This morning (April 15, 2013), the United States Supreme Court ended attempts to force Walt Disney World to permit Segways in the theme parks. Without comment, the Court issued a one line order (page 3, third entry) declining to review the Court of Appeals decision upholding Disney’s safety-based ban on Segways.
The group opposing Disney’s settlement of the Segway Class, Disability Rights Advocates for Technology, Inc. (“DRAFT”) filed the petition with the Supreme Court last fall, asking the Court to review and ultimately, set aside the settlement. DRAFT wisely did not ask the Court to review whether Segways could be safely used in Walt Disney World. Instead, the petition primarily focused on a procedural issue: whether due process required notice of the proposed settlement to the non-party class members (people who wanted to use a Segway at Disneyland or Walt Disney World) who, as a result of the settlement, are now barred from suing to overturn Disney’s Segway ban. Disney, in response, pointed out that non-party class members had, as much as possible, been sent two notices, including notices posted on DRAFT’s own website.
Bear with me while I get a little nerdy about class action rules. Different rules apply to different types of class actions. All class actions must revolve around common issues of fact or law. Class actions that seeks monetary damages for the class are difficult to secure because damages often vary among the class members. In addition, where money is more than an incidental part of the settlement, the class action rules provide that non-party class members must be provided with notice of the proposed class action and be given the opportunity to opt out of any settlement (not necessarily at the same time).
The Segway settlement, however, did not award any damages claims for the non-party class members. The settlement prohibits present and future lawsuits seeking an injunction (or declaration) that Disney’s Segway ban violates the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”). As Disney pointed out, ”damages were neither sought nor available in this case.” In this type of class action, the rules permit but do not require a court to provide notice of a settlement to non-parties, nor must the court provide an opportunity for non-parties to opt out. DRAFT’s primary argument is that the Supreme Court should adopt a notice requirement for these type of class settlements. (DRAFT did not argue non-parties should have been permitted to opt-out.) Disney responded by saying that notice was not required per the rules nor by prior Supreme Court decisions.
DRAFT sought Supreme Court review on other grounds. It argued that the class representatives were not adequate because their use of Segways was “sporadic at best” and the Segway “is not a feature of their daily lives.” It also argued that the representatives who wanted to use Segways at Walt Disney World could not adequately represent individuals who wanted to use Segways at Disneyland. DRAFT also spent a good bit of space attacking the ESV Disney developed for guests to use in lieu of Segways.
Another point bears mentioning. Disney pointed out that the “settlement released only injunctive claims and not monetary claims.” This is because the ADA does not provide for damages in suits such as the one guests can bring against Disney. Florida law doesn’t seem to permit a lawsuit seeking damages but the answer isn’t entirely clear, either. California law, however, permits courts to award up to $4,000 in “statutory” damages if a business violates the ADA. So, it is possible for an individual to file a Segway lawsuit against Disneyland Resort seeking only statutory damages. The Segway class settlement will, however, bar a court from ordering Disneyland to permit Segways. Of course, in any damages lawsuit, Disneyland would still be able to argue that its parks are too crowded to permit Segways (and that the ESV is a reasonable alternative).
The Supreme Court’s decision likely spells the end for the Disneyland Segway lawsuit which had been put on hold pending the Supreme Court’s decision. Disney will now ask the court to dismiss the lawsuit because it too is barred by the Segway settlement.
For more information on the Segway litigation, here are links to prior blog posts or news stories (in reverse order):
The Kiss Goodnight for Segways at Disneyland? (October 23, 2012)
Federal Appeals Court Upholds Disney’s Ban on Segways (August 31, 2012)
Back to Main Street with Segways at Disneyland (July 18, 2012)
Settlement Approved in Walt Disney World Segway Lawsuit (April 4, 2011)
DOJ: WDW Must Permit Segways in Theme Parks (February 6, 2011)