standing-eligible to bring suit; injury in fact
Jeffery Judy and Gilroy Daniels are two individuals who use wheelchairs. They are frequent customers of the Lexington Market in Baltimore, which is owned by Arcade, L.P. In March 2010, Judy filed a complaint against Arcade, alleging violations of Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”). The plaintiff claimed that the Market had inaccessible entry routes, ramps, restrooms, counters, and other amenities for persons using a wheelchair. After the complaint was filed, Daniels joined Judy in the lawsuit making the same claims against Arcade. Arcade provided the Court an affidavit stating “Arcade does not, in fact, own, lease or operate” the Market located at 400 West Lexington Street, though it does own property at 403, 421 and 423 West Lexington Street.
The District Court for the district of Maryland, at Baltimore ruled that Daniels and Judy lacked standing to bring the lawsuit because they failed to demonstrate that they suffered a “concrete and particularized injury,” and that even if such injuries had occurred, they were not reasonably traceable to Arcade’s actions. The court said that while Daniels claimed he regularly visits the Market, he did not provide specific dates when he shopped at the Market, and thus, his claims were too vague and did not show he would continue to shop at the Market if it was made more accessible. Further, the District Court said that Daniels’s involvement in two prior ADA complaints made his vague statements about possibly returning to the Market even harder to accept. Daniels filed a notice of appeal without Judy.
Standing establishes that a federal court has the jurisdiction to hear a case. It ensures that the party bringing the lawsuit has a personal stake in the outcome of the lawsuit. To have standing, a plaintiff must establish that: (1) he or she suffered an injury; (2) the injury must be reasonably traceable to the defendant’s actions; and, (3) a favorable decision by the court is likely to redress the injury.
First, a plaintiff must show that he or she suffered an injury that is “concrete and particular”, and “actual or imminent”. Daniels lived near the Market, visited it prior to filing his complaint, and regularly visits the Market. During those visits, he encountered inaccessible entry routes, ramps, restrooms, and other amenities, which excluded him from, or denied him the benefits of, the Market’s goods and services. The Court reasoned that Daniels properly alleged both a “concrete and particularized” injury because the Market’s conduct is prohibited by the ADA and affected Daniels in a personal way. The Court concluded that Daniels’s injury was also “actual or imminent” because he encountered these barriers on multiple occasions. While the Fourth Circuit ultimately held that Daniels’s injury was “concrete,” “particularized,” and “actual,” they reasoned that Daniels also is likely to suffer “imminent” harm because he intends to continue shopping at the Market due to its close proximity.
The Fourth Circuit rejected the District Court’s holding that Daniels’s failure to provide exact dates when he had visited and would again visit the Market demonstrated that he was not reasonably likely to return. The Court stated that a standard with such a degree of specificity does not exist in the Fourth Circuit, and thus, declined to impose such a strict requirement in this instance. The Court further rejected the District Court’s finding that Daniels’s litigation history undermined his claims; neither of Daniels’s previous ADA claims had been frivolous, and therefore could not undermine his allegations.
For these reasons taken together, the Fourth Circuit concluded that Daniels did satisfy the injury in fact element of standing.
Second, a plaintiff must show that the injury in fact bears a causal relationship to defendant’s alleged wrongful conduct. The District Court had relied on the statement “Arcade does not, in fact, own, lease or operate” the Market to conclude the injury was not adequately related to Arcade. However, the Fourth Circuit found that although Arcade does not own the property at 400 West Lexington Street, there is a dispute as to whether its property at 403, 421 and 423 comprise part of the Market. The Court reasoned that since the ADA prohibits discrimination by any entity that owns, leases, or operates a place of public accommodation, if Arcade has any ownership or business interest in a part of the market, it could be found liable under the ADA. The Court concluded that Daniels’s injury could be reasonably traceable to Arcade, depending on whether Arcade owns or has a business interest in part of the Market. As that is in dispute, the District Court was incorrect to dismiss Daniels’s claim.
The Fourth Circuit ruled that the District Court erred in holding that Daniels lacked standing on the basis that his “injury in fact” was not “concrete and particular” and “actual or imminent,” and that his injury was not reasonably traceable to Arcade’s actions. Thus, the Court vacated the District Court’s decision and remanded the case for further proceedings consistent with its opinion.
Standing is an important requirement to ensure there is an actual injury, that the injury is reasonably traceable or caused by the defendant’s wrongful conduct, and that a court’s action can remedy the problem. Establishing standing can be a barrier to bringing a Title III claim. The District Court adopted a four-factor test from the District Court for the the Southern District of Ohio. That test analyzed: “(1) the proximity of defendant’s business to plaintiff’s residence, (2) the plaintiff's past patronage of defendant’s business, (3) the definitiveness of plaintiff’s plans to return, and (4) the plaintiff’s frequency of travel near defendant.” In addition, the District Court in the present case included a fifth factor—“the number of lawsuits previously filed by the plaintiffs.” The Fourth Circuit declined in this case to endorse this restrictive analysis, instead looking at the facts of the case to determine if the plaintiff met the basic requirements. This approach has the potential to decrease the number of cases that are barred by strict procedural technicalities in this Circuit.
Although the court rejected, in Daniels, the above four factor test, lower courts within the Fourth Circuit have continued to apply it in cases where the plaintiff’s residence is significantly further from the Defendant’s place of business. When the plaintiff lives, for example, out of the state (Belk), or 100 or more miles away, (Norkunas, Ingram), the courts have reasoned that actual “concrete injury” for standing purposes is less likely. In looking for standing, courts will always consider the first factor of the test: “the proximity of defendant’s business to plaintiff’s residence.” The remaining three factors may be applied if, as in Norkunas, the distance is over 100 miles. If it is closer to the 20 miles in Daniels, they will only apply traditional standing rules. ADA claims can still prevail when these factors are applied; however, plaintiffs living far from those they intend to sue will be required to show more definite future patronage of the defendant’s establishment.