[AI] Important Court Ruling in USA
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Tue May 4 00:00:21 EDT 2010
Court rules for moviegoers in disability access case
Posted On: May 03, 2010 4:57 PM CENTRAL | Add a
SAN FRANCISCO—The owners of movie theaters could be required to install special equipment for patrons with hearing and visual impairments under the Americans with Disabilities Act as a result of a federal appeals court ruling that that has been hailed as groundbreaking.
Friday’s decision by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco in State of Arizona vs. Harkins Amusement Enterprises Inc. et al. largely overturned a lower court’s dismissal of the case brought by Frederick Lindstrom, who has severe hearing loss, and Larry Wanger who is blind in one eye and has poor vision the other.
They filed suit alleging Scottsdale, Ariz.-based Harkins Amusement, which operates 21 theaters in Arizona, violated the ADA and state law when they could not see or hear a movie in 2005 because of their respective disabilities.
For those with hearing impairments, two out of Harkins Amusement’s 262 theaters have open captions on the screen, but it has no theaters with descriptive narration for the visually impaired. Another approach for the hearing impaired is closed captioning, which uses a device attached to a seat, according to court papers.
A district court held that neither the ADA nor the Arizonans with Disabilities Act requires movie theaters “to alter the content of their services.”
However, a unanimous three-judge appeals court panel disagreed. “Because closed captioning and audio descriptions are correctly classified as 'auxiliary aids and services’ that a movie theater may be required to provide under the ADA, we conclude the district court erred in finding that these services are foreclosed as a matter of law,” the appeals court ruled in remanding the case for further action.
The 9th Circuit panel, however, did agree with the lower court that the ADA does not require open captioning.
“Our holding doesn’t necessarily mean that plaintiffs will be entitled to closed captioning and descriptive narration in Harkins's theaters,” the appeals court ruled. “Harkins may still be able to avail itself of several defenses, such as the contention that the devices would fundamentally alter the nature of its services or constitute an undue burden.”
In a statement, Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard described the decision is groundbreaking because this is the first time an appeals court has ruled on this issue.
Steven John Fellman, an attorney with GKG Law P.C., who submitted an amicus brief on behalf of the Washington-based National Assn. of Theatre Owners Inc., said it costs movie operators about $15,000 per auditorium to install hearing and visual aid equipment.
He said one approach adopted elsewhere has been to require theater owners to install the equipment in a limited number, but not necessarily all, of their theaters. He said he did not know how many theaters now have this equipment.
John Fithian, president and CEO of the association, said, “While litigation is unavoidable and, based on the efforts of the industry, unnecessary, we continue to focus our efforts and resources in ways to increase access.”
An attorney for Harkins Amusement could not be reached for comment.
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