Walt Disney Parks and Resorts (the subsidiary that operates the Theme Parks) just filed its short (nine pages) brief opposing the DAS plaintiffs‘ attempt to add an additional 69 plaintiffs and expand the original complaint to one that, combined, exceeds 500 pages and 2,000 separate paragraphs. While we generally like to think of Disney as the happiest place on Earth, Disney is anything but to most folks who file lawsuits against it. This filing, however, makes Disney’s past litigation positions appear downright sugar-coated.
For the most part, Disney’s argument is that the additional allegations are too long and made in bad faith, more out of a desire to generate additional publicity than assert legitimate claims. For example, Disney attacks counsel for the plaintiffs by saying he “features articles about this case on his website” and that he “spent five months preparing a 334-page amendment primarily for the purpose of generating press for this case.” (The reference to five months is to when the original complaint was filed.)
Pardon me if I dwell on a little legal wonk. A complaint is supposed to contain a “short and plain” statement of the claim. It is a rule not often enforced however, and when enforced, the receiving party is usually someone who represents himself (such as a prisoner filing a civil rights lawsuit) and the complaint is more to vent than allege a valid claim. Still, with federal court dockets becoming increasingly crowded, courts have been paying attention to the lack of brevity, and Disney’s brief cites to several court decisions dismissing much shorter complaints.
But length and timing are not Disney’s only argument. Disney also argues the allegations themselves smack of bad faith. First, Disney points out, the “proposed amended complaint includes paragraph upon paragraph of extraneous, repetitious information” with the only thing changing are the “individual plaintiff’s initials.”
Disney also objects to the “numerous descriptions of plaintiffs’ alleged meltdowns,” citing several examples from the proposed amended complaint, and saying it was “plainly aimed at providing quotes for the media”:
“A.M.W. started screaming, jumped up to throw herself onto her knees and onto the floor, and started banging her head on the concrete.”
“J.L.B. suffered a tragic meltdown, and H.M.B.’s and C.M.B.’s dreams shattered before their eyes.”
“Whenever L.D.J. suffers through a meltdown, her parents make every attempt to calm her down. However, nothing they try will soothe her. These experiences are heart wrenching for T.M.J.’s parents because they want nothing more than to help their daughter, but all they can do is wait for the meltdowns to subside.”
“When she’s upset and her anxiety goes up, she constantly bites her hands and nails (she has no nails at this point). They bleed when she tries to bite them. She has areas of her hand without skin, because she’s bitten them so often.”
As to who will win this skirmish, Disney is fighting a tradition of permitting amended complaints relatively early on in litigation. Five months may seem like a long time (especially if it is the period before leaving for the theme parks) but in litigation it isn’t, so courts tend to grant early filed motions to amend more often than not. Where motions to amend fail is when they are filed after discovery has been largely finished and the new allegations will require additional work or delay the trial, or where the amendment is legally insufficient (an argument Disney doesn’t make here).
Having read the amended complaint (well, most of it), I agree with Disney that it seems to have been written more for the media than the court. After only a few pages, the constant strain of meltdowns (a word that appears 691 times in the proposed amended complaint) not only becomes tedious, it portrays the disabled children as caricatures, which is, ironically, the very thing they accuse Disney of doing with DAS.