Class Action Defense Cases–Castaneda v. Burger King: California Federal Court Severely Limits Scope Of Class In ADA Class Action Holding Commonality/Typicality Not Met For Stores Not Frequented By Named Plaintiffs

Oct 19, 2009 | By: Michael J. Hassen

Class Action Alleging Violations of Federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) could not Properly be Certified with Respect to All 92 Franchise Restaurant Locations because no Common Architectural Design to Stores so no Commonality/Typicality Existed, but Class Action Treatment Warranted as to 10 Stores Frequented by Named Plaintiffs California Federal Court Holds

Three named plaintiffs filed a putative class action against Burger King alleging that certain of its California restaurants violated the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), California’s Americans with Disabilities Act (Unruh) and California’s Disabled Persons Act (CDPA) in various ways; specifically, the class action complaint alleged that the three named plaintiffs are mobility-impaired and had encountered barriers at Burger King restaurants. Castaneda v. Burger King Corp., ___ F.Supp.2d ___, 2009 WL 3151168 (N.D. Cal. September 25, 2009) (Slip Opn., at 1-2). Burger King has about 600 California locations, 92 of which “are leased by Burger King Corporation to the franchisees, which operate and maintain them.” _Id._, at 2. This class action involved only the 92 leased properties, _id._ The class action complaint sought injunctive relief, as well as statutory penalties under Unruh and the CDPA. _Id._ According to the allegations underlying the class action, the locations at issue “were built according to ‘one or a limited number of architectural design prototypes developed by Burger King’” and that some locations were “remodeled in conformance with Burger King’s construction and design plans and specifications.’” _Id._, at 5 (italics omitted). Plaintiffs moved the district court to certify the litigation as a state-wide class action, but “retreated from their allegations of common architecture, design, construction, and policies.” _Id._ Instead, plaintiffs argued that Burger King “maintains substantial control over the leased restaurants,” _id._, at 9. Defense attorneys opposed class action treatment, arguing _inter alia_ that common questions do not predominate. The district court granted class action treatment, but severely limited the scope of the class: the court explained, “The normal class in an ADA action proceeds against a single store on behalf of all disabled persons using that store. The instant action seeks to proceed against approximately 92 different stores throughout California on behalf of a class of all mobility-impaired persons at all 92 locations. All of the stores are Burger King restaurants. Although the class claims would share Burger King Corporation as a common target, the physical differences among the 92 locations would predominate over the common issues, there being no common blueprint among them (or even among any subset of them). Whether or not any store was ever out of ADA compliance would have to be determined store by store, feature by feature, before turning to the easier question of whether defendant as the franchisor/landlord, would have a duty to force the franchise to remediate. Therefore, such a large sprawling class will not be certified. Instead, separate classes will be certified against each of the ten individual restaurants where a named plaintiff encountered alleged access barriers.” _Id._, at 1-2.

The district court addressed first plaintiffs’ request for certification under Rule 23(b)(2) of a class action covering all 92 leased stores. See Castaneda, at 12 et seq. The federal court found “several major obstacles to a 92-store class.” Id., at 13. It found the class lacked commonality under Rule 23(a)(2), explaining that “[b]ecause each location has unique facilities, there is neither a common core of salient facts regarding what accessibility barriers each restaurant’s patrons face nor a shared predicate legal issue of whether each restaurant’s facilities violates the ADA or California statutes.” Id. The court also found that typicality under Rule 23(a)(3) was missing “because every store may well be different,” id. As to Rule 23(b)(2)’s class action factors, the district court found class action treatment inappropriate because (1) the class action complaint sought significant statutory damages, and (2) injunctive relief cannot be awarded against stores that are not in violation of the ADA, which would require “a highly individualized and extremely detailed mirror-by-mirror, door-to-door, ramp-by-ramp, detail-by-detail examination of each store.” Id. The federal court’s detailed analysis of these factors may be found at pages 14 through 22 of its opinion.

Turning to whether the class action certification requirements of Rule 23(b)(3) had been met, the federal court concluded that so long as the class was limited to ten separate classes, one for each of the stores that the named plaintiffs visited. See Castaneda, at 22-25. However, the court struck the state Unruh and CDDPA claims from the class definition, agreeing with defense counsel that these statutes “by their terms, limit liability to those who actively make or incite discrimination in contrast to the ADA which imposes strict liability upon lessors of public accommodations.” Id., at 25. The district court allowed Burger King to join as additional party-defendants the franchisees for the 10 stores for which class certification had been granted. Id., at 26-27. Accordingly, the district court modified the definition of the class as noted above, and granted the motion for class certification only with respect to 10 of the 92 restaurant locations. Id., at 28-29.

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