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Access For the Disabled, Inc., et al v. Fort Lauderdale Hospitality

November 21, 2011

ACCESS FOR THE DISABLED, INC., ET AL., PLAINTIFFS,
v.
FORT LAUDERDALE HOSPITALITY, INC., DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Cecilia M. Altonaga United States District Judge

ORDER

THIS CAUSE came before the Court on Defendant, Fort Lauderdale Hospitality, Inc.'s Motion to Dismiss Amended Complaint ("Motion") [ECF No. 13], filed on October 31, 2011. The Motion seeks dismissal of Plaintiffs, Access for the Disabled, Inc., Robert Cohen, and Denise Payne's (collectively, "Plaintiffs[']") Amended Complaint [ECF No. 9]. Defendant filed its Response to the Motion [ECF No. 16] on November 7, 2011, and on November 17, 2011, Plaintiffs filed their Reply [ECF No. 23]. The Court has carefully considered the parties' written submissions and applicable law.

I. BACKGROUND*fn1

This case involves alleged violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), 42 U.S.C. § 12181, et seq. Plaintiffs, Robert Cohen and Denise Payne, are individuals who reside in Broward County, Florida and who are members of Access for the Disabled. (See Compl. ¶¶ 4-- 5). Access for the Disabled is a not-for-profit Florida corporation with its principal office in Coral Springs, Florida. (See id. ¶ 6). Defendant is a corporation authorized to do business in Florida; it owns or leases the property located at 2460 State Road 84, in Broward County, which does business as the Red Carpet Inn. (See id. ¶¶ 9--10).

Plaintiffs Cohen and Payne are individuals with disabilities as defined by the ADA. (See id. ¶ 11). They suffer from "severe neurological and muscular disease that renders [them] unable to ambulate without a motorized device." (Id.). They have visited the Red Carpet Inn in the past and plan to return to the property in the future to avail themselves of the goods and services offered to the public at the property. (See id.). Plaintiffs claim they encountered architectural barriers at the Red Carpet Inn which deny or diminish Plaintiffs' ability to visit the property and endanger their safety. (See id. ¶¶ 11--12). For example, Plaintiffs allege, among other things, the disabled parking spots at the property are uneven, there are no detectable warnings on the curb ramps at the facility, and the grab-bars in the restrooms do not comply with the ADA. (See id. ¶ 17). Plaintiffs claim Defendant, which owns or leases the Red Carpet Inn, is discriminating against them by denying them access to, and full and equal enjoyment of, the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, and/or accommodations of the building. (See id. ¶¶ 8, 16).

II. LEGAL STANDARD

"To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to 'state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). Although this pleading standard "does not require 'detailed factual allegations,' . . . it demands more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation." Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). Pleadings must contain "more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. Indeed, "only a complaint that states a plausible claim for relief survives a motion to dismiss." Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. at 1950 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). To meet this "plausibility standard," a plaintiff must "plead[] factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Id. at 1949 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556).

When reviewing a motion to dismiss, a court must construe the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff and take the factual allegations therein as true. See Brooks v. Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Fla., Inc., 116 F.3d 1364, 1369 (11th Cir. 1997). A court's analysis of a Rule 12(b)(6) motion "is limited primarily to the face of the complaint and the attachments thereto." Brooks, 116 F.3d at 1368. The Court may also consider other documents to be part of the pleadings for purposes of Rule 12(b)(6) where the plaintiff refers to the documents in the complaint and those documents are central to the plaintiff's claim. Id. at 1369.

III. ANALYSIS

Defendant contends the Amended Complaint must be dismissed because the action is barred by either res judicata or collateral estoppel. (See Mot. 5). Specifically, Defendant maintains this is "the third time Defendant has been sued by individuals with alleged disabilities and an organization on behalf of individuals with disabilities for alleged violations of ADA that Plaintiffs claim deny them access to the [Red Carpet Inn]." (Id. 1--2) (citing Advocating Disability Rights, Inc. & Carlisle Wilson v. Fort Lauderdale Hospitality, Inc. d/b/a Red Carpet Inn, S.D. Fla. Case No. 01-7928-CV-Roettger/Seltzer, filed December 26, 2001 (the "2001 Case"); Houston v. Fort Lauderdale Hospitality, Inc., S.D. Fla. Case No. 04/60364-Marra, filed March 11, 2004 (the "2004 Case")). Defendant asserts that Plaintiffs in the current case seek the same relief as was requested and provided to the plaintiffs in both the 2001 Case and the 2004 Case, and therefore the action should be dismissed. (See id. 5). Plaintiff responds that the Motion should be denied because the "mere fact[] that this suit and two predecessors were brought under the [ADA] by parties with similar disabilities does not establish that the barriers to access alleged in the Amended Complaint [] could have been brought in the prior lawsuits." (Resp. 1).

"Res judicata is frequently used to refer generically to the law of former adjudication." In re All Am. Semiconductor, Inc., 427 B.R. 559, 565 (Bankr. S.D. Fla. 2010) (quoting In re Justice Oaks II, Ltd., 898 F.2d 1544, 1550 n.3 (11th Cir. 1990)). However, "a former judgment can create two different types of bars to subsequent litigation, depending on whether the subsequent litigation arises from the same or a different cause of action." Id. (quoting In re Justice Oaks, 898 F.2d at 1550 n.3). Specifically, "If the later litigation arises from the same cause of action, then the judgment bars litigation not only of 'every matter which was actually offered and received to sustain the demand, but also [of] every [claim] which might have been presented.' . . . [W]e refer to this strand of former adjudication as 'claim preclusion.' . . . If, however, the subsequent litigation arises from a different cause of action, the prior judgment bars litigation only of 'those matters or issues common to both actions which were either expressly or by necessary implication adjudicated in the first.'. . . We refer to this strand of former adjudication as 'issue preclusion.'"

Id. (quoting In re Justice Oaks, 898 F.2d at 1550 n.3) (alterations in original).

1. Res Judicata

Res judicata, or claim preclusion, bars a subsequent claim when a court of competent jurisdiction entered a final judgment on the merits of the same cause of action in a prior lawsuit between the same parties." Pleming v. Universal-Rundle Corp., 142 F.3d 1354, 1356 (11th Cir. 1998) (citing I.A. Durbin, Inc. v. Jefferson Nat'l Bank, 793 F.2d 1541, 1549 (11th Cir. 1986)). In order for a judgment to have res judicata effect, four conditions must be satisfied: "(1) the prior decision must have been rendered by a court of competent jurisdiction; (2) there must have been a final judgment on the merits; (3) both cases must involve the same parties or their privies; and (4) both cases must involve the same causes of action." ...


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