Filed Date: Aug. 22, 2005
Clearinghouse coding complete
On Aug. 22, 2005, a paraplegic individual who uses a wheelchair sued Chipotle, alleging that two of the defendant's restaurants did not provide full and equal access to customers in wheelchairs.
In his complaint, the plaintiff alleged that when he had visited two Chipotle restaurants, one in Encinitas and one in San Diego, 44-inch high walls in front of the food preparation area obstructed his view, and thus he was denied full and equal access as non-disabled people have the opportunity to view foods available for selection and the construction of their food. He also alleged that there were structural barriers at the entrance to the restaurants, dining tables, parking lots, and restrooms, making them inaccessible to those in wheelchairs, in violation of (1) the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), 42 U.S.C. §12102; (2) the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, § 504 (as amended 29 U.S.C. § 794); (3) the California Unruh Civil Rights Act, codified as California Civil Code §§ 51, 52, and 54.1, 54.3, and 55; and (4) other statutory measures which refer to the protection of the rights of "physically disabled persons." The plaintiff sought an injunction ordering the defendants to provide full and equal access (by removing architectural barriers), statutory damages, compensatory damages, and attorneys' fees and costs.
The defendant filed cross-complaints against the owners and operators of the properties on which the restaurants are located. The defendant also completed modifications to the restaurants to address the alleged lack of compliance with the ADA by Oct. 5, 2006.
On Jan. 12, 2007, the defendant moved to dismiss the case or in the alternative, to consolidate it with Antoninetti v. Chipotle Mexican Grill, Case No. 3:06-cv-02671, a lawsuit filed on Dec. 6, 2006 by the same plaintiff, involving the same defendant and questions of law, this time as a putative class action.
On Mar. 20, 2007, Judge Napoleon A. Jones, Jr. for the U.S. District Court for the District of Southern California, denied the defendants' motion to dismiss the case and granted their motion to consolidate for purposes of discovery only and leaving open the question of consolidation for trial.
Meanwhile, on Feb. 23, 2007, the defendant had implemented a written nationwide "Customers with Disabilities" policy ("the Policy"), and formally began training its employees on the policy between March and May 2007. Among other things, the Policy required managers to greet disabled customers and ask them whether they required accommodations, and instructed managers and crew that efficiency was secondary to ensuring a positive experience for disabled customers.
On Apr. 16, 2007, the defendant filed a motion for summary judgment, contending that the plaintiff's claims for injunctive relief under the ADA were moot because the defendant had modified the restaurants to comply with the Americans With Disabilities Act Accessibility Guidelines ("ADAAG"), including adoption and implementation of the effective nationwide Policy.
On June 14, 2007, the court found that there were genuine issues of material fact as to whether the defendant's food-preparation counters complied with state and federal accessibility laws and thus denied the defendant's motion for summary judgment. The defendant had argued that its Policy that required its staff to offer suitable accommodations for customers with disabilities (including, for example: (1) showing samples of the food to the customers in soufflé cups, (2) offering customers an opportunity to see and even sample food at a table in the dining area, (3) describing foods and food preparation processes to customers if they wished, or (4) any combination of above accommodations that was requested or appropriate) provided "equivalent facilitation" under Section 7.2(2)(iii) of the ADA.
As for parking, the court granted the defendant's motion for summary judgment as to the plaintiff's ADA claims, since the defendant cured the defects in both parking lots and only injunctive relief was available under the ADA. On the state law claims, the court denied the defendant's motion for summary judgment and granted the plaintiff's because it was undisputed that parking at both restaurants previously violated the ADAAG and therefore, the Unruh Act and the California Disabled Persons Act (DPA).
The court denied the plaintiff's motion for summary judgment on his claim that the tables at both restaurants violated the ADA because these claims were not part of the Complaint or any timely amendment to the Complaint.
The court also granted the defendant's motion for summary judgment as to the plaintiff's claims relating to the entrances at the San Diego restaurant and the bathrooms at both restaurants.
The court denied motions to reconsider by both parties. 2007 WL 2456223 (S.D. Cal. Aug. 23, 2007).
On Sept. 6, 2007, the defendant moved to consolidate cases for trial. At this time, the individual case was already ready for trial, and the class action was still in the formative stages. On Sept. 7, 2007, the Court found that consolidation for purposes of trial was not merited because the potential for delay and prejudice outweighed any savings of time or effort. 2007 WL 2669531 (Sept. 7, 2007). The cases remained consolidated for discovery purposes.
A four-day bench trial was held in late November 2007 and early December to determine the following issues: (1) whether the defendant’s prior practice of accommodating customers with disabilities constituted equivalent facilitation; (2) whether the Policy constituted equivalent facilitation; (3) whether the plaintiff is entitled to an injunction requiring the defendant to lower the wall in front of the restaurants’ food preparation counters; and (4) the amount of damages, if any, that the plaintiff is entitled to under the California Disabled Persons Act (CDPA) based on his visits to the restaurants.
On Jan. 10, 2008, Judge Jones concluded that the defendant's prior practice of informally accommodating customers had been insufficient to comply with the ADA, but that the Policy was sufficient. The court also found that the plaintiff was not entitled to an injunction requiring the defendant to lower the wall, but that the plaintiff was entitled to $5,000 in damages for the occasions on which he encountered barriers to his entrance into the restaurants. 2008 WL 111052 (S.D. Cal. Jan. 10, 2008).
On Apr. 21, 2008, the court denied the plaintiff's motion to amend findings of facts and for additional findings of fact. Later that month or in May 2008, the plaintiff appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, and the defendant cross-appealed.
