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Mellenthin v. Casey's General Stores, Inc.

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

February 21, 2018

DANIEL MELLENTHIN, EUGENE BARROW, and ACCESS NOW, INC., individually and on behalf of all others similarly situated, Plaintiffs,
v.
CASEY'S GENERAL STORES, INC., Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          NANCY J. ROSENSTENGEL, United States District Judge.

         This matter is before the Court on a partial motion to dismiss the first amended class action complaint filed by Defendant Casey's General Stores, Inc.[1] (Doc. 34). On August 17, 2017, Plaintiffs Daniel Mellenthin, Eugene Barrow, and Access Now, Inc. filed a response in opposition to the motion (Doc. 39), and two weeks later, Casey's filed a reply brief (Doc. 41). For the reasons set forth below, the motion is denied.

         Preliminary Matter

         On January 31, 2018, Plaintiff Eugene Barrow filed a stipulation pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 41(a)(1)(A)(ii) dismissing his action against defendant (Doc. 53). Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 41 allows for stipulations of dismissals under certain circumstances, but the rule is circumscribed to dismissals of "actions, " not "parties" or "claims, " meaning that the rule cannot be used to cleave away one claim or one party from a larger case. See Taylor v. Brown, 787 F.3d 851, 857-58 (7th Cir. 2015); Musa v. Kabul, Inc., 15-cv-804, 2016 WL 4734743, at *1 (W.D. Wisc. Sept. 9, 2016). While the Court acknowledges the plain reading of the rule, it finds that dismissing this plaintiff, rather than ordering amendment of the complaint, is in the interest of judicial economy in this particular case.

         Factual & Procedural Background

         Plaintiff Daniel Mellenthin (an individual who is confined to a wheelchair) and Plaintiff Access Now, Inc. (a civil rights organization whose members have various mobility disabilities) (collectively “Plaintiffs”) bring claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 12188(a)(2) of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) (See Doc. 32). Plaintiffs allege that Casey's violate the ADA by having centralized policies and practices with regard to the design, construction, alteration, maintenance, and operation of its facilities that cause access barriers to develop and persist at Casey's facilities (Id.). Plaintiffs seek a permanent injunction requiring: (1) Casey's to remediate all parking and path of travel access barriers at its facilities, consistent with the ADA; (2) Casey's to change its corporate policies and practices so that the parking and path of travel access barriers at its facilities do not reoccur; and (3) Plaintiffs' representatives to monitor Casey's facilities to ensure that the injunctive relief ordered has been implemented and will remain in place (Id.).

         Plaintiff Mellenthin specifically alleges that he has visited four Casey's facilities in Illinois and has “experienced unnecessary difficulty and risk due to excessive slopes in the parking facilities, and a lack of accessible signage.” (Doc. 1, p. 6). On Plaintiffs' behalf, investigators examined fifteen other Casey's locations in Idaho and Illinois and noticed the same barriers to accessibility for wheelchair-bound patrons similarly situated to Plaintiff Mellenthin (Doc. 1, p. 8-11). Specifically, the surfaces of the parking lot are alleged to have excessive slopes that exceed 2.1% and/or “accessible” signs that are mounted less than 60 inches above the finished surface or the parking area (Id.). Plaintiffs allege that the systemic access violations by Casey's are illustrative of the fact that Casey's implements policies and practices that fail to design, construct, and alter its facilities so that they are readily accessible and usable, and/or that its maintenance and operational policies and practices are unable to maintain accessibility of its facilities.

         Plaintiffs bring this suit as a class action pursuant to Rule 23(b)(2), which provides that a class action may be maintained if “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).

         Casey's seeks partial dismissal on several grounds. First, Casey's contends that the nationwide class allegations of Plaintiffs' complaint must be dismissed because Plaintiffs cannot meet their burden of establishing that a nationwide class is appropriate. More specifically, Casey's argues that Plaintiffs' nationwide claims are based on speculation, and they have failed to establish commonality or typicality. Second, Casey's incorporates an argument made in its March 23, 2017 motion to dismiss (which was previously denied as moot), which argued that Plaintiffs' claims relating to eight of the fifteen stores referenced in the complaint should be dismissed as barred by a prior consent decree and the principles of res judicata and collateral estoppel.

         Plaintiffs respond arguing that the motion is premature, as the majority of cases cited by Casey's were decided at class certification. Moreover, Plaintiffs argue that the propriety of their class allegations should be determined at the class certification stage. As to the res judicata and collateral estoppel arguments, Plaintiffs respond seeking to revive the arguments they made in response back in April 2017.

         Legal Standard

         In deciding a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim on which relief can be granted under Rule 12(b)(6), the district court's task is to determine whether the complaint includes “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Khorrami v. Rolince, 539 F.3d 782, 788 (7th Cir. 2008) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007)). The Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit has clarified that, even after Twombly, courts must still approach Rule 12(b)(6) motions by construing the complaint in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, accepting as true all well-pleaded facts alleged, and drawing all possible inferences in the non-moving party's favor. Hecker v. Deere & Co., 556 F.3d 575, 580 (7th Cir. 2009), cert. denied, ___ U.S. ___, 130 S.Ct. 1141 (2010) (quoting Tamayo v. Blagojevich, 526 F.3d 1074, 1081 (7th Cir. 2008)).

         Analysis

         I. Motion to Dismiss ...


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