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Levine v. National Railroad Passenger Corp.

United States District Court, D. Columbia.

February 18, 2015

LEAH LEVINE, Plaintiff
v.
NATIONAL RAILROAD PASSENGER CORPORATION, Defendant

For LEAH LEVINE, Plaintiff: Evan James Taylor, COMBS@TAYLOR, LLP, Washington, DC.

For NATIONAL RAILROAD PASSENGER CORPORATION, AMTRAK, Defendant: Anne Marie Estevez, LEAD ATTORNEY, MORGAN LEWIS & BOCKIUS LLP, Miami, FL; Beth S. Joseph, PRO HAC VICE, MORGAN, LEWIS & BOCKIUS LLP, Miami, FL.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

COLLEEN KOLLAR-KOTELLY, United States District Judge.

This action arises from Plaintiff Leah Levine's experiences bringing her service dog on Amtrak trains in the Northeast Corridor. Plaintiff brings claims on her own behalf and on behalf of a putative class of certain other disabled passengers against Defendant National Railroad Passenger Corporation (" Amtrak" ) pursuant to Part A and Part B of Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (" ADA" ), 42 U.S.C. § § 12131-12165; Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, 29 U.S.C. § § 701-797; and the District of Columbia Human Rights Act (the " DCHRA" ), D.C. Code Ann. § § 2-1401.01-2-1411.06.[1] Each claim relates to Amtrak's alleged practice of storing luggage in " mobility aid" seating areas of Amtrak trains. Plaintiff seeks a declaratory judgment that Amtrak's alleged conduct is discriminatory; money damages for past occasions of the alleged discrimination; and injunctive relief with respect to Amtrak's policies and practices regarding the " mobility aid" seating areas. Before the Court is Defendant Amtrak's [19] Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's First Amended Complaint and/or Strike Plaintiff's Rule 23 Class Allegations. Defendant argues that the First Amended Complaint must be dismissed because it fails to state a claim under the relevant statutes, because Plaintiff lacks Article III Constitutional standing because she has not suffered an injury in fact, and because Plaintiff has no prudential standing to pursue violations of the relevant statutes. In the alternative, Defendant argues that the Amended Complaint's class allegations should be stricken because Plaintiff has failed to define an ascertainable class. Upon consideration of the pleadings,[2] the relevant legal authorities, and the record as a whole, the Court GRANTS Amtrak's [19] Motion to Dismiss on the basis that Plaintiff has no standing to bring the claims in this action. Therefore, the Court does not consider Defendant's other arguments in favor of dismissal; nor does the Court consider Defendant's request, in the alternative, to strike the class allegations. Accordingly, the Court DISMISSES all claims against Defendant Amtrak and dismisses this action in its entirety.

I. BACKGROUND

For the purposes of this motion, the Court accepts as true the factual allegations in Plaintiff's Amended Complaint.[3] The Court does " not accept as true, however, the plaintiff's legal conclusions or inferences that are unsupported by the facts alleged." Ralls Corp. v. Comm. on Foreign Inv. in U.S., 758 F.3d 296, 315, 411 U.S.App.D.C. 105 (D.C. Cir. 2014). The Court recites the facts pertaining to the issues raised in the pending motion, focusing on those facts relevant to the standing inquiry in which the Court engages.

Plaintiff suffers from severe physical disabilities because of multiple sclerosis. Am. Compl. ¶ 15. Specifically, her condition inhibits her ability to balance and walk and causes visual disruption and sensory confusion when she is in crowded spaces. Id. To assist her in coping with the symptoms she experiences, Plaintiff uses a service dog, a golden retriever named Linus, who accompanies her at all times. Id. ¶ 16. Among other tasks that Linus performs, he is trained to walk slightly in front of Plaintiff to help her navigate crowds and crowded spaces. Id. ¶ 18.

