Breeze v. Kabila Inc.

Decision Date15 December 2021
Docket NumberCivil Action No. 21-753 (JDB)
Parties Byron BREEZE, Jr., Plaintiff, v. KABILA INC., Defendant.
CourtU.S. District Court — District of Columbia

Erik Bashian, Bashian & Papantoniou, P.C., Garden City, NY, for Plaintiff.

Brendan James Klaproth, Klaproth Law PLLC, Washington, DC, for Defendant.


JOHN D. BATES, United States District Judge

The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 ("ADA"), 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq., is a broad and powerful statute aimed at providing a "clear and comprehensive national mandate to eliminate discrimination against disabled individuals, and to integrate them into the economic and social mainstream of American life." PGA Tour, Inc. v. Martin, 532 U.S. 661, 675, 121 S.Ct. 1879, 149 L.Ed.2d 904 (2001) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). The Act as a whole, and especially Title III's guarantee of equal access to public accommodations for the disabled, marks "a milestone on the path to a more decent, tolerant, progressive society." Id. (quoting Bd. of Trs. of Univ. of Ala. v. Garrett, 531 U.S. 356, 375, 121 S.Ct. 955, 148 L.Ed.2d 866 (2001) (Kennedy, J., concurring)). But "private enforcement suits are the primary method of obtaining compliance with the Act," Chapman v. Pier 1 Imports (U.S.) Inc., 631 F.3d 939, 946 (9th Cir. 2011) (en banc) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted); see also 42 U.S.C. § 12188(a) (authorizing private suits and injunctive relief under the ADA), and disabled persons seeking to enforce their right to equal access must reckon with the jurisdictional limitations of the federal courts and with the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.

The instant case vibrantly presents the tension between citizen-suit enforcement of the ADA and the generally applicable requirements of federal litigation. Plaintiff Byron Breeze, Jr., claims that architectural barriers prevented him from accessing a restaurant owned and operated by defendant Kabila Inc., in violation of Title III of the ADA. See generally Compl. [ECF No. 1] Kabila moves to dismiss Mr. Breeze's complaint, arguing that his claims are moot, that he lacks standing, and that his complaint fails to adequately state a claim. See generally Def.’s Statement of P. & A. in Supp. of Def. Kabila Inc.’s Mot. to Dismiss Pl.’s Compl. [ECF No. 8-1] ("Def.’s Mot."); Reply in Supp of Def.’s Mot. [ECF No. 11] ("Def.’s Reply"). After multiple rounds of briefing and oral argument on Kabila's motion, for the reasons explained below, the Court will deny the motion to dismiss in full.


Byron Breeze, Jr., was born without legs or complete hands, and he uses a wheelchair to move around and engage in day-to-day activities. Compl. ¶ 5; Decl. of Byron Breeze, Jr., in Supp. of Mem. of P. & A. in Opp'n to Def.’s Mot. to Dismiss Compl. [ECF No. 10-1] ("Breeze Decl.") ¶ 3.1 In November 2020, Mr. Breeze travelled from his home in Hyattsville, Maryland, a suburb of Washington, D.C., to have lunch at Thunder Burger & Bar ("Thunder Burger"). Breeze Decl. ¶ 4; Compl. ¶¶ 4, 9. Thunder Burger, operated by defendant Kabila Inc., is a restaurant located in the historic D.C. neighborhood of Georgetown, and it specializes (as one might expect) in burgers, sandwiches, and beer. Breeze Decl. ¶¶ 15, 17; Def.’s Mot. at 1–2. When he arrived at the restaurant, Mr. Breeze noticed a small step at the threshold of Thunder Burger's entrance on M Street, Breeze Decl. ¶ 6; accord Decl. of Mouhsine Idrissi [ECF No. 11-1] ("Idrissi Decl.") ¶ 3, and although only a few inches high, the step was enough to prevent Mr. Breeze from entering the restaurant in his wheelchair, Breeze Decl. ¶¶ 5–6. Unable to locate a ramp or to communicate his predicament to staff, Mr. Breeze left, unable to eat at Thunder Burger. Id. ¶¶ 5–6, 8; see generally Compl. ¶¶ 9, 23.

No stranger to ADA litigation,2 Mr. Breeze informed his attorney about his abortive trip to Thunder Burger and about the step at the restaurant's front entrance; his attorney subsequently hired a third party to inspect the premises for violations of the ADA and associated regulations. Breeze Decl. ¶¶ 9–10. While awaiting the results of this inspection, Mr. Breeze returned to Thunder Burger in February 2021 but again found his path blocked by the same barriers. Id. ¶ 11. At this point, he decided to take legal action, authorizing his attorney to file a lawsuit regarding his inability to access the restaurant. Id. ¶ 12. At around the same time—and before the complaint in his matter was filed—Mr. Breeze received and reviewed the inspector's report, which identified various other barriers to access both at the entrance and inside Thunder Burger. Id.

Mr. Breeze filed the instant lawsuit on March 22, 2021, bringing claims under the ADA and the District of Columbia Human Rights Act ("DCHRA") against Kabila as well as M Street Georgetown LP ("M Street"). See Compl. at 1. In his complaint, Mr. Breeze states that he was "denied full access to[ ] and full enjoyment of the facilities" when he "was precluded by physical barriers to access, dangerous conditions, and ADA violations existing upon the Defendants’ Property and Subject Facility." Compl. ¶¶ 9, 23. He also lists dozens of aspects of Thunder Burger's facility which allegedly violate the ADA.3 Compl. ¶ 22.

