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Galarza v. Fitness International LLC

United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Orlando Division

June 5, 2017




         Before the Court is Defendant's summary judgment motion (Doc. 30) -the latest round in this briefing battle between: (1) boxing professionals Plaintiffs Dennis Galarza, Ericson Lubin, Joshua Pagan, Cesar Seda, Luis Torres, Jason Galarza, and Nelson Rodriguez; and (2) Defendant Fitness International LLC. The motion has been fully briefed (See Docs. 33, 39), and for the reasons set forth below, Defendant's motion is due to be granted.

         I. Background[1]

         In the instant action, Plaintiffs - members of racially protected classes[2]-have asserted a racial discrimination claim against Defendant under 42 U.S.C. § 1981, based on circumstances surrounding their removal from a fitness center. (See Doc. 19.) The events leading up to this action arose on January 13, 2016, when Plaintiffs arrived at Defendant's LA Fitness facility-located at 1540 S.R. 436, Winter Park, Florida ("S.R. 436 Location")-to use the pool ("Pool"). (See Doc. 31-5, pp. 13-14.) After checking in, Plaintiffs Dennis Galarza, Ericson Lubin, Joshua Pagan, Cesar Seda, and Luis Torres ("Boxers") entered the pool area and began swimming drills, a routine component of their boxing training. (Doc. 31-5, pp. 13-14.) Meanwhile their trainers ("Trainers") - Plaintiffs Jason Galarza ("Mr. J. Galarza") and Nelson Rodriguez ("Mr. Rodriguez") - sat in the corner of the pool area discussing training plans. (Doc. 31-8, p. 16.) As two other white patrons entered the pool, the Boxers, who were occupying all three lanes, shifted to a single lane. (Doc. 31-8, pp. 24-25, 35, 40.)

         According to the Trainers, shortly after the Boxers began swimming, an "irate" white LA fitness employee tapped on the window to the pool area and began gesturing in the Trainers' direction. (Doc. 31-5, p. 14; see also Doc. 31-2, p. 18; Doc. 31-8, p. 18). This employee was later identified as Mark Renshaw ("Mr. Renshaw"), general manager of the S.R. 436 Location. (See Doc. 31-2, p. 10.) To Mr. Renshaw, the Trainers appeared to be "training" the Boxers (Doc. 31-2, pp. 18-19), which members and guests are prohibited from doing ("No Training Policy") under LA Fitness' Membership Agreements ("Membership Agreements") (e.g., Doc. 15-1, p. 9 ("No Member or guest may coach or train other Members or guests (as determined by LA Fitness)")).[3]

         Ignoring Mr. Renshaw's gestures, the Trainers continued talking with each other. (See Doc. 31-8, p. 19.) Calvin White ("Mr. White"), personal training director at the S.R. 436 Location (Doc. 31-1, p. 21) then approached the Trainers, accused them of training the Boxers, and told them that they and the Boxers had to leave.[4] (Doc. 31-5, p. 15; see also Doc. 31-8, pp. 20-25). In response, the Trainers explained that they were not coaching the Boxers, as the Boxers already knew the routine and required no direction. (Doc. 31-8, pp. 21-22, 25; see also Doc. 31-5, p. 18.) To assuage Mr. White's concerns, the Trainers offered to get in the pool with the Boxers or wait in the car while the Boxers finished their swimming drills. (Doc. 31-8, pp. 23-24.) Unsatisfied, Mr. White repeated his demand that Plaintiffs leave. (Doc. 31-5, p. 18; see also Doc. 31-8, pp. 23, 26.)

         As the Boxers exited the pool, Mr. Rodriguez proceeded to the lobby of the S.R. 436 Location to inquire about Plaintiffs' expulsion from the facility. (Doc. 31-8, p. 30.) According to Mr. Rodriguez, Mr. Renshaw ignored his attempts at discussion. (Id. at 28-29.) Moments later, Mr. J. Galarza entered the lobby. (See Doc. 31-5, p. 16.) At that time, Melissa Ciurznski ("Ms. Ciurznski"), operations manager of the S.R. 436 Location (Doc. 31-3, p. 15), was stationed at the front desk (Doc. 31-5, p. 16). Mr. J. Galarza asked her for a copy of the Membership Agreements and "the real reason why [Plaintiffs had] to leave." (Doc. 31-5, p. 16; see also Doc. 31-8, p. 31.) When Mr. J. Galarza explained that the Trainers were not coaching the Boxers (Doc. 31-5, p. 16), Ms. Ciurznski stated that Plaintiffs were making her and other patrons feel uncomfortable because they were "different" and pointed to her arm ("Ms. Ciurznski's Statement and Gesture") (Doc. 31-8, pp. 35, 38). Notably, Ms. Ciurznski is white. (See Id. at 38.) Following this exchange, and without receiving a copy of the Membership Agreements, Plaintiffs left the S.R. 436 Location. (Doc. 31-5, p. 17; see also Doc. 31-8, p. 41.)

         Based on the foregoing, Plaintiffs initiated this action on May 23, 2016, alleging that their eviction from the S.R. 436 Location prevented them from enjoying the benefits of their contractual rights under their Membership Agreements in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1981 ("§ 1981 Claim"). On March 1, 2017, Defendant filed the instant motion for summary judgment, seeking to knock out Plaintiffs' § 1981 Claim. The motion is now ripe for the Court's determination.

         II. Legal Standards

         A. Motion for Summary Judgment

         Summary judgment is appropriate only "if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, A77 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). As to issues for which the movant would bear the burden of proof at trial, the "movant must affirmatively show the absence of a genuine issue of material fact and support its motion with credible evidence demonstrating that no reasonable jury could find for the nonmoving party on all of the essential elements of its case." Landolfi v. City of Melbourne, Via., 515 F.App'x 832, 834 (11th Cir. 2012) (citing Fitzpatrick v. City of Atlanta, 2 F.3d 1112, 1115 (11th Cir. 1993)).

         As to issues for which the nonmovant would bear the burden of proof at trial, the movant has two options: (1) the movant may simply point out an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's case; or (2) the movant may provide "affirmative evidence demonstrating that the nonmoving party will be unable to prove its case at trial." U.S. v. Four Parcels of Real Prop, in Green & Tuscaloosa Ctys., 941 F.2d 1428, 1438 (11th Cir. 1991) (citing Celotex Corp., A77 U.S. at 325). "The burden then shifts to the nonmoving party, who must go beyond the pleadings and present affirmative evidence to show that a genuine issue of material fact exists." Porter v. Ray, 461 F.3d 1315, 1320 (11th Cir. 2006) (citing Fitzpatrick, 2 F.3d at 1115-17).

         "A factual dispute is genuine 'if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.'" Four Parcels, 941 F.2d at 1437 (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986)). A court must view the evidence and all reasonable inferences drawn from the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmovant, Battle v. Bd. of Regents, 468 F.3d 755, 759 (11th Cir. 2006), such that "when conflict arises between the facts evidenced by the parties, [the] court credit[s] the nonmoving party's version, " Evans v. Stephens, 407 F.3d 1272, 1278 (11th Cir. 2005). However, "[the] court need not permit a case to go to a jury . .. when the inferences that are drawn from the evidence, and upon which the nonmovant relies, are 'implausible.'" Mize v. Jefferson City Bd. of Educ, 93 F.3d 739, 743 (11th Cir. 1996).

         B. Non-employment ...

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