Plaintiff frequently travels on Amtrak between Metropark, New Jersey, and Union Station, in Washington, D.C. Id. ¶ 22. When she travels on Amtrak, Plaintiff books mobility aid seating, which features more open floor space in front of the seats than other seating on the train. Id. ¶ 24. The mobility aid seating allows Linus to be at her feet and to move around unobstructed. Id. Plaintiff alleges that the mobility aid seating is the only seating that can accommodate her disabilities. Id. Plaintiff alleges that the mobility aid seating areas are consistently cluttered with luggage belonging to other passengers. Id. ¶ 25. Plaintiff also alleges that she is consistently " confronted with objections, exasperation, rebukes, and outright hostility" when she asks crew members to move such luggage. Id. ¶ 27. In addition to her general allegations, Plaintiff describes five specific experiences regarding her ability to sit in mobility aid seating; all pertain to travel between Metropark, __ N.J. __, and Union Station, in Washington, D.C. Id. ¶ 33. The Court reviews those five experiences here:

o March 1, 2013 -- After boarding, Plaintiff approached a mobility aid seating area, together with Linus, and discovered several large pieces of luggage occupying the floor space in that area. Id. ¶ 34. Plaintiff feared that the bags would present a dangerous obstacle for her and for Linus and asked a crew member to remove them. Id. After the crew member refused, Plaintiff complained to the conductor, who apologized. Id. ¶ 35. Plaintiff does not allege where she ultimately sat.[4]
o August 2, 2013 -- Upon boarding, Plaintiff and Linus sat in a mobility aid seating area. Id. ¶ 36. There were bags stacked in the mobility aid seating area across the aisle from where she was sitting. Id. Because she was concerned that luggage would fall over and present an obstacle for her and for Linus, Plaintiff asked a crew member to move the bags or to ask the owners of those bags to move them. Id. ¶ 37. The crew member refused, stating that the bags were far enough away from her. Id. Subsequently, one of the bags fell into the aisle, allegedly coming within inches of hitting Linus and blocking the aisle. Id.¶ 38; see id., Ex. B (photograph of bag in aisle). The crew member again refused to move the bags to a nearby luggage compartment and instead restacked the bags in a different configuration. Id. ¶ 38; id., Ex. C (photograph of restacked bags).[5] Plaintiff alleges that she remained agitated and concerned for her safety for the remainder of that journey. Id. ¶ 39.
o November 1, 2013 -- Upon boarding, Plaintiff asked a crew member for assistance in finding mobility aid seating and was told she would have to walk along the train to find a seat. Id. ¶ 40. She walked through two cars, which did not have any mobility aid seating. Id. She passed another crew member who told her that she had to continue walking. Id. Because she could no longer keep her footing as the train moved, she stopped and requested additional assistance. Id. A third crew member then helped her find a seat. Id. Plaintiff was humiliated and in tears. Id.
o December 6, 2013 -- During her train trip, Plaintiff walked to the café car to get something to eat. Id. ¶ 41. There was mobility aid seating in that car but she could not sit down because a garbage can and a storage crate were in the mobility aid seating area. Id.; see id., Ex. D (close-up photograph of garbage can and storage crate).
o January 3, 2014 -- After Plaintiff sat down in a vacant mobility aid seating area, a crew member placed a large bag, tagged " heavy," in the clear floor space in front of her, standing upright. Id. ¶ 42. Plaintiff complained that, if the bag fell over, it would present a dangerous obstacle to her and to Linus. Id. In response, the crew member laid the bag on its back, such that it took up more floor space. Id.[6]

In addition to these five specific experiences while traveling, Plaintiff alleges that, on various occasions, she canceled trips to Washington, D.C., rather than experience the physical and emotional strain of traveling by Amtrak. Id. ¶ 43. Specifically, Plaintiff alleges that on the first weekend of June 2013, when hot and humid weather exacerbated her symptoms, she decided not to make the trip from New Jersey to Washington, D.C. Id. ΒΆ 44. Plaintiff alleges that she canceled the trip because she was afraid that she would not be able to ...


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