Mr. Breeze's catalog of allegedly unlawful barriers to access at Thunder Burger can be divided into two general categories: "entrance violations" (or "entrance claims") and "interior violations" (or "interior claims"). The entrance violations, enumerated in sub-paragraph 22(a), comprise features of Thunder Burger that actually prevented Mr. Breeze from entering the restaurant at all: namely, the step at the threshold, the absence of a ramp, and the general "[f]ail[ure] to provide an accessible means of ingress and/or egress ... for navigation by a wheelchair." See Compl. ¶ 22(a)(i)(iv).4 The interior violations—the lion's share of the allegedly unlawful features of the restaurant—consist of a variety of alleged barriers to access identified by the pre-suit inspection but never personally encountered by Mr. Breeze. See Breeze Decl. ¶ 12. Examples include: the "failure to provide the minimum percentage of accessible dining tables and surfaces at the interior dining area," Compl. ¶ 22(d); the "[f]ailure to provide the required minimum knee and toe clearance at the dining tables located at the exterior dining area," id. ¶ 22(m); and seventeen deficiencies in the men's restroom, including a door that does not leave the required maneuvering space, id. ¶ 22(o)(a)(ii); a stall lacking "grab bars on the rear and side walls," id. ¶ 22(o)(a)(xi); and a paper towel dispenser that is mounted too high, id. ¶ 22(o)(a)(xvii). On the basis of all of these alleged barriers to access, Mr. Breeze seeks a declaratory judgment that Thunder Burger is in violation of the ADA and DCHRA, injunctive relief under the ADA, compensatory damages under the DCHRA,5 and reasonable attorney's fees. See Compl. ¶¶ 40–46.

M Street filed an answer on June 25, 2021, see Def.’s Answer to Pl.’s Compl. [ECF No. 7], but Mr. Breeze voluntarily dismissed all claims against M Street on August 21, see Stipulation of Dismissal Without Prejudice [ECF No. 12]. Kabila, on the other hand, timely filed the instant motion to dismiss on July 30, arguing that Mr. Breeze lacks Article III standing in this matter and that his complaint is factually insufficient under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). See generally Def.’s Mot. Mr. Breeze filed a brief opposing this motion, attaching a declaration that further explained his attempts to access Thunder Burger as well as his desire to return to the restaurant if it is made accessible. See Pl.’s Mem. of P. & A. in Opp'n to Def.’s Mot. [ECF No. 10] ("Pl.’s Opp'n"); Breeze Decl. In its reply brief, Kabila argued for the first time that Mr. Breeze's claims are moot, see Def.’s Reply at 8, attaching a declaration by Mouhsine Idrissi, Kabila's secretary, stating that Thunder Burger already has a wheelchair ramp for its entrance and that Kabila had recently installed a door buzzer and accessibility sign at the restaurant's front entrance, Idrissi Decl. ¶¶ 4–5. This Court subsequently granted plaintiff leave to file a sur-reply responding to defendant's mootness argument. See Min. Order, Aug. 31, 2021. Mr. Breeze timely filed his sur-reply, see Pl.’s Sur-Reply to Def.’s Reply for the Limited Purpose of Addressing the Mootness Argument [ECF No. 14] ("Pl.’s Sur-Reply"), and Kabila filed a sur-sur-reply on September 17, 2021, see Sur-Sur-Reply in Supp. of Def.’s Reply [ECF No. 15] ("Def.’s Sur-Sur-Reply"). The Court then ordered argument on the motion, see Min. Order, Sept. 22, 2021, which took place on October 26, 2021. The motion is fully briefed and argued—it is therefore ripe for decision.

I. Subject-Matter Jurisdiction

The Court begins, as it must, with Kabila's challenges to its jurisdiction. See, e.g., Steel Co. v. Citizens for a Better Env't, 523 U.S. 83, 93–95, 118 S.Ct. 1003, 140 L.Ed.2d 210 (1998). Article III courts may decide only "Cases" or "Controvers[ies]." U.S. Const. art. III, § 2. Over the centuries, this language has been distilled into "a series of principles termed ‘justiciability doctrines,’ among which are standing ... [and] mootness." Nat'l Treasury Emps. Union v. United States, 101 F.3d 1423, 1427 (D.C. Cir. 1996). Kabila moves to dismiss Mr. Breeze's complaint on both of these grounds, arguing that the entrance claims are moot in light of the pre-existing ramp and Kabila's subsequent alterations to Thunder Burger and that Mr. Breeze lacks standing to bring any of his claims. The Court will address the entrance claims first, determining whether they are moot and assessing Mr. Breeze's standing. Then, the Court will decide whether Mr. Breeze has standing with respect to the interior claims.

A. Legal Standard

"When a court lacks subject-matter jurisdiction, it has no authority to...

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    ...that evidence without converting the present motion into one for summary judgment. See, e.g., Breeze v. Kabila Inc., Civ. A. No. 21-753 (JDB), 575 F.Supp.3d 141, 164 (D.D.C. Dec. 15, 2021) ("The court may not ... consider declarations not attached to the complaint itself without converting ......

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