Systematic Placement Of Movable Obstructions in Aisles and on Sales Counters May Violate the Americans With Disabilities Act
In Chapman v. Pier 1 Imports, D.C. No. 2:04-cv-01339-LKK-DAD, the Ninth Circuit held that repeated incidents of movable obstructions in store aisles are evidence of a systematic pattern of abuse against disabled customers under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Plaintiff, a wheel chair user, sued Pier 1 Imports under the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA") 42 U.S.C. § 12182(a), alleging the store's placement of obstructions in the shopping aisles and on the sales counters violated his rights under the ADA. Pier 1 argued that the obstructions were only "temporary" barriers to access because the items were movable obstructions that could be cleared upon request, and as such did not violate the ADA.
The District Court granted summary judgment for Plaintiff and enjoined Pier 1 from (1) blocking the aisles with merchandise and other items, "except for the unavoidable transitory blockages caused by re-stocking and similar activities," and (2) cluttering its accessible sales counter with materials other than "unavoidable transitory clutter resulting from current use of that counter to check-out merchandise."
On appeal, the Ninth Circuit affirmed the District Court's ruling as to the obstruction in the aisles, but reversed the ruling as to the accessibility of the sales counter, distinguishing isolated temporary obstructions from systematic blockages. The Ninth Circuit held that the obstructed aisles were not merely, "isolated or temporary interruptions in…access." The evidence that Plaintiff encountered obstructed and blocked aisles on eleven different visits in a two year period revealed a systematic pattern of "repeated and persistent failures" in accessibility. Pier 1's evidence that the obstructions were movable on request did not establish the obstructions as "temporary" under the ADA.
In contrast, the Court found that the obstructions on the sales counters did not violate the ADA. The Court reasoned there was no evidence that various small items on otherwise accessible countertops deprived wheelchair users of "full and equal" access to the use of countertops for their intended use—placing items for purchase and transacting sales. These items were determined to be "temporary" obstructions that were promptly removed so as not to "persist beyond a reasonable period of time."
This opinion highlights how some courts will view evidence of repeated violations of the ADA and use that evidence in ruling on requests for injunctive relief. Clients should keep this case in mind when addressing temporary obstructions and unavoidable transitory blockages caused by re-stocking and similar activities in order to comply with current ADA regulations.