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Womble v. Mph Investments of Mississippi, Inc.

United States District Court, S.D. Mississippi, Northern Division

July 14, 2014

WENDY WOMBLE, Plaintiff,
v.
MPH INVESTMENTS OF MISSISSIPPI, INC. d/b/a LADY LUCK HOTEL & SUITES, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

DAVID BRAMLETTE, District Judge.

This cause is before the court on the defendant ("MPH")'s motion for summary judgment (docket entry 9). Having carefully considered the motion and the plaintiff's response, as well as the memoranda and the applicable law, the Court finds as follows:

The plaintiff, Wendy Womble ("Womble") filed her Complaint on May 30, 2013, under Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. § 12181, et seq. ("ADA"). Womble, a resident of Warren County, Mississippi, is paralyzed from the chest down, uses a wheelchair for mobility, and is considered an individual with a disability under 42 U.S.C. § 12101. Complaint, ¶¶ 5-6. On March 13, 2013, Womble checked into a room at the defendant's hotel, Lady Luck Hotel & Suites, and attempted to access the hotel's swimming pool through use of the pool lift. The lift malfunctioned and Womble was unable to utilize the pool. Complaint, ¶¶ 11-19. The hotel's maintenance staff repaired the pool lift the following day. However, Womble claims that she experienced severe discomfort, embarrassment, and emotional distress as a result of the lift malfunctioning on March 13, 2013. Complaint, ¶ 20.

The plaintiff further alleges that the pool lift was not maintained in operable, working condition so that persons with disabilities would have access to the pool. Complaint, ¶ 28. She also alleges "on information and belief, " that MPH failed to properly train the hotel's staff to ensure that the pool would be available to disabled individuals whenever the pool was open. Complaint, ¶ 31.

Womble states that she desires to visit the Lady Luck Hotel & Suites in the future, "once its policies, practices, and procedures come into compliance with the ADA." Complaint, ¶ 34. She seeks a declaratory judgment that MPH is in violation of Title III of the ADA; injunctive relief against MPH, including an order to require MPH to make the pool readily accessible to and usable by individuals with disabilities to the extent required by Title III of the ADA; and attorney's fees, costs, and litigation expenses. Complaint, Prayer for Relief, ¶¶ (a)-(c).

MPH moves for summary judgment on all claims. Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56, summary judgment is proper if the record discloses no genuine issue as to any material fact such that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. In evaluating a summary judgment motion, the Court must read the facts in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc. , 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986). However, no genuine issue of fact exists if the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the non-moving party. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio , 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986); see also Anderson , 477 U.S. at 248 (a genuine issue of fact exists only "if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-moving party"). The mere argued existence of a factual dispute does not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion. Id . "If the evidence is merely colorable, or is not significantly probative, " summary judgment is appropriate. Id . at 249-50. Summary judgment is also proper if the party opposing the motion fails to establish an essential element of her case. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett , 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986). The non-moving party must do more than simply deny the allegations raised by the moving party. Donaghey v. Ocean Drilling & Exploration Co. , 974 F.2d 646, 649 (5th Cir. 1992). Instead, she must come forward with competent evidence, such as affidavits or depositions, to buttress her claims. Id . Hearsay evidence and unsworn documents do not qualify as competent opposing evidence. Martin v. John W. Stone Oil Distrib., Inc. , 819 F.2d 547, 549 (5th Cir. 1987).

MPH first moves for summary judgment on the plaintiff's monetary damages claim. The ADA contains provisions for enforcement of Title III by both a private right of action and a right of action by the Attorney General. See, e.g., 42 U.S.C. § 12188(a). Monetary damages are not available in private suits under Title III. Id . Instead, the only remedies available in private actions are declaratory relief, injunctive relief, attorney fees and costs. Id . The plaintiff does not address monetary damages in her response to the summary judgment motion. It is not clear to the Court that the plaintiff is seeking monetary damages in the first place; however, by her silence she acknowledges that she is either not seeking monetary damages or is not entitled to them.

The defendant next argues that the plaintiff is not entitled to injunctive relief because there are no current alleged barriers to accessibility. The pool lift was repaired the day after the plaintiff's incident, as the plaintiff acknowledges. Since the pool was accessible the next day, the defendant contends that injunctive relief is unnecessary, and that the plaintiff therefore lacks standing to bring this action. In response, the plaintiff states that she seeks declaratory and injunctive relief to require the defendant to adopt proper policies and procedures for training the hotel's staff to ensure that the pool lift is functional whenever the pool is open.

The party invoking federal jurisdiction bears the burden of establishing the elements of standing and "each element must be supported in the same way as any other matter on which the plaintiff bears the burden of proof, i.e., with the manner and degree of evidence required at the successive stages of the litigation." Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife , 504 U.S. 555, 560 (1992). A plaintiff must have standing at the time a lawsuit is filed. Id . At 569 n.4. Events occurring after the lawsuit has been filed may be relevant to whether the claim has become moot, but are not relevant to whether a plaintiff has standing in the first instance. Friends of the Earth, Inc. v. Laidlaw Envtl. Servs. (TOC), Inc. , 528 U.S. 167, 190-91 (2000).

In this case, the defendant contends that the plaintiff's incident at the pool was the result of an isolated malfunction of the lift; the plaintiff, on the other hand, alleges that it was the result of the defendant's failure to train its employees. See Stan v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. , 111 F.Supp.2d 119, 127 (N.D. N.Y. 2000)("under the ADA, [d]efendants can and must ensure that they adopt the proper policies and procedures to train their employees on dealing with disabled individuals and make reasonable efforts to ensure that those policies and procedures are properly carried out and enforced").

In her Complaint, the plaintiff alleges:

On March 13th, 2013, WOMBLE checked into a room at the Hotel, accompanied by her daughter and two friends. On that date, WOMBLE desired to use the Hotel's pool, which she had noticed was equipped with a fixed pool lift.
...
When WOMBLE inquired about using the lift, the Hotel's front desk clerk responded that she would not be able to assist WOMBLE because she ...

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