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A. C. v. Taurus Flavors, Inc.

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

February 7, 2017

A.C., a minor, through his father, Buster Carter, as next friend, Plaintiff,
v.
TAURUS FLAVORS, INC., MARIAN A. McAFEE, MORE FLAVORS INC., and DOES 1-5, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          MATTHEW F. KENNELLY, District Judge

         A.C., a minor, through his father, Buster Carter, has filed suit seeking injunctive relief under Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. §12181, specifically an order directing Taurus Flavors, Inc., Marian A. McAfee, and More Flavors Inc. to remove or correct architectural barriers that limit access to Taurus Flavors Restaurant in Dolton, Illinois. All of the defendants have moved for summary judgment.

         Background

         Taurus has a trademark license agreement with More Flavors and McAfee for use of Taurus's name and logo for a restaurant McAfee owns located at 115 East 75th Street in Chicago. Taurus Mem. in Support of Mot. for Summ. J. at 2, ¶ 6. McAfee is the owner of More Flavors, which also owns and operates the Taurus Flavors restaurant at 770 East 142nd Street in Dolton, which the Court will refer to as the Dolton restaurant. McAfee Mem. in Support of Mot. for Summ. J. at 2, ¶ 7. The Dolton restaurant is a place of public accommodation that is covered by Title III of the ADA.

         A.C. visited the Dolton restaurant during the months of June, July, and August 2015. Pl.'s Ex. G (Carter Aff.) ¶ 7. A.C., who gets around by way of a wheelchair, contends that he experienced serious difficulty accessing the at the Dolton restaurant due to several architectural barriers on the property. Second Am. Compl. ¶¶ 4, 14. A.C. says that he could not access the facilities because there was no handicap parking; there were potholes and indentions in the parking lot; and the door knob of the restaurant's front door required tight grasping that he could not perform. Carter Aff. ¶ 8. A.C. alleges that he intends to visit the restaurant in the future but fears that he will continue to have trouble accessing the restaurant's facilities. Second Am. Compl. ¶¶ 15-16.

         Taurus has moved for summary judgment, arguing that it cannot be held liable under the ADA because it is neither the owner nor the operator of the Dolton restaurant. More Flavors and McAfee have also moved for summary judgment, arguing that A.C. cannot establish an entitlement to relief under the ADA.

         Discussion

         Summary judgment is appropriate if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). A genuine dispute as to any material fact exists if "the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A court views the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party and draws reasonable inferences from the evidence in that party's favor. Bluestein v. Cent. Wis. Anesthesiology, S.C., 769 F.3d 944, 950 (7th Cir. 2014).

         Title III of the ADA states that "[n]o individual shall be discriminated against on the basis of disability in the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations of any place of public accommodation by any person who owns, leases (or leases to), or operates a place of public accommodation." 42 U.S.C. § 12182. Discrimination under Title III includes "a failure to remove architectural barriers . . . where such removal is readily achievable." Id. § 12182(b)(2)(A)(iv). The statute states that injunctive relief is available to "any person who is being subjected to discrimination on the basis of disability in violation [of Title III] or who has reasonable grounds for believing that such person is about to be subjected to discrimination." Id. § 12188(a)(1). In the case of a violation of section 12182(b)(2)(A)(iv), "injunctive relief shall include an order to alter facilities to make such facilities readily accessible to and usable by individuals with disabilities . . . ." Id. § 12188(a)(2).

         A. Taurus's motion for summary judgment and sanctions

         Taurus argues that no reasonable fact finder could find that it violated the ADA because A.C. cannot show that it "owns, leases (or leases to), or operates" the Dolton restaurant. Id. § 12182(a). Taurus says that the only evidence A.C. presents on this point is a 2003 trademark license agreement between Taurus and McAfee for use of Taurus's trademark at a different property, specifically the restaurant at 115 East 75th Street in Chicago. Taurus argues that this is insufficient to permit a finding that it has any authority regarding the Dolton restaurant, let alone that it owns or operates that restaurant.

         A.C., on the other hand, argues that the agreement shows or supports the proposition that Taurus and McAfee are in a franchisor-franchisee relationship that spans several properties, including the Dolton restaurant. According to A.C., Taurus and McAfee are "two peas in a pod, especially given the fact that the [Dolton] property shines brightly in the regalia, signs, colors, and marks of Taurus Flavors." Pl.'s Resp. to Taurus Mot. for Summ. J. at 2. A.C. contends that terms in the licensing agreement tend to show that Taurus has control over the Dolton restaurant.

         Contract interpretation is, as a general rule, a question of law. "If the words in the contract are clear and unambiguous, they must be given their plain, ordinary and popular meaning." Thompson v. Gordon, 241 Ill.2d 428, 441, 948 N.E.2d 39, 47 (2011). The terms in the 2003 franchise agreement between Taurus and McAfee unambiguously state that the agreement is meant to govern the relationship between Taurus and McAfee regarding More Flavors #3 d/b/a Taurus Flavors, which is the restaurant on 75th Street in Chicago. The introductory paragraph of the agreement states: "This Agreement, between Taurus Flavors, Corporation at the above address, has agreed to permit MORE FLAVORS #3 located inside Park Manor Bowl, 115 East 75th St., Chicago, Illinois ONLY do business as Taurus Flavors." Taurus Ex. 3 (emphasis in original). This paragraph of the agreement is rather inartfully written, but it makes it clear that the agreement concerns the 75th Street restaurant, not the Dolton restaurant. And despite A.C.'s contentions otherwise, one cannot reasonably infer from this agreement that Taurus must have a similar agreement with More Flavors or McAfee regarding the restaurant in Dolton.

         Even if one could properly infer that Taurus and the other defendants have a similar franchise agreement for the Dolton restaurant, the terms of the agreement do not grant Taurus authority over structural modifications to the restaurant. That, it appears, is the critical factor in determining the liability of a franchisor under Title III of the ADA. Though the Seventh Circuit has not addressed the point, the several courts of appeal have concluded that the "relevant inquiry . . . is whether [the franchisor] specifically controls the modification of the franchises to improve their accessibility to the disabled." Neff v. Am. Dairy Queen Corp., 58 F.3d 1063, 1066 (5th Cir. 1995); see also Celeste v. E. Meadow Union Free Sch. Dist., 373 F.App'x 85, 91 (2d Cir. 2010) (relying on Neff to adopt the Title III definition of "operates" to include "control."); Lentini v. Calif. Center for ...


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