While we are generally successful in obtaining damages for our clients, our major focus has always been to obtain “Full and Equal Access” at public facilities and contribute to the public interest. We seek statutory fees, litigation expenses and costs from defendants, and do not take any portion of our clients’ damage awards.
We started in 1975, with Paul Rein’s pioneering case of Keith Kellum v. Silver Dragon Restaurant, filed in Alameda County Superior Court 15 years before enactment of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (the “ADA”). Our office has been responsible for making many large public accommodations accessible for disabled persons, including wheelchair users and persons who require use of a walker, service dog, cane, prosthetic devise or are otherwise mobility disabled. We have also successfully represented persons with visual or hearing disabilities. In addition to recovering civil rights damages for our clients, we have greatly improved access at numerous government facilities, hotels, hospitals and medical facilities, amusement parks, college campuses, shopping centers, museums, sports venues, concert venues, shopping centers, several hundred restaurants and retail stores. We have also obtained access to the Alameda County Superior Courthouse and at least six other courthouses in Alameda County alone.
Major Access Lawsuits for Disabled Persons
“Access” improvements generally relate to entry way, public restrooms, interior and exterior paths of travel, accessible and van accessible parking, and accessible seating and dining areas. We have also set precedents obtaining access at Golden Gate Fields and Bay Meadows race tracks, and several major cruise ship companies, including Carnival Cruises, Norwegian Cruise Lines and Celebrity Cruises. In Walker and Adams v. Carnival Cruise Lines, 107 F. Supp 2d. 1135 (N.D. Cal. 2000) the highly respected Judge Thelton Henderson applied ADA requirements to cruise ships and kept the case venued in a California court despite a Florida “forum selection” contract clause, supporting “the strong national policy of eradicating disability discrimination and promoting full and equal access to the legal system for civil rights plaintiffs.” Further, he recognized that plaintiffs “who bring suit pursuant to the ADA do so in the role of “‘private attorneys general’ who seek to vindicate a policy of the highest priority.” Id. at 1143.
We have also secured access at the three largest live theater venues in San Francisco (the Orpheum, Golden Gate, and Curran Theater; Wheeler Auditorium and Zellerbach Hall at the University of California, Berkeley); the U.C. Berkeley Botanical Gardens; and some of the largest hotels in California, including the San Francisco Hilton and the Westin Bonaventure Hotel and Suites in Los Angeles.
We have also obtained access at major sports facilities such as the (“old”) Stanford Football stadium, the Stanford Basketball Stadium (Maples Pavilion); concert and entertainment venues such as the San Francisco Davies Symphony Hall, “Beach Blanket Babylon,” the Palace of Fine Arts Auditorium, the Berkeley Community Theatre, Saratoga’s “Mountain Winery,” the Stanford Memorial Church (a symphony concert venue); and the City owned Sacramento Community Center Theater. We have achieved access to courthouses and courtrooms, and their public restrooms at more than ten (10) County Courthouses including three in Berkeley, three in Oakland, and one each in Hayward, Butte County, Amador County, Solano County (Fairfield), and Mendocino County. We have also successfully sued to improve access at Great America Amusement Park, Sacramento’s Water World, “Marine World, Africa U.S.A.” (now Six Flags Discovery Kingdom), the San Jose Rosicrucian Museum, and the Roaring Camp Railroad train and its facilities.
