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Equal Rights Center v. Kohl'S Corp. and Kohl'S Department Stores, Inc.

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois

May 2, 2017

Equal Rights Center, et al., Plaintiffs,
Kohl's Corporation and Kohl's Department Stores, Inc., Defendants.


          Ronald A. Guzmán, United States District Court

         For the reasons stated below, Plaintiffs' motion for class certification [109] is denied.


         I. Background

         Plaintiffs, on behalf of themselves and a putative class, seek to hold Kohl's Corporation and Kohl's Department Stores, Inc. (collectively, “Kohl's”) liable for purported violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) and the New York Human Rights Law based on alleged inaccessible counters, restrooms, fitting rooms, and inadequate accessible parking. The Court granted in part Kohl's first motion to strike the class allegations on the ground that Plaintiffs failed to properly allege ascertainability, and Plaintiffs were granted leave to file an amended complaint. Kohl's again sought to strike the class allegations and dismiss Count II of the amended complaint, which alleges violations of the ADA. The Court denied that motion, then suspended consideration of Plaintiff's currently pending class certification motion so the parties could discuss settlement, which was unsuccessful. Accordingly, the Court now addresses Plaintiffs' motion for class certification.

         II. Analysis

         A. Motion for Class Certification

         The Court assumes knowledge of the background facts of this case and the Court's prior orders. As brief background, Kohl's owns and operates stores located across the country that sell moderately-priced clothing, housewares, and other products. Plaintiffs contend that “Kohl's systematically denies customers who use wheelchairs and scooters full and equal enjoyment of their stores across the country.” (Pls.' Mem. Supp. Class Cert., Dkt. # 145, at 1.) According to Plaintiffs, while Kohl's internal documents relating to store layout, which Kohl's refers to as its “Shopability Standards, ” set forth the minimum spacing distance for merchandise racks in its stores and directs employees to enforce those standards, Kohl's regularly fails to ensure that the standards are followed.

         Plaintiffs propose the following class definition:

All people with mobility disabilities who relied on wheeled mobility devices for mobility who, during the 12 months immediately prior to the filing of the Complaint in this case, were denied access to the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations of any Kohl's Department Store in the United States on the basis of disability because of the existence of aisles which were too narrow (less than 36 inches).

(Am. Compl., Dkt. # 42, ¶ 63.)

         Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23(c)(1)(A), “[a]t an early practicable time after a person sues . . . as a class representative, the court must determine by order whether to certify the action as a class action.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 23(c)(1)(A). A plaintiff seeking class certification must show the proposed class meets the requirements of Rule 23. First, under Rule 23(a), the plaintiff must satisfy the following four prerequisites: (1) joinder of all potential class members is impracticable (“numerosity”); (2) there are common questions of law or fact (“commonality”); (3) the claims or defenses of the representative parties are typical of the rest of the class (“typicality”); and (4) the class representative adequately and fairly represents the class (“adequacy”). Fed.R.Civ.P. 23(a); see also Kress v. CCA of Tenn., LLC, 694 F.3d 890, 892-93 (7th Cir. 2012). Second, the plaintiff must also satisfy at least one subsection of Rule 23(b). Plaintiffs seek certification under Rule 23(b)(2), which permits a class to be certified if, in addition to satisfying the requirements of Rule 23(a), “the party opposing the class has acted or refused to act on grounds that apply generally to the class, so that final injunctive relief or corresponding declaratory relief is appropriate respecting the class as a whole.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 23(b)(2). “‘[C]ivil rights cases against parties charged with unlawful, class-based discrimination are prime examples' of Rule 23(b)(2) classes.” Gutierrez v. City of E. Chi., No. 2:16-CV-111-JVB-PRC, 2016 WL 5819818, at *15 (N.D. Ind. Sept. 6, 2016), report and recommendation adopted, No. 2:16-CV-111 JVB, 2016 WL 5816804 (N.D. Ind. Oct. 5, 2016) (citations omitted).

         As noted by another court in this district:

“Plaintiffs bear the burden of showing that a proposed class satisfies the Rule 23 requirements.” As such, when reviewing a motion for class certification, a court “may not simply assume the truth of the matters as asserted by the plaintiff[s], ” but instead must receive evidence and resolve ...

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