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly (2007) 550 U.S. 544. The automaker argued that Whitaker failed to allege how barriers at the dealership prevented him from accessing the facility and which service counters were deficient.
In Twombly, the Supreme Court held that a complaint can’t rest on “a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action.” In Iqbal, the high court held that a complaint that included only conclusory assertions of discrimination without factual allegations was fatally defective.
The district court granted Whitaker leave to amend the complaint. He declined to do so, and the court dismissed the complaint with prejudice. Whitaker appealed.
Affirming the district court, the Ninth Circuit’s three-judge panel held that taken together, Iqbal and Twombly require “well-pleaded facts, not legal conclusions,” and “the plausibility of a pleading thus derives from its well-pleaded factual allegations.”
Judge Morgan Christen wrote for the panel that Whitaker’s allegations against Tesla “do little more than recite the elements of an ADA claim, and fall short of putting Tesla on notice of how the counters prevented Whitaker from full and equal access to the Tesla facility.”
“The complaint failed to answer basic questions: Were the service counters too low? Or too high? Were they positioned in an area that was inaccessible for another reason?” Christen wrote. “Without this sort of factual detail, the district court and Tesla were left in the dark about how the service counters denied Whitaker from full and equal enjoyment of the premises.”
The panel rejected Whitaker’s argument that if ADA complaints are required to detail every barrier plaintiffs encounter, defendants will remedy only those specific infractions and not be brought into overall ADA compliance.
The court also held, sua sponte, that Whitaker’s allegations were sufficient to establish injury-in-fact for standing purposes, and “nothing in the opinion we issue today varies from the Supreme Court’s instruction to take a ‘broad view’ of standing in civil rights complaints.”
Arguing counsel for the parties could not be immediately reached for comment.
The case is Whitaker v. Tesla Motors Inc., case number 19-56497 , in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.
© The Regents of the University of California, 2021. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.