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Huzar v. Groupon, Inc.

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

July 30, 2018

ANDREW HUZAR, Plaintiff,
GROUPON, INC., Defendant.


          Honorable Edmond E. Chang United States District Judge

         Groupon operates a website that allows users to buy tickets and book reservations for various sporting and entertainment events, as well as for hotel stays. R. 1, Compl. at ¶ 18.[1] In July 2015, Andrew Huzar, who suffers from spina bifida, attempted to reserve a wheelchair-accessible hotel room on Groupon's website but found that none were available. Id. ¶¶ 4, 19.[2] After unsuccessfully contacting Groupon to try resolving the problem, Huzar brought suit against Groupon for violating the public-accommodation sections of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Id. ¶ 44. Groupon moves to dismiss the claim on the ground that it itself is not a place of public accommodation under the ADA, nor does it operate one. R. 23, Def. Mot. to Dismiss; see R. 24, Def. Br. at 2. For the following reasons, the motion is granted.

         I. Background

         For the purposes of this motion, the Court accepts as true the allegations in the Complaint. Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007). In July 2015, Huzar visited the Groupon website and tried to reserve a room in the Red Lion Hotel through a “Groupon Getaway” deal. Compl. ¶¶ 19-20. When Huzar navigated through the website, he noticed that there were no options for handicap-accessible rooms. Id. Huzar has spina bifida and uses a wheelchair to get around, so without an accessible room, he could not stay at the Red Lion using the deal that Groupon had advertised. See Id. ¶ 4. So Huzar emailed Groupon and asked, “Is there any way to book a wheelchair accessible room with this offer?” Id. ¶ 21. Groupon responded that it was sorry, but that “unfortunately handicap-accessible rooms are not available.” Id. ¶ 22. Since then, Huzar has been deterred from trying to reserve hotel rooms through Groupon's website. Id. ¶ 23.

         About a year later, in July 2016, Huzar received an email, which advertised a “Groupon Deal” for New York Jets tickets at the MetLife Stadium. Compl. ¶ 25. He visited the website to buy tickets to one of the available Jets games, but discovered a complete lack of accessible-designated tickets. Id. ¶¶ 27-28.[3] He looked around the website but could not find any way for disabled customers to purchase accessible seating. Id. ¶ 29. Even though Huzar knows that MetLife Stadium has accessible seating, Groupon's website did not have any method to view the availability of designated accessible seats. Id. ¶¶ 30-31. So even though accessible seats exist, Huzar could not get the tickets for those seats through Groupon's platform. Id. ¶ 32.

         Although Huzar still occasionally wants to buy tickets or reserve hotel rooms through Groupon, he does not because Groupon fails to offer accessible options for people with disabilities. See Compl. ¶ 24. By failing to offer accessible ticketing and reservation options, Huzar claims, Groupon is violating the ADA by excluding him from the services, programs, and accommodations it offers to the public. Id. ¶¶ 34, 44. And as the provider of ticketing and reservation services to places of public accommodation, Huzar alleges that Groupon serves as a “nexus” for individuals to access those places. Id. ¶ 37. At present, Groupon has supposedly not modified its site or practices to accommodate patrons that need accessible options. Id. ¶ 45. Huzar wishes to represent a class of other disabled persons denied access to accessible ticketing options through Groupon's website. See Id. ¶¶ 45-46.

         II. Standard of Review

         Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2), a complaint generally need only include “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). This short and plain statement must “give the defendant fair notice of what the … claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (cleaned up).[4] The Seventh Circuit has explained that this rule “reflects a liberal notice pleading regime, which is intended to ‘focus litigation on the merits of a claim' rather than on technicalities that might keep plaintiffs out of court.” Brooks v. Ross, 578 F.3d 574, 580 (7th Cir. 2009) (quoting Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N.A., 534 U.S. 506, 514 (2002)).

         “A motion under Rule 12(b)(6) challenges the sufficiency of the complaint to state a claim upon which relief may be granted.” Hallinan v. Fraternal Order of Police of Chi. Lodge No. 7, 570 F.3d 811, 820 (7th Cir. 2009). “[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 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). These allegations “must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. The allegations that are entitled to the assumption of truth are those that are factual, rather than mere legal conclusions. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678-79.

         III. Analysis

         1. “Operates” a Public Accommodation

         Congress enacted the Americans with Disabilities Act “to provide a clear and comprehensive national mandate for the elimination of discrimination against individuals with disabilities.” 42 U.S.C. § 12101(b)(1). Generally speaking, the ADA forbids disability discrimination in employment, in state and local government services, and in public accommodations. Public-accommodations discrimination is the issue in this case. Specifically, Title III of the ADA provides that “[n]o individual shall be discriminated against on the basis of disability in the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, advantage, or accommodations of any place of public accommodation … .” 42 U.S.C. § 12182(a); Wigginton v. Bank of America Corp., 770 F.3d 521, 523 (7th Cir. 2014). This non-discrimination provision applies to “any person who owns, leases (or leases to), or operates a place of public accommodation.” § 12182(a).

         Hotels and stadiums-like the Red Lion hotel and MetLife Stadium-both are places of public accommodation under the ADA. The ADA's definitional provision specifically deems hotels and stadiums to be places of public accommodation. 42 U.S.C. § 12181(7)(A), (D). But of course, the question in this case is whether Groupon-not just the hotel and the stadium-is governed by Title III of the ADA. Remember that Title III applies to not just owners or lessors of public accommodations, but also to anyone who “operates” a public accommodation. § 12182(a). In his response brief, Huzar argues that Groupon “operates” a place of public accommodation.[5] To Huzar's way of thinking, “there can be multiple operators of the New York Jets or a vacation getaway.” Pl. Resp. at 10 (emphasis added). Groupon, Huzar says, is one of the operators of the stadium where the Jets play and of the Red Lion Hotel. Id.

         That theory of liability cannot be squared with the plain meaning of the ADA. The problem is not that, as a matter of law, there cannot be more than one operator of a public accommodation. The problem is that, on the complaint's allegations, Groupon does not “operate” MetLife stadium or the Red Lion Hotel within the meaning of the ADA. The ADA does not set forth an explicit definition of “operates.” See 42 U.S.C. § 12181. When a statute does not provide an express definition of a word, federal courts must look to the word's plain meaning. See Smith v. United States, 508 U.S. 223, 228 (1993). Dictionaries provide useful guidance in discerning a word's plain meaning. Id. (citing to dictionaries to ...

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