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Neal v. Metro Regional Transit Authority

United States District Court, N.D. Ohio, Eastern Division

August 8, 2019

SPENCER NEAL, et al., PLAINTIFFS,
v.
METRO REGIONAL TRANSIT AUTHORITY, DEFENDANT.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          HONORABLE SARA LIOI, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Pending before this Court is the motion for judgment on the pleadings filed by defendant Metro Regional Transit Authority (“Metro”). (Doc. No. 50 [“Mot.”].) Plaintiffs Spencer Neal (“Neal”) and William Richards (“Richards”) (collectively, “plaintiffs”) filed a brief in opposition (Doc. No. 52 [“Opp'n”][1] and Metro filed a reply brief (Doc. No. 54 [“Reply”]). For the reasons discussed herein, defendant's motion for judgment on the pleadings is GRANTED.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiffs filed this action on October 16, 2018, alleging violations of Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. § 12131, et seq., (“ADA”) and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, 29 U.S.C. § 701, et seq., (“Rehabilitation Act”). (Doc. No. 44, Amended Complaint [“Am. Compl.”].) Plaintiffs allege that Metro is violating the ADA by failing to provide accessible bus stops for its fixed-route bus system.[2] (Am. Compl. ¶ 2.)

         Neal alleges that he is a qualified individual with a disability under the ADA and due to his disability is substantially impaired in several major life activities, including walking, and requires a wheelchair for mobility. (Id. ¶¶ 12-13.) Neal cannot walk, stand, or use his legs without assistance. (Id. ¶ 13.)

         Richards alleges that he is also a qualified individual with a disability under the ADA and due to his disability, he is substantially impaired in several major life activities, including walking, and requires a wheelchair for mobility. (Id. ¶¶ 14-15.) Richards is unable to walk, stand, or use his legs without assistance. (Id. ¶ 15.)

         Both Neal and Richards allege that they commonly use Metro's fixed-route public transportation system, including Metro's fixed-route bus systems, buses, and bus stops. (Id. ¶ 25.) Richards alleges that he uses Metro's fixed-route system, buses, and bus stops several times per day and intends to continue using Metro's fixed-route bus service as his primary means of transportation. (Id. ¶¶ 26-27.) Richard also alleges that he will use Metro's fixed-route bus service to test it for access and compliance with the ADA and the Rehabilitation Act several times per year. (Id. ¶ 28.)

         Neal alleges that he uses Metro's fixed-route bus system, buses, and bus stops when his vehicle is inoperable or under repair. (Id. ¶ 29.) Neal alleges that he intends to continue using Metro's fixed-route bus system as his secondary means or transportation, and he also intends to use Metro's fixed-route bus system to test it for access and compliance with the ADA and the Rehabilitation Act several times per year, starting in December 2018. (Id. ¶¶ 30-31.)

         In their amended complaint, plaintiffs allege that while using Metro's fixed-route bus system, plaintiffs have tried to access bus stops and architectural features at those bus stops but have encountered numerous barriers which hindered plaintiffs' ability to access Metro's bus services and utilize the programs offered at the bus stops. (Id. ¶ 33.) Among the barriers that plaintiffs have experienced are noncompliant features such as lack of accessible routes to certain bus stops and inadequate or nonexistent landing pads at certain bus stops. (Id. ¶ 34.) Plaintiffs allege that on numerous occasions they have faced difficulty entering or disembarking from certain buses as a result of the lack of level landing pads at certain bus stops. (Id. ¶ 35.) As a result of certain bus stops lacking level landing pads, plaintiffs allege that they risk tipping out of their wheelchairs while entering or disembarking from buses or getting to and from certain bus stops. (Id. ¶ 36.)

         In their amended complaint, plaintiffs group Metro's alleged ADA violations into two categories: (1) failure to construct and alter bus stops in an accessible condition, and (2) failure to provide program access at existing bus stops. (Id. ¶ 43.) Plaintiffs provide examples of each alleged violation. (Id. ¶ 43.)

         Plaintiffs brought the present suit seeking injunctive relief as well as attorneys' fees and expenses, and compensatory damages for Metro's alleged violations of the ADA and the Rehabilitation Act. (Am. Compl. at 439-40.[3]) Following the filing of plaintiffs' amended complaint, Metro filed the present motion for judgment on the pleadings. Plaintiffs filed an opposition, and Metro filed a reply. The matter is now ripe for the Court's review.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(c) provides that “[a]fter the pleadings are closed-but early enough not to delay trial-a party may move for judgment on the pleadings.” The standard of review for a motion for judgment on the pleadings is the same as for a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim for relief under Rule 12(b)(6). JPMorgan Chase Bank, N.A. v. Winget, 510 F.3d 577, 581 (6th Cir. 2007). “‘For purposes of a motion for judgment on the pleadings, all well-pleaded material allegations of the pleadings of the opposing party must be taken as true, and the motion may be granted only if the moving party is nevertheless clearly entitled to judgment.'” Id. at 581 (quoting S. Ohio Bank v. Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith, Inc., 479 F.2d 478, 480 (6th Cir. 1973)). The district court, however, “need not accept as true legal conclusions or unwarranted factual inferences.” Mixon v. Ohio, 193 F.3d 389, 400 (6th Cir. 1999) (citing Morgan v. Church's Fried Chicken, 829 F.2d 10, 12 (6th Cir. 1987)).

         “To survive a motion to dismiss [or judgment on the pleadings], a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007)). “Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.” Id. at 678 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). The complaint “must contain either direct or inferential allegations respecting all the material elements to sustain a recovery under some viable legal theory.” Scheid v. Fanny Farmer Candy Shops, Inc., 859 F.2d 434, 436 (6th Cir. 1988) (quotation marks omitted). “The motion is granted when no material issue of fact exists and the party making the motion is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Paskvan v. City of Cleveland Civil Serv. Comm'n, 946 F.2d 1233, 1235 (6th Cir. 1991).

         In considering a Rule 12(c) motion, the allegations in the complaint are the Court's primary focus. Still, the Court may also consider “‘other materials that are integral to the complaint, are public records, or are otherwise appropriate for the taking of judicial notice.'” Campbell v. Nationstar Mortg., 611 Fed.Appx. 288, 291 (6th Cir. 2015) (quoting Ashland, Inc. v. Oppenheimer & Co., 648 F.3d 461, 467 (6th Cir. 2011)). The Federal Rules of Evidence permit the Court to take judicial notice of facts that are “not subject to reasonable dispute in that [they are] either (1) generally known within the territorial jurisdiction of the trial court or (2) capable of accurate and ready determination by resort to sources whose accuracy cannot reasonably be questioned.” Fed.R.Evid. 201(b). “The Court may take judicial notice on its own[.]” Fed.R.Evid. 201(c)(1). The Court may take judicial notice of a fact at any stage of the proceedings. Livingston Christian Sch. V. Genoa Charter Twp., 858 F.3d 996, 1008 (6th Cir. 2017) (citing Fed.R.Evid. 201, Advisory Comm. Notes (f)).

         III. DISCUSSION

         In its motion, Metro contends that it is entitled to judgment as to plaintiffs' claims because (1) plaintiffs fail to show a lack of meaningful access to Metro's transportation systems ...


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