Disneyland Small World ADA Lawsuit Finally Sails

| November 10, 2015 | Reply
Remember the widely publicized lawsuit by the fellow (Martinez) who sued Disneyland after getting stuck on It’s a Small World at Disneyland?  (I wrote a blog about Disney’s response to the lawsuit.)  After almost four years of litigation, the federal court of appeals in San Francisco has finally sunk Martinez’s unhappy cruise.
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The district court’s ultimate ruling was somewhat complex and difficult to follow because Martinez asserted a number of different claims (and California district courts often enter rulings from the bench or in court minutes instead of memorandum opinions).  The judgment (entered in April 2013) ruled in favor of Disneyland on most of Martinez’s claims, including claims that Disney violated the ADA in evacuating Martinez when Small World broke down and on claims alleging Disneyland failed to provide adequate evacuation procedures for guests with disabilities.
The judge ruled in Martinez’s favor on two claims: (1) Disneyland was negligent because of the delay in evacuating Martinez from Small World when it broke down; (2) the counters at the first aid station in Disneyland were higher than permitted by the ADA architectural guidelines.  The judge awarded Martinez a total of $8,000 in damages for these claims. Disneyland and Martinez also settled 35 alleged “barrier” issues (a reference to the ADA architectural guidelines) such as the height of toilet paper holders and the placement of mirrors and baby changing tables.  (As part of this settlement, Martinez dropped all but 18 items which Disney agreed to change, here is a list of all the items Martinez made a claim about).  Despite the settlement, some of these items (relating to the first aid station) were tried to the court and the Court found in favor of Disney on them.
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After the judgment, both sides asked for attorney fees.  As a prevailing party on one ADA claim, Martinez was presumptively entitled to his fees.  Disneyland, however, was only entitled to fees if the court found Martinez asserted frivolous ADA claims.  Martinez’s counsel sought $865,635 for 1602 lawyer hours for an average hourly rate of $540, in addition to paralegal rates at $200 per hour.  Disneyland’s counsels’ rates were a blended hourly rate of $495 and $125 per hour for paralegal time for a total fee request of $455,122.49.  The district court found that two-thirds of Martinez’s ADA claims were frivolous and thus, as Disneyland requested, awarded Disneyland the requested fee amount (which Disneyland had reduced to reflect its partial success) and an additional amount ($51,670.75) in litigation costs.  Martinez asked for fees and costs totaling $428,363.69.  The court did not address whether Martinez’s fee request was reasonable because Disney “agreed to simply offset the awards of attorney fees and costs so that each party ultimately bears its own costs.”  In sum, the court refused to award Martinez or Disneyland any fees or costs.
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Martinez appealed the court’s refusal to award him any attorney fees but last week, the federal court of appeals in San Francisco upheld the district court’s ruling. The decision agreed that two of Martinez’s ADA claims were frivolous: “As to the family restroom claim, Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. § 12181, et seq. (ADA) does not require unisex restrooms.”  The court of appeals also affirmed that with regards to the emergency evacuation claim, the district court concluded that the claim was frivolous after holding that (1) Disney’s attraction-specific evacuation policies did not violate the ADA and (2) Disney’s park-wide evacuation policies were appropriate because two of Disneyland’s evacuation routes were accessible to the public. As the court of appeals explained:
It was not an abuse of discretion for the district court to conclude that the claim was frivolous because Disneyland had two evacuation routes fully accessible to disabled individuals and was prepared to evacuate persons with disabilities through its Emergency Response Team, “which was created and is trained specifically to evacuate guests from rides when those guests cannot evacuate themselves,” so the claim lacked a factual basis.
The court of appeals’ ruling effectively means that Martinez’s attempt to get Disneyland to pay his counsel’s fees has finally sailed.


Category: Disneyland, History, News, Rumor Mill