Precedent Setting Decisions
Precedent setting court published decisions include Donald v. Sacramento Valley Bank, 1209 Cal. App. 3d 1183 (1989), (setting the standards for obtaining access through enforcement of statutory rights by private lawsuits); Donald v. Café Royale, 218 Cal. App. 3d 168 (1990), (requiring non-complying businesses to pay California law damages without the need to prove any “wrongful” intent); Hankins v. El Torito Restaurants, Inc., 63 Cal. App. 4th 510 (1998), (affirming a trial court’s award of substantial damages and attorneys’ fees to a disabled man refused the right to use an available first floor “employees only” restroom when his disability prevented him from climbing stairs to the only “public” restroom on the second floor); Walker and Adams v. Carnival Cruise Lines, 107 F.Supp.2d 1135 (2000) (applying the ADA to “foreign flag” cruise ships in American waters, rejecting application of a “forum selection” clause which would have forced two quadriplegic San Francisco plaintiffs to litigate their discrimination claims in Miami, Florida, a decision which particularly encouraged disabled plaintiffs to bring public interest lawsuits as “private attorney generals” under the ADA; Blackwell v. Foley, 724 F.Supp.2d 1068 (N.D. Cal. 2010), enforcing “joint and several” liability for both business operator and property owner and confirming standards for setting attorney fee awards in ADA access cases; three major decisions in the “Pierce College” case: Huezo v. Los Angeles Community College District, 2007 WL 7289347 (C.D.Cal. Feb. 27, 2007 Order re: Summary Judgment); Huezo v. Los Angeles Community College District, 672 F.Supp.2d 1045 (2008) (re: permanent injunction); Huezo v. Los Angeles Community College District, No. CV04-9772 MMM/JWJ (C.D.Cal. Nov. 17, 2008 Order re: attorney fees) for an enforcement motion.
Public Interest Results Under California Law and the ADA: Lawsuits Resulting in Access For Hundreds of Restaurants, Ski Resorts, Hotels and Universities
While we have not taken on “class actions” by ourselves, Paul Rein teamed up with the “Disability Rights Advocates” public interest law firm to obtain full access at 1400 Jack-in-the-Box Restaurants and 232 Denny’s Restaurants, as well as major improvements of public facilities (dining and restroom facilities) at Squaw Valley Ski Area. In that case, we obtained an injunction from Eastern District Judge Lawrence Karlton ending Squaw’s policy of refusing wheelchair users – even skiers – from riding the large “tram” up to the newly constructed and largely inaccessible $15 million dollar “High Camp” complex facilities. Leiken v. Squaw Valley Ski Camp, Lexis 21281 (E.D. Cal., 1994). We also sued and obtained access by separate lawsuits for all three “Base” areas, restaurants and facilities at the Heavenly Valley Ski Area.
Major hotels we required to provide access at include the Claremont Resort in Berkeley, the Squaw Creek Resort; the Hermitage House Resort, Mendocino Hotel, St. Regis and St. Francis Hotels in San Francisco, and multiple Hilton and Embassy Suites Hotels, including the 2000 room “Hilton San Francisco Union Square,” the largest hotel on the West Coast. In Sacramento, we achieved major access at the Radisson, DoubleTree and Embassy Suites. Colleges required to provide accessible facilities include Stanford University, University of California at Berkeley, Pierce College (Los Angeles Community College District), Chico State College, Sonoma State College, Laney College (Peralta Community College District), Cal State Hayward (now “Cal State East Bay), Los Madanos, Berkeley Community College, Fresno City College, College of Marin, Santa Clara University, Cañada College, Chabot College, and Diablo Valley Community College.
We have also obtained accessible entry, restrooms, dining facilities, paths of travel and parking facilities at numerous banks and “ATM” facilities (Donald v. Sacramento Valley Bank, 209 Cal. App. 3d 1183 (1989)) and several hundred banks and restaurants. We also obtained major access improvements at “Old Sacramento,” including a major “switchback” ramp allowing access to the parking facilities.
We have been representing disabled persons now for 45 years, the first 15 years filing actions under California law in California State Courts, the last 30 years in Federal Courts, since the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. Sometimes we have been able to achieve cooperative settlements without a lawsuit (for example, at the Botanical Gardens and other facilities at the University of California, Berkeley). However, most of our results have been achieved through winning “Consent Decrees” or injunctions enforceable by Federal Court orders.
While we prefer to handle cases in Northern California, we have won accessibility in several major Southern California hotels, including the Cavalier Resort in San Simeon, the Bonaventure Hotel (the largest hotel in Los Angeles), and the Portofino Hotel in Redondo Beach. While we have declined to handle most airline cases (which may be covered by the Air Carrier Access Act) we did obtain modification of United Airlines’ nationwide procedures, allowing purchase and use of oxygen containers for disabled persons with medical needs.