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Advocates for Individuals With Disabilities LLC v. WSA Properties LLC

United States District Court, D. Arizona

September 28, 2016

Advocates for Individuals With Disabilities LLC and David Ritzenthaler, Plaintiffs,
WSA Properties LLC, Defendant.


          David G. Campbell United States District Judge

         Plaintiffs Advocates for Individuals with Disabilities (“AID”) and David Ritzenthaler filed a complaint against Defendant WSA Properties LLC in Maricopa County Superior Court. Doc. 1. The complaint alleges violations of both federal and state disabilities law, and Plaintiffs seek declaratory, injunctive, and monetary relief. Id. at 17-18. On July 15, 2016, Defendant removed the case to this Court, asserting that the Court has subject matter jurisdiction over Plaintiffs' federal claims. Doc. 1. On August 15, 2016, the Court issued an order requiring Plaintiffs to show cause why this case should not be dismissed for lack of standing (“Order”). Doc. 13. After receiving an extension of time, Plaintiffs responded. Doc. 24. For the reasons that follow, the Court finds that Plaintiffs lack standing to pursue their claims in this Court. Because the standing analysis for state court differs from federal analysis, the Court will remand this case to state court.

         I. Background.

         Attorneys Peter Strojnik and Fabian Zazueta have filed numerous claims against local businesses alleging violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) and similar state statutes. Since March 2016, 162 of their cases have been filed in or removed to this Court.[1] These cases all appear to assert identical allegations - that the defendant business (the nature of which usually is not identified in the complaint) has violated the ADA by having inadequate signage or parking spaces for disabled persons.

         Concerned about these very general allegations, the Court entered an order on August 15, 2016, requiring Plaintiffs to show why this case should not be dismissed for lack of standing. The Court noted:

Plaintiff [AID] makes no allegations in the complaint regarding its status, nature, or interest in this case. Plaintiff David Ritzenthaler alleges that he is legally disabled, that he has a state-issued handicapped license plate, and that, on or about March 15, 2016, he “became aware” that there were insufficient handicapped parking spaces and signage at Defendant's place of business. Plaintiff does not allege that he personally visited Defendant's business, but alleges that he will avoid visiting the business in the future unless it comes into compliance with the ADA.

Doc. 13 (citations omitted). Because these general allegations failed to show that Plaintiffs have “concrete and particularized” injuries that affect them “in a personal and individual way, ” Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555, 560 & n.1 (1992), the Court ordered Plaintiffs to file a memorandum showing standing by August 29, 2016. Instead, Plaintiffs filed a notice of settlement on August 26, 2016, and asked the Court to vacate the Order. Doc. 15. The Court declined, noting that this case has not been dismissed and that Plaintiffs have many other cases before the undersigned judge that present the same standing concerns. Doc. 18. The Court directed Plaintiffs to respond as ordered on August 29, 2016.

         Plaintiffs instead filed a motion for an extension of time to respond, which the Court granted. Doc. 20. Plaintiffs filed their response to the Order on September 12, 2016. Doc. 24. Plaintiffs addressed AID's associational standing, said nothing about Ritzenthaler's standing, and stated that they intend to file an amended complaint or supplemental pleading. Id. No motion to amend or supplement has been filed. Id.

         II. Article III Standing.

         “[T]o invoke the jurisdiction of the federal courts, a disabled individual claiming discrimination must satisfy the case or controversy requirement of Article III by demonstrating his standing to sue at each stage of the litigation.” Chapman v. Pier 1 Imports (U.S.) Inc., 631 F.3d 939, 946 (9th Cir. 2011) (en banc). “Federal courts are required sua sponte to examine jurisdictional issues such as standing.” Id. at 954 (quotation marks, citation, and brackets omitted). After reviewing Plaintiffs' response to the Order, the Court finds that neither AID nor Ritzenthaler have Article III standing to pursue this suit.

         A. AID Does Not Have Article III Standing.

         An organization can bring suit on its own behalf or on behalf of its members. See Friends of the Earth, Inc. v. Laidlaw Envtl. Servs. (TOC), Inc., 528 U.S. 167, 169 (2000). In its response to the Order, AID asserts that it has standing to sue on behalf of its members; it claims no independent injury as an organization. Doc. 24 at 1.

