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Camden Vicinage v. Island Hospitality Management

February 18, 2011

CAMDEN VICINAGE CAROL WITTMANN, PLAINTIFF,
v.
ISLAND HOSPITALITY MANAGEMENT, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Bumb, United States District Judge:

NOT FOR PUBLICATION [Dkt. No. 16]

OPINION

I. Introduction

Defendants City Island Hospitality Management and Marriot International, Inc. ("Defendants") move for summary judgment dismissing discrimination claims filed by Plaintiff Carol Wittmann.*fn1 Defendants argue that summary judgment is appropriate because Mrs. Wittmann suffered no discrimination and, even if she could show injury, she lacks standing to pursue a claim for injunctive relief under Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), 42 U.S.C. § 12181 et seq. For the following reasons, Defendants' motion is granted in part and denied in part.

II. Background

On or about August 23, 2008, Plaintiff's husband, Ronald Wittmann, used the internet service "hotels.com" to reserve a room at the Atlantic City Courtyard by Marriot (hereafter "the Hotel"). Plaintiff's Counter Statement of Facts ("Pl. CSOF") ¶ 5. Because the couple would be traveling with Mrs. Wittmann's service dog, Gracie, Mr. Wittmann called the internet service and requested that the Hotel be informed that the Wittmanns would be traveling with a service animal. Defendant's Statement of Undisputed Facts ("Def. SOF") ¶ 25; Pl. COSF ¶¶ 6-7. The representative at hotels.com indicated that she would advise the Hotel. Def. SOF ¶ 26; Pl. CSOF ¶ 7.

The Wittmanns and Gracie attempted to check into the Hotel on September 4, 2008. Def. SOF ¶¶ 27-29; Pl. CSOF ¶¶ 8-9. Upon seeing Gracie, who was carried by Mrs. Wittmann and displayed no indication of her function as a service dog, the front desk clerk informed the Wittmanns that the Hotel did not accommodate pets. Def. SOF ¶¶ 28-31; Pl. SOF ¶ 9. The Wittmanns explained that Gracie was a service animal. Def. SOF ¶ 32; Pl. CSOF ¶ 11. The desk clerk sought counsel from Assistant Manager Ryan Schrade, who also informed the Wittmanns that pets were not permitted on the premises. Def. at ¶ 33; Pl. CSOF ¶ 10. Mrs. Wittmann responded by producing a card identifying Gracie as a service animal. Def. SOF ¶¶ 35-36; Pl. CSOF ¶ 12. Mr. Schrade called the toll-free number listed on the identification card but received no answer. Def. SOF ¶¶ 36-37; Pl. CSOF ¶ 12.

The parties agree that Mr. Schrade eventually permitted Gracie to stay with the Wittmanns but differ in how they characterize the terms then imposed on the travelers. Defendants maintain that Mr. Schrade asked for a credit card against which a security deposit would be charged, a request made of all guests. Def. SOF ¶ 39. When the Wittmanns refused, Mr. Schrade asked for a $250 cash deposit. Def. SOF ¶ 41. The Wittmanns again refused and ultimately left the Hotel. Def. SOF ¶¶ 42-45. The Wittmanns contend that they were required to provide the $250 deposit because of their service animal. Pl. CSOF ¶ 14.

According to Plaintiff, when Mr. Wittmann objected to the deposit, Mr. Schrade characterized the sum as a "gratuity" and explained that the Hotel required the deposit because the guest room had new rugs. Pl. SOF ¶ 14. During this exchange, another hotel employee offered the Wittmanns a handicap-accessible room, which further served to offend Mrs. Wittmann. Pl. SOF ¶ 15. She brought suit in the Superior Court of New Jersey, Atlantic County alleging violations of the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination ("LAD") and the ADA. Defendants removed the action to this Court.

III. Standard of Review

Summary judgment should be granted if "there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). "An issue is genuine only if there is a sufficient evidentiary basis on which a reasonable jury could find for the non-moving party, and a factual dispute is material only if it might affect the outcome of the suit under governing law." Kaucher v. County of Bucks, 455 F.3d 418, 423 (3d Cir. 2006)(citing Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986)).

"If the non-moving party bears the burden of persuasion at trial, 'the moving party may meet its burden on summary judgment by showing that the nonmoving party's evidence is insufficient to carry that burden.'" Id. (quoting Wetzel v. Tucker, 139 F.3d 380, 383 n.2 (3d Cir. 1998)). Upon such a showing, the burden shifts to the non-moving party to produce evidence of a genuine, factual dispute. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 324 (1986). The non-movant's burden is rigorous: it "must point to concrete evidence in the record;" mere allegations, conclusions, conjecture and speculation will not defeat summary judgment. Orsatti v. N.J. State Police, 71 F.3d 480, 484 (3d Cir. 1995).

When considering a summary judgment motion, the Court does not weigh evidence; rather, all reasonable "inferences, doubts, and issues of credibility should be resolved against the moving party." Meyer v. Riegel Products Corp., 720 F.2d 303, 307 n.2 (3d Cir. 1983). However, "a mere scintilla of evidence," without more, will not give rise to a genuine issue for trial. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252. Summary judgment is still appropriate "where the record ... could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the nonmoving party ...." Matsushita Elec. Industrial Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986). "Summary judgment motions thus require judges to 'assess how one-sided evidence is, or what a 'fair-minded' jury could 'reasonably' decide..'" Williams v. Borough of West Chester, Pa., 891 F.2d 458, 460 (3d Cir. 1989) (quoting Anderson, 477 U.S. at 265 (Brennan, J. dissenting)).

IV. Analysis

Defendants contend that summary judgment is appropriate because (1) Mrs. Wittmann cannot make out a prima facie case of discrimination in a place of public accommodation and (2) she lacks standing to pursue an action for injunctive relief, the only remedy available under Title III of the ADA. See 42 U.S.C. ยง 12188(a)(1); Clark v. Burger King Corp., 255 F.Supp.2d 334, 342 n.8 (D.N.J. 2003) ("Under Title III, only injunctive relief is available."). Mrs. Wittmann opposes summary judgment by contending that a factual dispute exists over whether the $250 security deposit requested of the Wittmanns is required of all guests. She offers no response to Defendants' standing argument. The Court ...


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