9th Circuit greenlights Goddard's lawsuit over theater accommodations

Chris Rizo May 3, 2010, 11:10am

Terry Goddard (D)

PHOENIX, Ariz. (Legal Newsline)-A federal appeals court has breathed new life into a lawsuit filed by Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard, ruling that the Democrat can sue a movie theater owner to install special equipment for people with hearing and vision disabilities.

Goddard seeks to force Scottsdale, Ariz.-based Harkins Theatres to install special technology.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last week ruled that the lawsuit may go forward, after being tossed by a district court judge in 2008.

The trial court found that the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Arizonans with Disabilities Act do not require movie theaters to provide captions and descriptions.

"This is a groundbreaking legal decision because it is the first time that a Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled on whether the Americans with Disabilities Act requires captions or descriptions in movie theaters," Goddard said.

Filed in 2006, Goddard's lawsuit claimed that none of the 262 screens the company operated at the time offered closed caption technology so the hearing-impaired patrons can get special equipment that displays the dialog being spoken by actor.

The lawsuit was initially tossed by U.S. District Court Judge Roslyn Silver, who said Goddard lacks the authority to do so, ruling that Harkins Theaters is not excluding anyone by not offering the special technology.

She said the Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits discrimination "on the basis of disability in the full and equal enjoyment" of services, but said the law must "be interpreted to have some practical, commonsense boundaries."

Among many groups that filed amicus briefs in support of Goddard's appeal to the 9th U.S. Circuit were the Screen Actors Guild, the U.S. Department of Justice and the National Association of the Deaf.

"This decision makes it clear that the ADA is about more than
physical access to a public accommodation - it is also about ensuring
access to the services that the public accommodation provides."

From Legal Newsline: Reach staff reporter Chris Rizo at chrisrizo@legalnewsline.com.

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