On Feb. 6, 2009, Judge Jones awarded attorneys' fees to the plaintiff in the amount of $136,537.83, less than a quarter of the $550,651.33 in fees and costs the plaintiff had sought, and ordered the parties to pay their own costs. The plaintiff appealed, and on May 15, 2009, Judge Jones ordered a stay regarding attorneys' fees pending the decision of the Court of Appeals. 2009 WL 1390811 (S.D. Cal. May 15, 2009). During this period, Judge Barry Ted Moskowitz replaced Judge Jones as the district judge assigned to the case.
After a hearing on Nov. 16, 2010, the Ninth Circuit reversed the district court's decision that the Policy was compliant with the ADA, finding that the Policy was not equivalent because the “substitute experience” for disabled customers lacked the customers’ personal participation in the selection and preparation of the food that the full “Chipotle Experience” furnished and, therefore, violated the ADA. The Ninth Circuit remanded to the district court to determine the scope of injunctive relief necessary to remedy the plaintiff's inability to view the food preparation counters.
On Nov. 18, 2010, the Ninth Circuit awarded attorneys’ fees on appeal to the plaintiff, and referred the determination of the appropriate amount of fees to the court’s special master, Appellate Commissioner Peter L. Shaw.
On Nov. 29, 2010, Judge Moskowitz entered judgment against the defendant for violation of the ADA. The district court declined to enter injunctive relief, as the defendant represented that its food-preparation counters at all of the defendant's restaurants in California, including the two restaurants at issue in this case, had been lowered to a suitable height that made them visible to wheelchair-bound customers. Because the defendant had not yet furnished evidence of these modifications or that the modifications would be permanent, the court ordered that limited discovery and briefing take place. Judge Moskowitz referred the question of additional damages to the magistrate judge for a settlement conference. Finally, the court found that the plaintiff was entitled to more than the $136,357.83 in attorneys' fees awarded in the original district court action, but would wait to determine the amount until the other issues were resolved.
The plaintiff moved for summary judgment, on Apr. 22, 2011, and for attorneys' fees, on Apr. 29, 2011.
The plaintiff died on May 9, 2011, and on May 20, 2011, his widow and successor in interest to the claim filed a motion to substitute the plaintiff, and the motion was granted.
On Mar. 21, 2012, Judge Moskowitz granted in part and denied in part the plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment and denied the plaintiff’s motion for attorneys’ fees and expenses. The plaintiff's death rendered moot any claim for injunctive relief under Title III of the ADA, thus the court denied the requested injunction requiring the defendant to maintain the current heights of the walls at the food preparation areas.
Regarding damages, California Civil Code § 54.3 entitled a CDPA plaintiff to statutory minimum damages award of $1,000 for "each offense" established by the plaintiff. Upon determining that the defendant's unwritten policy constituted a violation of the ADA (and thus the CDPA as well) and that the original plaintiff had made five "bona fide" visits to the defendant's restaurants while that policy was in effect, the district court granted the plaintiff's request for $5,000 in statutory damages for each of his "bona fide" visits to the restaurant. Previously, on appeal, the Ninth Circuit had vacated the damages award and remanded for further proceedings. On remand, the plaintiff sought an additional $3,000 in damages because the original plaintiff had made three additional visits for the purposes of gathering evidence for this litigation. Here, the district court denied the plaintiff's request for $3,000 in additional damages, finding that these litigation-related visits should not be considered for the purposes of assessing damages, as he admitted in his deposition that his goal during the visits was to have bad experiences, and "allowing § 54.3 statutory damages for visits made with the express intention of advancing a CDPA plaintiff's position in litigation would enable CDPA plaintiffs essentially to write their own damages check." 2012 WL 12845619 (S.D. Cal. Mar. 21, 2012).
Last, the court denied the plaintiff’s motion for attorneys’ fees without prejudice, finding that it was premature.
On May 2, 2012, the plaintiff entered another motion for attorneys’ fees. On July 17, 2012, Judge Moskowitz granted in part and denied in part the plaintiff’s motion. The court granted the plaintiff an award of $545,079.05 in attorneys' fees and costs (in addition to the $5,000 in statutory damages). The plaintiff filed a motion in the Ninth Circuit for attorneys' fees and costs and was awarded an additional $353,469.95 in attorneys’ fees and expenses related to the appeals work that took place in 2008-2010.
As of January 22, 2014, the case appears to be closed.
Eric Weiler (6/7/2010)
Matt Ramirez (8/12/2016)
Elizabeth Greiter (2/1/2018)
For PACER's information on parties and their attorneys, see: https://www.courtlistener.com/docket/5984676/parties/antoninetti-v-chipotle-mexican/
Cavanagh, Charles C (California)
Christensen, Kent Roger (California)
Corfee, Catherine M. (California)
Evans, Melinda (California)
Ferrell, Scott J. (California)
Friedman, Daniel Mortimer (District of Columbia)
Jones, Napoleon A. Jr. (California)
McCurine, William Jr. (California)
Moskowitz, Barry Ted (California)
Porter, Louisa S. (California)
See docket on RECAP: https://www.courtlistener.com/docket/5984676/antoninetti-v-chipotle-mexican/
Last updated Sept. 29, 2023, 3:11 a.m.
State / Territory: California
Filing Date: Aug. 22, 2005
Case Ongoing: No reason to think so
A paraplegic individual who uses a wheelchair
Public Interest Lawyer: No
Filed Pro Se: No
Class Action Sought: No
Class Action Outcome: Not sought
Causes of Action:
Prevailing Party: Plaintiff
Nature of Relief:
Source of Relief:
Amount Defendant Pays: $903,549
Type of Facility: