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Camden Vicinage Maryann Cottrell and Richard Holland v. Good Wheels

March 15, 2011

CAMDEN VICINAGE MARYANN COTTRELL AND RICHARD HOLLAND, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
GOOD WHEELS, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



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

NOT FOR PUBLICATION (Doc. Nos. 31 & 32)

OPINION

This is a dispute regarding a private business owner's obligation to provide parking accommodations for the disabled. Plaintiff Richard Holland claims that he was banned from entering the Good Wheels car dealership because he assisted in preparing and filing several citizen complaints against Good Wheels regarding its failure to provide appropriate parking for the disabled. Plaintiff asserts claims for unlawful retaliation under the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA") and the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination ("NJLAD"), violations of the New Jersey Civil Rights Act ("NJCRA"), and false imprisonment. This matter comes before the Court pursuant to Defendants' motion for summary judgment denying Plaintiff's claims and Plaintiff's motion for summary judgment declaring that Defendants retaliated against him in violation of the ADA and NJLAD. For the reasons discussed below, the Court denies Plaintiff's motion for summary judgment and grants Defendants' motion for summary judgment.

I.BACKGROUND

Plaintiff lives with Ms. Cottrell and they care jointly for Ms. Cottrell's severely disabled child. Plaintiff and Ms. Cottrell are self-described advocates for the disabled. They receive media attention for their efforts to ensure that disabled persons have access to public accommodations. Those efforts include contacting public authorities about businesses and other public places that do not provide required access to disabled persons. Plaintiff and Ms. Cottrell often lodge citizen complaints against businesses regarding violations of handicapped parking regulations.

Good Wheels is a car dealership in Glassboro, New Jersey. Plaintiff testified that he shopped at Good Wheels several times. (Holland Dep. 25:17). During Plaintiff's visits to Good Wheels, he noticed cars parked in handicapped spots without handicap tags. He took pictures of those vehicles on various occasions in February and March 2006. Using information contained in the pictures, Ms. Cottrell filed several citizen complaints against Good Wheels alleging that Good Wheels permitted unauthorized drivers to park in handicapped spots in violation of N.J. Stat. Ann. § 39:4-207.9(a), which states that businesses must provide clear access to handicapped parking.

Plaintiff's troubles with Good Wheels began on April 8, 2006. Plaintiff had arranged to meet a friend at Good Wheels to assist him in shopping for a vehicle. Plaintiff's friend did not arrive for the meeting, but Plaintiff remembers speaking to a Good Wheels representative named "Seth Greene" regarding a vehicle for his friend. (Holland Dep. 26:18-23). While Plaintiff was leaving the premises, Defendant Seth Fox, a Good Wheels sales representative, pulled his vehicle in front of Plaintiff's vehicle. Mr. Fox got out of his car, walked to Plaintiff's car, and told him that he was "no longer welcome" at Good Wheels. (Fox Dep. 16:11-12). Mr. Fox told Plaintiff to leave because he was "disrupting customers" by "driving around the building and taking pictures . . . [of] [t]he handicapped spots." (Fox Dep. 16:9-25). Mr. Fox claims that although he stopped in front of Plaintiff's vehicle, Plaintiff could still exit Good Wheels' premises by driving around Mr. Fox's car and out the exit.

Good Wheels disputes that Plaintiff arrived on the premises to shop with his friend and that Plaintiff spoke to a sales representative regarding vehicles. According to Good Wheels, if Plaintiff spoke with a representative, he would be "logged in [Good Wheels'] salesman reports." (Cert. of Carmine Cucunato ¶ 6). Although Good Wheels does not submit copies of its "salesman reports," Daniel Cucunato, Good Wheels' general manager, certifies that Good Wheels does not have any record of Plaintiff entering the premises except to photograph the handicapped parking spots. (Id. ¶¶ 5-7).

As a result of Mr. Fox's proclamation that Plaintiff was not welcome at the dealership, Plaintiff and Ms. Cottrell sued Good Wheels. They asserted claims for retaliation in violation of the ADA and NJLAD, violations of the NJCRA based on Defendants' unlawful retaliation, and false imprisonment based on Mr. Fox's April 8, 2006 confrontation of Plaintiff.

On September 28, 2009, this Court dismissed Ms. Cottrell because she did not have standing to assert claims against Defendants. Cottrell v. Good Wheels, No. 08-1738, 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 91317, at *16 (D.N.J. Sept. 28, 2009). However, the Court held that Plaintiff had standing to pursue his claims because he alleged that: (1) his hobby of shopping for cars requires that he be able to peruse local car dealerships; (2) Good Wheels is a local dealership; and (3) he visited Good Wheels in order to shop for cars and will continue to visit Good Wheels in the future. Cottrell, 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 91317, at *12-16. The Court concluded that, by banning him from the premises, Good Wheels inflicted a cognizable injury. Id. at *15-16. The Court rejected Defendants' argument that Plaintiff lacked standing to sue for injunctive relief because Good Wheels agreed during the course of the litigation that Plaintiff could return to the premises. Id. at *14-16. The Court found that "'[m]ere voluntary cessation of allegedly illegal conduct does not moot a case; if it did, the courts would be compelled to leave the defendant . . . free to return to his old ways.'" Id. at *15 (quoting United States v. Concentrated Phosphate Export Ass'n, 393 U.S. 199, 203 (1968)). The Court also found that Plaintiff properly alleged claims for retaliation under the ADA and NJLAD and violations of the NJCRA. Id. at *15-26.

Both Plaintiff and Defendants now move for summary judgment. Plaintiff moves for summary judgment on his ADA and NJLAD retaliation claims. He seeks "civil penalties" and "injunctive relief" with "damages to be determined at trial, and the remainder of his claims to proceed in the ordinary course." (Br. in Supp. of Pl.'s M. for Summ. J., at 1). Plaintiff also requests in his brief that Good Wheels produce "financial information[,] including tax returns." (Id. at 8). Plaintiff claims that this discovery is relevant to his claim for punitive damages.

Defendants move for summary judgment denying all of Plaintiff's claims. They argue that Plaintiff fails to offer evidence proving that he has standing to pursue his claims. They also argue that Plaintiff's retaliation claims should be dismissed because Plaintiff cannot prove that he was engaged in a protected activity or that Defendants retaliated against him. Regarding Plaintiff's NJCRA claim, Defendants contend that if Plaintiff's retaliation claims fail, his NJCRA claim also fails. Finally, Defendants argue that there is no evidence to support Plaintiff's false imprisonment claim.

II.LEGAL STANDARD

Summary judgment is appropriate where the Court is satisfied that "there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c); see Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 330 (1986). A genuine issue of material fact exists only if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could find for the nonmoving party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). When the Court weighs the evidence presented by the parties, the Court is not to make credibility determinations regarding witness testimony. Sunoco, Inc. v. MX Wholesale Fuel Corp., 565 F. Supp. 2d ...


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