         The Supreme Court has established a three-part test for the standing of an organization to sue on behalf of its members:

An association has standing to bring suit on behalf of its members when its members would have standing to sue in their own right, the interests at stake are germane to the organization's purpose, and neither the claim asserted nor the relief requested requires individual members' participation in the lawsuit.

Friends of the Earth, 528 U.S. at 169.[2]

         To show that at least one of its members has standing to sue in his or her own right, AID must show that the member has suffered an injury-in-fact. Furthermore, “an organization suing as representative [must] include at least one member with standing to present, in his or her own right, the claim (or the type of claim) pleaded by the association.” United Food & Commercial Workers Union Local 751 v. Brown Grp., Inc., 517 U.S. 544, 555 (1996).

         The text of Plaintiffs' response does not identify any members of AID, but a caption to one of its sections suggests that David Ritzenthaler is a member. Doc. 24 at 2. AID does nothing, however, to show that Ritzenthaler has suffered an injury-in-fact. Plaintiffs instead make a simple, conclusory assertion:

The lack of signage [at Defendant's property] is a deterrent to disabled individuals' (including members of AID who are identified and some not yet identified) use of the Lot, because it renders it more difficult for them to identify which, if any parking spots are van accessible. Members of AID would like to, and intends to use the Lot, but the lack of van-accessible signage that is at least 60 inches above the ground is a deterrent and barrier to access.

Id. AID also asserts that it has unidentified members who are disabled or have disabled children, and who reside in the greater Phoenix area. Id. at 2. These members allegedly “travel on the Valley's streets” and “have lawful disability-parking plates or placards for their vehicles.” Id. AID provides no actual examples of such persons being deterred from using Defendant's public accommodation because it lacks a sign that is 60 inches above the ground. AID offers only conclusory assertions.

         AID has not shown that it has organizational standing to pursue this action. The discussion below shows that Ritzenthaler does not have standing, and AID has not identified any other members who “would have standing to sue in their own right.” Friends of the Earth, 528 U.S. at 169; see also Payne v. Chapel Hill N. Properties, LLC, 947 F.Supp.2d 567, 577 (M.D. N.C. 2013) (granting motion to dismiss for lack of standing when organization identified only one member in its complaint and was unable to show that she had standing to sue in her own right). AID may be an organization interested in enforcement of disability discrimination laws, but an undifferentiated interest in ensuring compliance with the law does not suffice. Lujan, 504 U.S. at 575 (citing United States v. Richardson, 418 U.S. 166, 176-77 (1974)); see also Simon v. E. Kentucky Welfare Rights Org., 426 U.S. 26, 40 (1976) (“an organization's abstract concern with a subject that could be affected by an adjudication does not substitute for the concrete injury required by” Article III).

         B. David Ritzenthaler Does Not Have Article III Standing.

         An individual plaintiff must satisfy three elements to establish Article III standing: (1) an injury-in-fact, (2) causation between the injury and the allegedly wrongful conduct, and (3) that the injury is likely to be redressed by a favorable decision from the court. Lujan, 504 U.S. at 560. Plaintiffs have the burden of proving all three elements. Id. at 561. Plaintiffs correctly note that “[t]he Supreme Court has instructed us to take a broad view of constitutional standing in civil rights cases, especially where, as under the ADA, private enforcement suits are the primary method of obtaining compliance with the Act, ” Doran v. 7-Eleven, Inc., 524 F.3d 1034, 1039 (9th Cir. 2008), but this does not relieve a plaintiff of his burden to show an injury-in-fact, see Chapman, 631 F.3d at 946.

         1. Injury-In-Fact.

         An injury-in-fact is “(a) concrete and particularized, and (b) actual or imminent, not conjectural or hypothetical.” Lujan, 504 U.S. at 560 (internal quotations and citations omitted). This includes a “requirement that a party seeking review must allege facts showing that he is himself adversely affected.” Sierra Club v. Morton, 405 U.S. 727, 740 (1972). Additionally, to establish standing to seek injunctive relief, a party must show that he “is ...

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